Kenyan President’s State Visit: Advancing Shared Development Priorities

As the United States welcomes Kenyan President William Ruto for a historic state visit, TechnoServe’s Kenya Country Director Kris Ansin shares a few of the critical unmet development needs in Kenya and how TechnoServe is helping to advance the country’s national priorities with support from the U.S. government.

A woman stands in hrt micro-retail shop in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenyan President William Ruto recently visited the United States as part of a three-day state visitthe first by an African head of state since 2008. Kenya is an important strategic partner for the U.S. in East Africa, and the two countries have long-standing political, economic, and security cooperation. 

To mark the occasion, we spoke to TechnoServe’s Kenya Country Director, Kris Ansin. In this Q&A, he shares a few of Kenya’s critical unmet development needs and how TechnoServe is helping to advance the country’s national priorities with support from the U.S. government. 

Q&A with Kris Ansin

TechnoServe Country Director Kris Ansin stands with two women in a coffee field in Kenya. Part of a blog post highlighting the Kenyan president's state visit.
TechnoServe Country Director Kris Ansin (left) visits a coffee farm in Kenya. (TechnoServe)

How has TechnoServe helped the people of Kenya access skills, connections, and confidence to build sustainable pathways out of poverty?

TechnoServe has worked in Kenya since 1973, collaborating with small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs across the country to strengthen businesses and markets. This mission has come to life through a series of impactful programs and initiatives that have significantly improved the lives of individuals and communities. 

Our work in Kenya takes a bottom-up approach, which is part of what makes it so impactful. Our local staff work hand in hand with our clients. For example, our farmer trainers help coffee farmers strengthen the productivity and sustainability of their coffee plants. Our business advisors help entrepreneurs increase revenue and sales in their small micro-retail shops.

At the same time, we bring world-class expertise and talent to support local enterprises through partnerships with multinational companies. For example, working with Coca-Cola to strengthen the local mango value chain for their sourcing or partnering with a Silicon Valley technology company to shape point-of-sale solutions for small enterprises. 

Sylvia Nyambura, a participant in TechnoServe’s Smart Duka program in Kenya stands in her small shop.
Sylvia Nyambura, a participant in TechnoServe’s Smart Duka program in Kenya. (TechnoServe)

On the eve of Kenyan President William Ruto’s first state visit to the White House, what role has TechnoServe played in advancing Kenya’s national priorities with support from the U.S. government?

Many Kenyans need access to nutritious, safe, and affordable foods. More than a quarter of the country’s children under the age of five exhibit stunting—a condition in which a child is shorter than expected for their age. TechnoServe tackles this challenge by strengthening the country’s food processing sector. 

Through our food processing work, we provide technical assistance, access to finance, and market linkages to food processors, who turn raw ingredients into nutritious products like fortified flour, edible oils, yogurt, and therapeutic foods to increase the supply of healthy, accessible nutritious foods available for Kenyan consumers. This is an important link in agricultural value chains, providing stable, dependable buyers for crops grown by Kenyan farmers. Farmers can increase their incomes and improve their lives by having a reliable buyer.

TechnoServe’s work in the country aligns well with Kenya’s Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA). BETA is a government initiative geared toward economic turnaround and inclusive growth through a value-chain approach to reducing the cost of living, eradicating hunger, and creating jobs. TechnoServe’s focus on transforming the local food system strengthens markets, creates jobs, reduces malnutrition, and protects against hunger. 

Our long-standing Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing (AINFP) program has supported 55 food processing companies in Kenya. Through the program, companies have not only improved manufacturing and business operations but also developed and launched new product lines, strengthened supply chains, and adopted new marketing approaches. This has resulted in $7.66M in private sector investment and nearly $170M in sales, demonstrating the long-term sustainability and economic viability of our initiatives. 

Our work in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, and the Kenya Bureau of Standards has improved food fortification in Kenya, an effort that necessitates engagement from both the government and private sector. 

Through TechnoServe’s entrepreneurship programs, we have further expanded our work in Kenya to reach and equip people living with disabilities to build and grow their business revenue through the Global Labor Program – Inclusive Futures (GLP IF Program) in partnership with USAID and Sightsavers

TechnoServe works with women with disabilities in Kisumu and Nairobi counties to improve business revenues by selling in the Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) value chain. The program provides business management skills training, business coaching, supply chain interventions, and facilitates access to financial support to assist the women. The program currently works with 650 women with disabilities in Nairobi (300) and Kisumu (350) counties and has placed 190 retailers in the CCBA value chain.

