From the Field: Reflecting on 25 Years of Impact

Q&A with Finance Manager Ronald Espinoza on his 25 years supporting business solutions to poverty in Nicaragua.

Ronald Espinoza

Ronald Espinoza joined TechnoServe’s Nicaragua team in May 1991, when the country program was restarting operations. He began as a driver and has held several positions within the Nicaragua country office, including Administrative Assistant and Finance and Administration Coordinator, before assuming his current position as Finance Manager.

You recently celebrated your 25th anniversary at TechnoServe. How has the organization changed in the last 25 years?

From my point of view, TechnoServe has been making changes in its strategy to grow and generate more impact, without departing from the basic principles of its mission. Our results have always been strong but we have had to scale up in order to create more lasting change.

In my early years with TechnoServe, the strategy was to help through the establishment of small, community-based enterprises and farmer cooperatives, by providing technical assistance to increase productivity and better manage their finances. While the impact was very good, it was small-scale.

Since then the strategy has developed to have a stronger focus on market solutions, which seek to create linkages between the actors. This has made it possible to expand the impact, both in revenue and scale, because it was no longer just members of businesses who benefited, but others around the businesses as well. More recently, our strategy has also focused on generating long-term impact – leveraging relationships with stakeholders for the transfer of knowledge and skills in order to further expand scale and sustainability.

What has been your proudest moment during your work at TechnoServe?

There have been many moments, especially when I hear the sincere appreciation of the people whose lives have been changed by our work.

One case that gives me great pride is the community Carreta Quebrada, in the municipality of Sébaco, Matagalpa. In this community many vegetable farmers were emigrating to Costa Rica because they had been dealing with crop losses. Weather changes were impacting productivity and the farmers did not have access to a solid, strong market.

In 2005, TechnoServe in partnership with Michigan State University, launched the Partnership for Food Industry Development project in Nicaragua. We worked with the Carreta Quebrada community to carry out an analysis of production and potential markets, organize farmers into cooperatives, and provide solutions. This included liaising with a supermarket in Managua to purchase tomatoes two or three times a week and negotiating a competitive and stable price. We also helped farmers stagger planting every two weeks in order to maintain a consistent supply of the product for the supermarket, and provided training to increase their productivity.

A member of the COOPRAHOR cooperative works with a technical advisor in Nicaragua.

Because of these steps, the farmers were able to increase their incomes and improve living conditions for their families without migrating to another country. This success, among many others, gives me a lot of pride. The success of the project also lead to the continuation and scaling of the project, as the ACORDAR project, funded by the United States’ Agency for International Development, which ran from 2007 until 2012.

How was TechnoServe able to scale up this project?

The cooperative was able to branch out from tomatoes to include carrots, onions, bell peppers and other vegetables. Once the supermarket saw that the cooperative members were serious people that were following through with deliveries, it started asking for other products. In 2010 we launched a second phase of the project, helping Carreta Quebrada build a hub to gather produce and secure a refrigerated truck, provided by the supermarket, to ensure better quality of produce in the deliveries.

Based on these relationships and improvements, the cooperative grew their sales and the quantity and quality of their products. The stable market for the cooperative’s crops allowed them to invest in a tractor and ensure lasting impact. Individual member farmers were able to renovate their homes using mud bricks or buy vehicles. The project had a big impact in the community.

What is the most important thing you learned while working at TechnoServe?

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the results for the people we work with. I feel lucky that I fell into an organization where not only  the vision and mission fulfills me, but also where I spend time with people who work hard and where it feels like family, for which I am grateful. I love what we do and hope to continue to grow.