Yash Mehta is a former TechnoServe Fellow who worked remotely in Ghana earlier this year. During his time with TechnoServe, he assisted TechnoServe’s Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) technical assistance facility project and helped a cocoa processing company improve its business plan so smallholder farmers could increase their yields and incomes.
Q:What work did you do as a TechnoServe Fellow?
I was a remote fellow with the CASA team based out of Ghana. The project provides support to agribusinesses to help them develop their business plans and address their needs in engaging smallholder farmers.
The planning and recommendation part of the project lasts for three to four months. This phase is followed by multi-year technical assistance support from TechnoServe to help the agribusiness implement its business plan and improve the lives of smallholder farmers.
My fellowship involved working with a cocoa processing company in Ghana. It was established 10 years ago and is locally well-renowned. Thanks to the company’s visionary leaders, it has even won awards in Ghana’s cocoa industry. The company is sourcing cocoa from smallholder farmers and working to pay farmers digitally instead of with cash, which is the norm. Additionally, the company plans to help farmers further improve their productivity and yields by providing extension services and helping with financial inclusion.
Q: What was your remote fellowship experience like?
It goes without saying that an in-person Fellow experience is a life-changing one. You get to be in the field and to work with the business and farmers directly. It would’ve been a new experience for me in many ways.
Nevertheless, the remote experience was great as well and facilitated cross-border interaction with experts. For example, during my project I collaborated with people from eight different countries, including TechnoServe colleagues, cocoa processing industry experts, and other Fellows. If my fellowship had been in person, I’m not sure I would’ve connected with so many people in different places and had the opportunity to draw lessons from other countries in the same way. It opened up the doors for thinking differently.
Thankfully, the staff at the cocoa processing company that I worked with were also super accommodating and comfortable with a remote work setup. It was a smooth experience to collaborate via Zoom, Google Meet, and email. The remote setup also made it easy for my team to shape the project scope and deliver on it, which I think can be difficult if you are on the field and working on an open-ended problem.
Working remotely also made me think about how we can make our experience better as Fellows. During my fellowship, we started something called Fellows Coffee Chat. Through this, I was able to speak with other Fellows every few weeks. If everyone had been on the ground in person, I’m not sure we would have known each other through a common platform. I think this was possible because of remote work.
Q: How has the TechnoServe fellowship impacted your career path?
The fellowship changed my career path completely! In 2017, I joined McKinsey’s Risk Management practice. Before coming to McKinsey, and while I was at university, I had done work in the development sector. While at McKinsey, I also worked on pro bono engagements with nonprofits. I still wanted to have the experience of working in a nonprofit so I decided to explore TechnoServe. One of my senior colleagues at McKinsey was a TechnoServe Fellow and that’s how I heard about the program.
I’m thankful to McKinsey for allowing me to take a leave of absence to pursue my interest in the form of this fellowship. However, at the end of my fellowship, the cocoa agribusiness that I was working with offered me a position to join them and further contribute to the initiatives that I developed during my fellowship. The work that I had begun was so inspiring, unique and full of new learnings that I ended up leaving McKinsey and joined the agribusiness full-time as its Strategy and Operations Manager.
I must also admit that the fellowship experience boosted my confidence in navigating uncharted territories and industries. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my wonderful manager who believed in me and struck the right balance of guiding me and giving me the autonomy to drive the project on my own.
Q: Was there anything about the fellow experience that really surprised you?
I was most surprised by the impact of the business approach to solving poverty. Before coming to TechnoServe, I was thinking there were two ways to create impact: either through public institutions or through nonprofits. When I started my fellowship working with the agribusiness to support smallholder farmers, it opened my eyes to the impact that private businesses can have, how they can also move the needle, and how they can make a good social impact.
Q: What advice would you have for someone thinking about becoming a Fellow?
Join this fellowship program. It’s been run successfully for the past 25 years and has a 100% recommendation rate. Don’t overthink how this fellowship would fit between your past experiences and “future goals.” It’s going to be a really great and enriching experience, and you will be happy that you took the plunge. Not just from a learning point of view, but you will also meet amazing people including TechnoServe staff, Fellows, resilient beneficiaries (cocoa farmers, in my case), and creative entrepreneurs. It really helped me in a number of ways, including framing and shaping my thoughts around where my career could go. I believe this is just the beginning.
Learn more about the TechnoServe Fellows Program and how you can apply today.
The Fellows program is a highly competitive fellowship where business professionals contribute their skills to help change the lives of those living in poverty. Since 1996, TechnoServe has engaged over 1,000 Fellows on three- to twelve-month projects throughout Africa, India, Latin America, and the Caribbean.