In Their Own Words

Satyam Ramnauth & Mary Porter Peschka

IFC colleagues Mary Porter Peschka and Satyam Ramnauth talked at the 2018 Sustainability Exchange about changing views on private sector development, especially in challenging markets.


Satyam Ramnauth: I come from a very small island called Mauritius. We’ve been lucky in terms of leadership and we’ve been able to create a level of development which is often talked about in Africa. And I think taking that experience is what has motivated me to stay in Africa and work in Africa.

Mary Peschka: So I have a personal connection to Mauritius. My father was in a car accident there when he was a young U.S. naval officer and when he was sent back to the U.S. to convalesce my mother was his nurse – so they fell in love and got married and the rest was history, so I’ve always felt that I need to go to Mauritius to the very beginning.

So you’re in Madagascar now?

Satyam: Yes, I am in Madagascar. Sadly, in the 70’s, they took a bit of a political turn, and that political turn, history has shown, hasn’t been for the better. And today, Madagascar faces very deep poverty, fragmented institutions, a political environment that doesn’t make development easy, a small private sector but very resilient in the face of what they have lived over the last 50 years.

Courtesy of Mary Porter Peschka

Courtesy of Mary Porter Peschka

Mary: So there’s a lot of buzz right now about Bovima and IFC. Can you tell me a little bit more? I know it’s about cows and Madagascar, but what exactly did we do and why is it so important?

Satyam: Cattle farming in Madagascar has strong cultural and economic values. However, having been a very strong sector in the 60’s and 70’s, some of the choices made, lack of political will, and also neglect in terms of policy adoption, the sector in itself has become highly fragmented and turned into mostly subsistence farming and breeding rather than taking it to the next level which would be industrial. The Zebu beef of Madagascar is under stress.

I think we now have consensus across the different players that we’re not going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we don’t have robust private sector development across a wide array of countries, from the poorest of the poor to the fragile and conflicted.

– Mary Porter Peschka, Director, Environment, Social & Governance (ESG), IFC

Mary: So for me the Bovima project is IFC at its best—we’re investing in them, we’re providing advisory services to help capacity-build them, to provide training, we’re leveraging our Bank Group sister to provide the policy work so that this is about far more than just an individual transaction, this is opening the gates for a series of transactions by all kinds of players. But I’m wondering what was behind the scenes, how did the cooking get done in the kitchen?

Satyam: When there were a lot of difficulties around the project, we had one person who is a sector specialist who came to Madagascar and when he looked at the environment, talked to the people, went to the site in southeast Madagascar, he said to me “this is like Indonesia, like, 25-30 years ago; all the ingredients are here. We need some very good cooks in the kitchen, but I think we can make this work.”

Mary: Bovima might have seemed like it lasted an eternity for you while you’re living it and executing it, but think about the recent Afghan investment that’s in raisins. The very first advisory engagement, the laying the groundwork was my first project 14 years ago, and others followed me with follow-on projects. We know the harder markets cost a lot but they can also take a lot of time, and if we’re going to really make a difference we have to persevere and hang in there.

Courtesy of Satyam Ramnauth

Courtesy of Satyam Ramnauth

Mary: So 10 years from now, when you think about Bovima and Madagascar, what do you think is going to remain with you? What are you going to carry with you?

Satyam: Not long ago I was in Canada, and I saw a restaurant advertising Zebu beef on the menu and I did ask, and they said yes they do get it sometimes. What I would like to see in 10 years’ time is not only Bovima, but is also the concept that the Madagascar brand – which is known in vanilla, which is known in chocolate, which is lesser-known in coffee. Madagascar brand of quality, Madagascar brand of exclusiveness, would also reach the Zebu beef, and creating a dynamic in the agri-business, of which Bovima will be part.

Mary: You know I can relate to that, because a week ago I was at an Afghan restaurant here in D.C. and the waiter was very impressed that I knew the green raisin, the dried green raisin was the Shindohani raisin and that’s because when I joined IFC, my first project was the Afghanistan Horticulture Export Development project, where I worked on the Shindohani raisin and pomegranates.

It’s interesting to think about how far we’ve come in terms of development thinking. I reflect back on my very first job at the U.S. Agency for International Development and having a couple of colleagues counsel me that I should go back to school and get a different degree because private sector development wasn’t real development. And then, maybe a decade after that having people tell me private sector development in the more challenging markets of places like Afghanistan was a premature effort for us to be making and here we are now, and I think we now have consensus across the different players that we’re not going to achieve for example the Sustainable Development Goals if we don’t have robust private sector development across a wide array of countries, from the poorest of the poor to the fragile and conflicted. It’s kind of cool in one’s career to see the story unfold that fully.

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