Listening, learning and leading MEDA president reflects on her first six months on the job By Dorothy Nyambi Q: What are your first impressions giving leadership to MEDA? My first six months as MEDA’s president flew by in a whirlwind of activity. It has been a time of listening, learning and leading: familiarizing myself with the scope and purpose of our priority areas of work, visiting our supporters and partners in the field, and, most importantly, meeting the people and communities we serve. I have been fortunate to spend time meeting with board members, Waterloo office colleagues and supporters in Ontario, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Manitoba and Germany. It has been an amazing opportunity to understand MEDA’s history. History is important. It is also important that we do not get stuck in history. It should help shape the future and we should remember: what we do today — and the future we give MEDA — will become our history of tomorrow. MEDA has done a wealth of work using business solutions to alleviate poverty through granting, impact investment and technical assistance around the world. From humble beginnings in 1953, the story of the Sarona dairy farm in Paraguay that MEDA’s founders helped to support and where it is today, captures the sustainable development work we strive to achieve now. Time and experience have taught us how to be more efficient and to tailor our work. New economic developThe Marketplace July August 2019
ment innovations help us to achieve results in a shorter time span. MEDA’s approach and use of blended finance — combining grants and investments (equity and or debt) — with technical assistance has been effective in sustainably improving lives and creating meaningful employment in developing and emerging markets. Q: What are you hearing from supporters? It is always good to do more listening than talking. This approach has served me well. From the MEDA board of directors, I am hearing the need to position MEDA for clarity, focus and going to scale. Whether it is a long- time supporter or a young professional just getting acquainted with MEDA, people have consistently shared a vision for MEDA to expand our support base beyond the Mennonite community. We will do that while retaining the values we are founded on. MEDA has accomplished so much. How do we tell that story to serve as the foundation for moving forward? We have a wonderful opportunity with our new strategic planning process. This platform will allow us make the changes and adjustments required for MEDA to continue being relevant under steady and managed growth. Q: What have you learned so far? Ensuring we have a clear strate6
gic direction is crucial as we move forward in the international landscape. Our MEDA colleagues bring substantial expertise and talent to the organization. The value of our data and information, how we process it, share it as a global resource, and tell our story and our impact are key. Visiting, speaking with and listening to supporters in MEDA hubs throughout North America and in Germany has been rich and affirming. The commitment and dedication of MEDA supporters, in giving both time and money, is phenomenal. They care about the organization. Expanding our donor base is an important step in our future growth. We need to engage individuals and organizations who appreciate our values and are excited to partner with MEDA. Q: What do you see for this next phase of leading at MEDA? Leadership is something that we’re never done developing. I aim to lead by acknowledging that learning does not stop. Unlearning, where necessary, is equally important. Having a strong executive leadership team working together and an engaged board to support the efforts has been invaluable. To succeed, you must cultivate relationships with colleagues, and both mesh with and influence the culture. I have spent time on strategic assessment and reflection. While we continue to collect data, we have enough information to set goals and targets to move MEDA forward.