The negative experience of large-scale collective farms during the Soviet period, whose primary function was to benefit the state as opposed to the individual small farmer, remains in the psyche of farmers throughout Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), serving as a disincentive to collaborate. This perspective clashes with a rapidly changing global marketplace, which demands large volumes of high-quality products to meet the needs of consumers. Using the Mennonite Economic Development Associates' (MEDA) Ukraine Horticulture Development Project (UHDP) as a case study, this article demonstrates that, introduced using a culturally sensitive approach and with the right market-based incentives, informal and formal methods of collective action can result in important benefits for small farmers in terms of increased incomes, stronger market position, and strengthened community alliances.
At the nexus of investment and development: lessons from a 60-year experiment in SME impact investing
Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) was launched as an investment club in 1953 when a group of North American Mennonite business people joined together to support the development of communities in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. With their business background, this group of early ‘impact investors’ determined that they would provide loans to small to medium enterprises (SME) in order to catalyse sustainable economic growth. They offered the loans as high-risk venture capital and mitigated the risks with the provision of business coaching and technical assistance. Since those early days, MEDA and the SME investment fund managers which it has co-founded (Microvest and Sarona Asset Management) have continued to make impactful investments and to work towards a common development goal, ‘to help people help themselves’ (Fretz, 1978 : 19). This paper presents a case study of the 60-year ‘MEDA experiment’, (Fretz, 1978), describes specific activities and innovations, and identifies MEDA's learnings that have emerged from this SME investment experience.