Abigail Thomson, Team Lead of the CASA Technical Assistance Facility at Technoserve describes how the organization designs and delivers inclusive business support to agribusinesses in the developing world.
Abigail Thomson, Team Lead of the CASA Technical Assistance Facility at Technoserve
Can you tell us about TechnoServe and what it does in the domain of agricultural and rural finance?
TechnoServe´s mission is to help entrepreneurial men and women in poor areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth. Facilitating inclusive agribusiness is at the heart of TechnoServe’s mission, as we leverage the power of private enterprise to help people lift themselves out of poverty. As a manager and implementer of Technical Assistance Facilities, TechnoServe designs and delivers core and inclusive business support to increase the commercial success and development impact of businesses in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Can you tell us your role at TechnoServe and the career path that led to it?
I currently serve as the Team Lead for the DFID-funded Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness Technical Assistance Facility (CASA TAF). The CASA TAF engages with investors to design and implement transformative technical assistance projects to benefit over 30 agribusinesses and over 100,000 smallholder farmers across Africa and South Asia. I had the same role for the African Agriculture Fund’s TAF, where I worked with private equity fund managers, Phatisa and Databank, to introduce inclusive business models at 10 of their portfolio companies. I joined TechnoServe in 2015 after five years at the Gatsby Foundation managing agriculture sector development programs in East Africa.
We believe the right investors can bring capital, skills and drive to support agribusinesses to scale inclusive business innovations.
What is different about the CASA TAF compared to other existing facilities in the sector?
There are three distinguishing features of the CASA TAF compared to other technical assistance facilities. 1) We are open to partnership with multiple investors rather than being linked to one investor or fund. This gives us the scope to identify like-minded investor partners seeking to strengthen their agribusiness’ smallholder supply chains, from DFIs to PE fund managers to commercial lenders. We believe the right investors can bring capital, skills and drive to support agribusinesses to scale inclusive business innovations. 2) We have a focus on agribusinesses that source from smallholders. Our goal is to build an evidence base of commercially viable approaches to sourcing that will ultimately influence investors to allocate more capital and technical assistance to agribusinesses and smallholders. 3) We produce rigorous inclusive business plans (IBP) at the start of every engagement with a client. The analysis quantifies the commercial and development impact opportunity from more direct sourcing and can convince companies to take a new direction they wouldn't otherwise take, or test out new ways of investing in smallholders that they wouldn't otherwise consider.
Why did Technoserve join SAFIN?
We joined SAFIN to benefit from the knowledge, the networking and the community of like-minded commercially-oriented development thinkers! A key value for TechnoServe is results so we are always looking for opportunities to learn from others as well as explore partnerships that help us to deliver our ambitious impact targets.
How is Technoserve contributing to SAFIN?
TechnoServe’s main contribution to SAFIN is to share our experience of actionable inclusive business solutions with forum members. We produce regular learning papers on inclusive business and technical assistance approaches, for example a repository of materials is available on the AAF TAF website and we also recently produced a paper in partnership with CDC on impact measurement across different technical assistance models. We will be producing annual learning papers under the CASA TAF beginning with a landscaping of the TA provided by DFIs in March 2020.