Katarina Kahlmann: “Entrepreneurs in the Global South can help address environmental problems and also increase their income”

Katarina Kahlmann is the Chief Program Officer at TechnoServe, working to help small businesses and farms in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to increase their income. As an organisation, TechnoServe has already helped millions of people specifically through programmes that build climate resilience and combat climate change and nature loss—all so low-income households can benefit from the transition to a greener economy.


Its Regenerate 30 initiative was launched with the goal that by 2030, in collaboration with its partners, of benefitting 30 million people, mitigating 30 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and put 30 million acres of land under sustainable management.

For Katarina, the moment that drove her into action happened 13 years ago, on her very first day at TechnoServe. “I just landed in Haiti in 2010 after the devastating earthquake and got straight into a car driving through the barren landscape to a farmer called Marie. Once upon a time, Haiti was covered in rainforest, but now that’s all gone, and the soil is eroded. Marie was growing mango and other fruits on a very small plot of land.

“She told us that in a good year, she could provide for her family and maybe even save some money. However, in a bad year, she’d struggle to even feed her kids. We felt that we really wanted to help Marie, but when she saw me at first, she just rolled her eyes: ‘Yet another non-profit. How can they help me?’

“Over the coming weeks, we got to know each other a bit better, and Marie got interested in the work TechnoServe was doing with mango farmers in Uganda and Kenya on regenerative agricultural practices. She wanted to try herself. Fast forward three years, and she’d adopted the regenerative practices such as integrated pest management, biological crop nutrition, and planting many more mango trees.

“Her farm was much better environmentally. It sequestered more carbon, but much more important for Marie, it made her more money. She could sell many more mangoes to the market, and she started selling to an exporter who was certified organic and sold to Whole Foods in the US. TechnoServe was happy because we managed to help a farmer at the very edge of poverty. We knew already then that for farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural practices, they need clear economic incentives. We can’t have environmental sustainability without economic sustainability and vice versa.”

Addressing environmental problems and increasing incomes

When talking to Katarina, you get a real sense of the bigger picture – the ambition to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty through TechnoServe’s programmes – but she also grounds these grand ambitions with amazing anecdotes about individual lives. “Let me tell you about the most recent client I met,” she says. “Halima is an entrepreneur in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. She used to be a tailor but couldn’t even make a living that way. She decided to join a TechnoServe project and set up a waste collection business with a few other women.”

“In Addis, there are waste recyclers, but no real organised waste collection. These recycling businesses struggle to source the materials like paper, plastics, and aluminum, and instead that ends up as waste in streets, rivers, and creeks. That’s why TechnoServe decided to help women and youth to set up these waste collecting businesses to increase their own income and create thousands of jobs. They gathered 7000 tonnes of paper from the streets in only one year and got it into the recycling factories. This way, Halima tripled her income, and her family is much better off as a result. This is a good example of how entrepreneurs in the Global South can help address environmental problems and also increase their income.”

Making a difference on a systems level

The point that Katarina looks to emphasise is that while change must benefit individuals like Halima, we must also create it at scale. “That’s why we’re so excited about the Greenr project. Our collaboration with the IKEA Foundation on the Green Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme will help hundreds of green, small, and growing businesses in India, operating in waste, textile, and agroforestry, and will provide them with training and access to market and finance so that they grow their own revenue, create jobs, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. We can make this a better world.”

As TechnoServe has shown before, in the experiences of people such as Marie and Halima, equipping entrepreneurs with the skills they need and linking them to finance, markets, and networks can help these businesses create jobs and opportunities while also benefiting the environment.

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