TechnoServe’s work in micro-retail business support through the Smart Duka program has equipped duka owners with resources vital for their growth. Small shops called dukas are part of Kenya’s informal economy, accounting for 70% of the nation’s retail sales. In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, these shops supply nearly 80% of consumer goods.

Through the Smart Duka program, TechnoServe provides technical training to help duka owners address critical challenges, such as limited purchasing power, lack of financing, difficulty sourcing products, and the lack of the necessary business skills to maintain and grow their businesses. 

A street scene in Nairobi, Kenya. (TechnoServe / Nile Sprague) 
A street scene in Nairobi, Kenya. (TechnoServe / Nile Sprague)

 As an organization that embraces a different way to make a difference through business solutions to global poverty, how does TechnoServe engage with the private sector to increase our impact?

There are three important ways we work with global private sector partners:

  1. Leveraging technical and innovation capabilities: We tap into the advanced technical and innovative strengths of our global partners, which include expertise in packaging, cutting-edge technologies, laboratory services, and developing formulations to fortify foods—a model used by the IGNITE program in Kenya. IGNITE-Millers for Nutrition is a food fortification program in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that addresses micronutrient deficiencies lost during food processing by adding vitamins and minerals that improve the nutritional quality of foods for public health benefits. These collaborations enhance our ability to deliver high-quality, effective solutions.
  2. Creating shared value: Our partnerships are designed to create shared value for the companies and our clients. By aligning our goals with those of our partners, we ensure that the benefits extend to all stakeholders involved. This synergy promotes sustainable growth and mutual success.
  3. Collaborating on sustainability and impact strategies: We work alongside our partners’ sustainability and impact strategies, including their corporate foundations. Such partnerships include collaborations with Visa, John Deere, Cargill, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, we implement initiatives that drive meaningful social and environmental impact.

These strategic collaborations with global private partners enable us to harness knowledge, resources, and innovation, amplifying our efforts to achieve our mission in Kenya.

Two coffee farmers in Kenya stand in one of their fields holding ciffee cherries. Part of a blog post on the Kenyan president's state visit.
Joseph and Pauline Langat, Kapkulumben Coffee Farmers Cooperative Society, Nandi Hills, Kenya. (TechnoServe / Nile Sprague)

What are Kenya’s most urgent unmet needs? If you could send a direct message to Kenyan President Ruto and U.S. President Biden during this state visit, what would it be?   

Kenya and the U.S. need each other. Kenya has ascended to one of the most important political partners to the U.S. in Africa. Its leadership is playing an increasingly vital role on the global stage, representing the interests, opportunities, and challenges of Africa and other emerging markets. 

At a time when the other major economic and political players on the subcontinent—notably South Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia—are mired in internal struggles, Kenya’s voice and position are all the more significant. 

Kenya’s steady political partnership and growing economic partnership represent a vital link for the U.S. to the region, where other global players are increasingly active—for example, Russia’s influence in the Sahel and China’s pan-African presence. 

Yet nearly two years into the current administration, there is a widening gap of support between abroad and at home, with many in Kenyan president Ruto’s original voter base discontent with the rising cost of living, taxes, ongoing supply chain disruptions, corruption, youth unemployment, and climate-related disasters. After the globally recognized peaceful transfer of power in 2022, the administration has the opportunity to make good on its promises to its populace, but it must happen soon and must go beyond political slogans and campaign promises. 

The U.S. needs this, too—a stable and prosperous Kenya anchoring a dynamic and growing region in East Africa, both as an economic and political partner. Kenya’s position as a global security partner is growing, although the country’s current foray in sending Kenyan police officers into Haiti is fraught with significant risk. Its role as a trading partner has enormous upside, with the U.S. recently becoming Kenya’s top export partner and creating a friendly business environment. 

As a leading organization creating shared value across sectors, TechnoServe can be a strong partner in achieving these ambitions. 

Kris Ansin is TechnoServe’s Kenya country director. Before joining TechnoServe, he worked as a strategy consultant and market maker for Accenture Development Partnerships, where he shaped and led several high-profile strategy and innovation engagements for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Save the Children, UNICEF, Amref Health Africa, Mastercard, and dozens of other international organizations. Kris holds an MPH from Tulane University and an MBA from Yale.