Technical Assistance for Social Enterprises: Heifer International Case Study
A few months ago, we were invited to see what Heifer International has been doing in coordination with local universities and organizations on the ground in Guatemala in terms of providing their partners with technical assistance and knowledge as well as to see how we might be able to partner in ways to support that work. We left early, around 6am, to set off on our first road trip as a team, crossing through the city up into the mountains until we finally arrived at our first meeting with ASEDECHI (La Asociación de Servicios y Desarrollo Socio Económico de Chiquimula). From their team, we learned about the various projects that are underway to promote the overall economic development of the region as well as overall social wellbeing of both men and women.
Through programs such as their agriculture project to help farmers grow bell peppers through the use of large “net houses” that protect the crops from being decimated by the white fly pest common to the region to projects on creating ecological fertilizer using the waste product of coffee beans, ASEDECHI has a variety of programs to help people lift themselves out of poverty. They also have various projects exclusively for women such as their network of cooperatives working with coffee and basic grains (such as beans, corn, and rice) as well as with artisanal products. ASEDECHI was a prime example of how Heifer International is using on the ground partner organizations to help them reach the people in the most need through sustainable for profit ventures. We then left the meeting to meet up with a partner University that works to educate students on sustainable agricultural practices that then help to service rural communities in offering low cost livestock such as chickens, cows, goats, and pigs. These students are in the field ambassadors to these rural communities along with Heifer helping to educate local community members on how best to take care of and breed the livestock that they receive from the University. The students are able to sell (and sometimes donate) the livestock to local communities helping to also serve an alternative income for the University.
The next day we left early to tour some of the agriculture projects mentioned above and were able to speak with some farmers and agricultural producers to see how these projects have actually helped them and their families improve their livelihoods. One of the main organizations we met with that is heading a lot of the agricultural projects as well as working to preserve the culture of an indigenous group called the Chortí, is ASORECH. ASORECH (La Asociacion Regional Campesino Chorti) works on a variety of community development projects with the aim to provide local people with the skills and tools they need in order to improve their own lives and those of their families. From forming cooperatives to spreading knowledge and awareness around the Chortí history, language, and culture, ASORECH is another great example of a local partner that Heifer has made on the ground in Guatemala.
There has seemingly been an increase in the discussion over the past decade or so on the shifting nature of the role of non profit models in the international development community. While once non profits were seen as the only model necessary and appropriate for managing and directing international aid and assistance programs to countries and communities around the world, the rise of sectors such as social enterprises and impact investing has been changing the world wide development dynamic. Having lived and worked for a couple years in the international development scene and experienced first hand the shifting role of non profits all over the world, it seems to me that non profits are headed towards functioning less as the “saviors of the world” and more towards providing technical assistance to those on the ground partners that know the needs of their communities best.
While there will always be a role for non profits in the international development sector, especially in the areas of disaster preparedness and relief as well as food security, I believe that this new model of non profits sharing the skills and knowledge of their team so that other organizations who are trying to start sustainable business ventures to address the challenges of their countries might be where non profits finally find their sweet spot. A few months ago, the team at Pomona Impact had the pleasure of joining the Heifer International team on site visits throughout the eastern department of Guatemala known as Chiquimula. Through the visits we had to see the different projects that they were providing technical assistance and support to a variety of for profit ventures, I was able to experience first hand how well a non profit can fill the knowledge and resources gap that is so prevalent where we work.
From our trip with Heifer International, we were able to see the work that Heifer and its partners are doing on a daily basis in the eastern region of Guatemala to combat poverty and provide people with the tools and skills to address their own obstacles connected to poverty. We look forward to seeing what other types of projects Heifer International will continue to create in conjunction with its local partners as well as to see what role we might be able to play as Pomona Impact in supporting their incredible work in the field.