Meet the TechnoServe Fellow Who Launched a Company That’s Keeping Environmental Sustainability at the Forefront
Ariana Day Yuen is a former TechnoServe Fellow who served in Ethiopia in 2015. After her time as a Fellow, she stayed on with the TechnoServe Ethiopia team for nearly three years. Today, she is the founder of an agroforestry enterprise that partners with smallholder farmers – starting in Ethiopia – to sustainably grow, process, and market premium forest-based products.
We recently spoke with Ariana to hear more about how she got involved with TechnoServe, her passion for environmental sustainability, and how her experience as a Fellow inspired her agroforestry enterprise, Forested Foods.
The TechnoServe 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 12-month projects throughout Africa, India, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Q: Before launching your agroforestry enterprise, Forested Foods, you were a TechnoServe Fellow in Ethiopia. Can you describe the projects you worked on?
A: I started my experience as a Fellow in January 2015, just as TechnoServe’s coffee work in Ethiopia ballooned in size almost overnight. I came in with change management experience from my time working at Booz Allen Hamilton. During this time of expansion, I was asked to help design a system to build the capacity of TechnoServe’s mid-level managers in Ethiopia.
Q: What was it like when you first arrived in Ethiopia to do your Fellows service?
A: When I arrived, it was the first time I stepped foot on the African continent. I came to the country as a foreigner, and I was only 24 at the time. It was intimidating at first, but it was a great introduction to the agroforestry sector.
My first time visiting smallholder farmers, I became enamored by the complexities and opportunities in forests.”
My primary role was to help build the capacity of 14 managers. It gave me great exposure to all of their projects across several different value chains. Instead of working on just one project, it felt like I was working on nearly a dozen. After several months, I felt connected to the work and the industry.
Ultimately, the senior management team in Ethiopia extended an offer asking me to stay. And so, what was initially supposed to be just a five-month fellowship turned into an almost three-year stay with the team in Ethiopia to help TechnoServe grow and flourish programmatically.
Q: What inspired you to become a Fellow originally?
A: I grew up in Hong Kong, very far away from emerging markets. I knew little to nothing about agriculture or smallholder farmers, but growing up, I was also interested in making an impact. After university, I worked in management consulting for a couple of years and enjoyed the experience, skill sets, and networks that I built.
I realized that I wanted to get my hands dirty and make a tangible impact on the world.”
I wanted to take a sabbatical from my firm, and I was looking for an organization that could take on professional volunteers and effectively utilize their skills. I had known a few other Fellows who volunteered from Booz Allen, so the TechnoServe Fellows program was the first opportunity I seriously considered.
3 Key Takeaways from our Conversation with Ariana Day Yuen
- Ariana joined TechnoServe as a Fellow in Ethiopia in 2015.
- Equipped with professional experience from Booz Allen Hamilton, Ariana supported TechnoServe’s mid-level managers in Ethiopia.
- Since volunteering for TechnoServe, Ariana has gone on to launch her own agroforestry enterprise, Forested Foods
Q: Did your experience with the TechnoServe Fellows program inspire the idea to start your agroforestry enterprise, Forested Foods?
A: The combination of my experiences with TechnoServe inspired me to start Forested Foods. I worked on numerous different projects and kept seeing TechnoServe address specific issues over and over again. For instance, global supply chains are incredibly opaque, complex, and have many indirect and direct players.
If supply chains continue to exist in this way, you can’t have traceability, enhanced quality, and price control. On the social side, I saw how supply chains are inequitable, and it was always the smallholder farmers and producing countries that got the short end of the stick. On the environmental side, I saw that if the farmers and producing countries aren’t benefiting sufficiently from global food systems, it does not incentivize them to manage land more sustainably.
My role for TechnoServe’s Majang Livelihoods project with the Swedish government was particularly inspiring. We developed a strategy to combat deforestation by helping forest communities sustainably produce and earn more income from conservation-based agroforestry. During that project, I generated a much deeper appreciation for forest ecosystems and how irreplaceable they are in ensuring cleaner air, water, soil, and healthy, biodiverse habitats.
I also realized that there is a ton of financial value in forests. It became evident that a market player was missing who could align different actors in the supply chain and do better for the people and the planet. After my time as a Fellow, I went to business school in 2017 to incubate, pilot, then eventually launch Forested Foods in 2019.
Q: Can you tell us about some of your forest-sourced products?
A: The vision of our agroforestry enterprise is to become the Cargill for deforestation-free, regenerative agricultural products while working in partnership with forest communities and sourcing across the Global South. The underlying belief is that there’s no way we can effectively conserve forests unless we help people make more money from conservation.
We’re still early in our journey, so how we think about sourcing products and building our portfolio is evolving. Ultimately, anything that grows in a forest could be considered, whether it’s tropical, subtropical, desert, or boreal forests.
To start, we’ve been working in three different forests in southwest Ethiopia to source honey and spices. We launched our consumer brand of single-origin honey from Ethiopia’s indigenous trees called Maryiza, which means “she brings honey.” We are working with the same beekeepers to produce different spices and other products like beeswax.
Q: What would you say to those considering the TechnoServe Fellows Program?
A: What seemed clear to me during my experience is that it ends up being this incredibly catalytic life experience for almost everyone. Fellow alumni go on to do really exciting work, but more importantly, work that they have a firm conviction about.
Learn more about the TechnoServe Fellows Program and how you can apply today.