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TechnoServe talks partnership power plays

From the November 2014 issue.

TechnoServe CEO Will Warshauer talks to GCR Magazine about why well-designed private investment in poor countries is the key to achieving development goals.

TechnoServeIt seemed apt timing that Nespresso’s pledge to invest US$554 million over the next six years in sustainability, came around the same that the Fairtrade Foundation released a study criticising the power imbalances in public private partnerships (PPPs).

A company with pockets deep enough to pledge that level of investment begs some questions about how much weight private companies carry in the supply chain.

At the simplest level, the old adage that “with money comes power” causes reason for caution.

How much power can a smallholder coffee farmer have in a relationship with a company as affluent as Nespresso?

To put it into perspective, the half a billion dollar investment makes up around half of what  15 million Ethiopians are hoping to earn from coffee in 2015.

With so many lives in the hands of private companies like Nespresso, how can the public be assured that farmers’ interests are being properly balanced?

These are issues that Will Warshauer, who took the reins as CEO of US-based TechnoServe this past August, is ready to field.

TechnoServe’s tagline “Business solutions to poverty” is telling of an approach where corporate investment like Nespresso’s is not only seen as healthy, but as fundamental in bridging the rich-poor world divide.

Warshauer argues that the position where businesses can only profit at the cost of others – especially in coffee – is no longer relevant in an industry where supply concerns are running high. 

“It’s not a zero sum game,” he says. “If we can help farmers increase their yields, then there is a net addition to the GDP, and a net addition to coffee companies.”

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