“The Challenges We’re Facing Are Too Big to Fight Alone”: A Q&A with New Partners TechnoServe and WWF (Part I)

In part I of our Q&A, WWF's Cristianne Close and TechnoServe's Katarina Kahlmann discuss why “nature-based solutions are great for business.”

a lone tree stands in a dry landscape with a road running beside it

Earlier this year, TechnoServe and WWF joined forces in the regenerative business fight: working to increase incomes and community resilience while protecting nature and the climate. 

To learn more about this unique partnership, we spoke with Cristianne Close, WWF’s Markets Practice Global Leader, and Katarina Kahlmann, TechnoServe’s Chief Program Officer, who oversees our global operations delivering regenerative business solutions.

In part I of our Q&A, Cristianne and Katarina discuss their organization’s approaches; the crises and opportunities that led to this partnership; and why “nature-based solutions are great for business.”

1) Could you each describe your organization’s mission, and the goals of WWF’s Markets Practice and TechnoServe’s regenerative business work?

Cristianne: Our mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

WWF is the world’s largest independent conservation organization. We have nearly 100 offices around the world, and we’re working together with multiple organizations, partners, and value chain players to bring this mission to life.

How do we do this? By conserving biodiversity, which is a very important asset of our planet; ensuring that we use renewable natural resources in a sustainable way, like food and water and all other things that we get from our planet; and also that we promote reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

The WWF markets practice works on this: how can we develop the path of sustainable production and sustainable consumption towards a nature-positive economy? How can we be part of the solution and make sure that we use market mechanisms to increase biodiversity to [prevent] the damages that economic development contributes to the degradation of the planet and to climate change?

Katarina: TechnoServe’s mission is to fight poverty by building regenerative farms, businesses and markets that increase incomes. We’ve been doing this for more than 50 years now, and we increasingly see that our clients–the farmers and businesses that we work with–must tackle climate change and nature loss because those are main barriers to escaping poverty for good.

Katarina Kahlmann explains why small farms and businesses are critical for environmental and economic sustainability

Our clients are among the 3 billion people that are most vulnerable to climate change–but they’re also among the 500 million smallholder farmers that feed half of the world.

And they’re among the many small businesses that make up 90% of firms globally and provide more than 70% of formal jobs in emerging markets.

So these farms and these businesses really matter. What if we put them at the very heart of the solution? Any truly sustainable system needs to benefit both farmers and small businesses.

That’s why TechnoServe delivers inclusive regenerative business solutions with a clear payoff for low-income people. For example, we help farmers adopt environmentally friendly farming practices that also increase their yields, improve their crop quality, and enhance their income over time.

That way the farmer will continue supporting nature–because she makes money from it. What we’ve learned is that solutions for solutions to be truly environmentally sustainable, they also need to be economically sustainable.

2) Why should a conservation organization like WWF care about poverty? And vice versa for TechnoServe?

Cristianne: When we look into the challenges that the world puts in front of us today and we, as a civil society organization, ask governments and the private sector to come forward with new ways of working, with systemic change–then we as organization also need to look at ourselves and say: okay, how can we act differently? 

Cristianne Close describes how combining each partner’s strengths improves long-term impact

How can we do our work in a different way so that we can achieve growth and change towards positive outcomes in a faster manner, rather than working in silos?

So I think this is what’s really powerful. Because by combining TechnoServe’s mission to reduce poverty through business and WWF’s mission to build a future with people living in harmony with nature, this partnership can really enable communities to improve incomes sustainably, and to sustain that livelihood in a way that can foster a future not just for their generation, but for future generations.

Climate breakdown and nature loss affect the most vulnerable in our society. They closely rely on the environment and on the output of agriculture or water sources for their own livelihood, and their own well-being.

Cristianne Close emphasizes the importance of working outside silos

So it’s really fundamental that we understand how to make this work, together: tackle climate change, tackle nature loss, poverty, hunger, and disease–together. This integrated action is fundamental.

We can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment, and vice versa.

Katarina Kahlmann

Katarina: Two reasons, mainly. One is that climate change and nature loss pose an existential threat to low-income communities today. In a decade’s time, more than 100 million people risk being pushed into poverty because of climate change.

But there’s also a huge opportunity here. Smallholder farmers and small businesses are absolutely key to building their own resilience and to protecting, managing, and even restoring nature and to showing the rest of the world what “climate-positive” really looks like.

So what if we combine this challenge and this opportunity? How can we address both at the same time? 

Very simply put, nature-based solutions are great for business.

In East Africa, for example, TechnoServe works with coffee farmers to help them adopt regenerative practices like composting and mulching, planting of shade trees that protect both the coffee tree and the soil, diversification of their income on farm and off farm, and adoption of new seed varieties that are more resilient to fluctuating weather. Results are great.

So far, the farmers have increased their revenue by more than $7 million last year. They planted a million trees, and they put 50,000 acres of land under sustainable management. We’re doing similar work with dairy farmers, helping them to reduce their emissions and tripling their revenue.

We can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment, and vice versa. And that’s why TechnoServe focuses on low-income people and puts them at the very center.

3) How did WWF and TechnoServe decide to partner together to address these issues?

Cristianne: I worked with TechnoServe in Kenya, and I always admired the very professional way of working that TechnoServe had on this. When I joined WWF, I really wanted to make sure we brought socioeconomics into conservation and conservation into socioeconomics. 

We’re not here to be a talk show and publish nice reports. We want to really see results on the ground.

Cristianne Close

So it’s been cooking a while for our team in the markets practice: “we really need to partner with somebody.” And so we started looking around for companies, and of course I’ve always had TechnoServe in the back of my mind.

And I asked my team, let’s reach out to them and let’s see where they are in their strategy. And by chance, TechnoServe was also saying “okay, there’s something we’re missing here,” as I think we both realized that the challenges we’re facing are too big to try to fight alone.

We need strong partnerships and like-minded organizations. We want to create systemic change, and for that we need to come together. 

There’s a cultural fit. We know how to work; I love the agility of TechnoServe. But I think in all, [we’re] two of the leading global not-for-profits, working on complementary ways to deliver, with a strong mission to deliver things on the ground.

We’re not here to be a talk show and publish nice reports. We want to really see results on the ground.

Katarina: Well, first of all, I think we all at TechnoServe secretly have been admiring WWF forever. 

Katarina Kahlmann details the motivation behind TechnoServe’s WWF partnership

At TechnoServe, we take our task of eliminating poverty very, very seriously. We’re obsessed with impact: figuring out what really works and how to scale that.

That’s why we jumped at the idea of partnering with WWF–to combine our poverty-fighting expertise with your environmental expertise to really reach the next level of impact.

The potential in business-oriented, nature-based solutions is absolutely enormous, and that’s what we now want to materialize. I’m personally thrilled that WWF is focusing even more on people and business, and at TechnoServe, we’ve become much more intent on building resilience and about protecting, managing, and restoring nature.

In Part II this Wednesday: Cristianne and Katarina talk about our first projects together; the “first rule of business” that some environmental initiatives ignore; and what most excites them about the work ahead.