Interview Stéphane April 2019
Stéphane Ott-Hauville left his work in Washington DC in early 2018 to join ECHOPPE in
Togo. He gave his time as his support for the program and in exchange for shares in
the project if the enterprise takes off. In April, Stéphane returned to Washington, called
back to his old job. Here is an interview with Stéphane just before he returned to the
hussle and bussle of DC life.
1. Why did you take this opportunity to come and serve ECHOPPE?
In one sentence, much too cliché and that I use probably too much but that remains quite
true: to be the change that I want to see in this world. I want people to fight against
inequalities and climate change and I dream of seeing great leaders, entrepreneurs or
politicians, who commit to these causes. We talk a lot about SpaceX, Jeff Bezos or Google
and I know that it makes many people dream. I think it's sad that this is the model of
success today: billionaires who dream of going to Mars rather than dealing with climate
change or poverty.
And I cannot say that without trying to be myself, it would be hypocritical and honestly,
very disappointing personally; it is out of the question to live by watching the bad
weather news, telling me that maybe if I tried, I could have done more ... I want us all to
act against poverty and against climate change so I, I would do my best and for me to work in Washington and financially support the town and country program it helps, but there
was a greater need to have someone on the ground. It was exactly the type of mission for
which I prepared myself as an engineer and want (or wanted) to achieve, so I volunteered.
I knew it was pushing my limits: I had never headed a team, I did not have enough
experience in international development to be comfortable meeting partners or making
decisions on the ground and even life at Togo could be an obstacle. But I also knew that
pushing this limit would be necessary to become what I wanted to be, or "fail" to find out
how far I could go. So, it was really a good opportunity to act as I wanted but also
personally, I knew it would grow in one way or another, and it did not fail.
2. Briefly what were the actions you were working to accomplish during your stay with the program?
I was to strengthen the local organization to facilitate monitoring by Echoppe in France
to ensure that the local team understood the meaning of the project and could do the
work requested. It was also to generate a dynamic and a different state of mind: that of a
small company and not a large NGO. It may sound caricatural but in a large NGO, when a
budget is available, it must be used. The goal of an NGO is to maximize the social impact
so satisfying the beneficiaries is the priority, the cost and profitability aspect are not at
all priorities, at least in the imagination of the team there. . But for a company, certainly
social, no financial equilibrium means that the activity will very quickly stop. So it took a
lot of time to explain this change of model and state of mind.
3. Can Africa be changed? Is what ECHOPPE doing important?
Africa is changing. And I would say that Echoppe was quite right to launch micro-credit, more specifically micro-credit social. Because it is a question of bringing resources, at the beginning financially then in the form of trainings, to entrepreneurs who exist and innovate at their level with the solutions adapted to their situation. Beyond that I think we can extrapolate what makes Echoppe's action important: it is to listen to local entrepreneurs, it is to rely on local expertise and to always combine the questions economic, social and environmental today and not to provide solutions a priori great but not at all adapted.
6. What more can be done? How?
Develop local entrepreneurship. Develop channels for local products. It's been 50 years that we do development aid and humanitarian aid in Africa and today the NGO sector is everywhere but suffocates the business world. Today I do not think that Africa and Togo in particular need help in the form of donations or grants. They need investment and opportunities. India and China have understood this well; they invest heavily in Africa and are increasingly important trading partners. But the proposals they make are especially there for them to be able to find their account while proposing a model of development similar to what we proposed to them twenty years ago: jobs with low added value, little expensive but in many and at unbeatable
prices. For me, if we want to avoid a copy-paste of the development of China and India with
Africa, it is our responsibility to provide responsible investment and viable and sustainable opportunities.
7. What do see that are the three most difficult challenges facing Togo today?
Political systems, entrepreneurial culture and population growth. Climate change will amplify the difficulties, but as long as the three previous aspects are not taken into account, it will be difficult to build an effective, sustainable and desirable development.
8. What will all this mean once you return to your work in DC? How have you
I have learned more in the last six months than in my three years in Washington or perhapseven in engineering school. And I clearly changed accordingly. I feel much more confident and serene. Well, first of all, because I was in a position where I had a lot more responsibility than I ever had (both for the people I spent money on and the people I spent time!) and it was too much and it exhausted me but it also showed me that I am capable of it. It also gave me a new and very different perspective on our way of living, our relationship to objects and comfort. I am much less afraid of planting myself in what I am doing today because I have seen that in France or in the United States and with my friends and my family, I would be whatever
happens, not that bad. But the biggest difference for me is that it showed me the best way for me to act for the causes that are close to my heart.
It's not worth trying to be someone I'm not, even though this person would be very effective, but on the other hand being very good at what I do, I could probably do much more. The last time, I went
to Washington with the idea of gaining experience, putting money aside and then using that to go and act elsewhere, exactly as I did in Togo finally. I know now that it will not work so this time I
go instead thinking of many small projects that I can do there, like launching a bio basket system at work, while
supporting projects like Planet Farmers, but without put me in the heart of the project.
Raoul Aguiar joined the team as accountant and administrator for the Planet Farmer enterprise. He had previously worked with ECHOPPE-Togo for 11 years, then returned to his home country of Bénin. Here he talks about his choices and what he believes in.
Where are you from? What is your work experience?
From 01/04/1995 to 26/02/2011, I worked at Echoppe Togo as "Financial Delegate" in charge of managing the loan portfolio. Echoppe Togo is a microfinance institution, one of the first in Togo and the first to work only with poor women in low social class by granting them loans without guarantee. Echoppe Togo was the first to introduce a collection on the basis of the "Yes-Yes" which is a form of collection of domestic savings and this with street collectors. Today this practice is in vogue in almost all microfinance institutions in Togo. More than a microfinance institution, Echoppe Togo is an institution with a social vocation, an institution of listening, assistance and follow-up that has almost replaced the "state social centers" that only existed in name.
As of 2012 I rejoined my family and returned to Benin as a "Coordinator of Financial Activities and Accounts" and then became an employee at "The Company Benin Control", a company that is responsible for controlling the trajectory of all goods in transit until they leave the Beninese territory.
Why did you join the Planet Farmer team?
In fact to summarize, while it is true that the working conditions in all these structures where I spent between 2011 and August 2018 especially at "Benin Control" were financially most desirable, I must simply admit that these stays hardly satisfied my ideal: that of being in contact with people and of feeling simply useful as was the case at Echoppe for more than fifteen years. While employment is a source of income necessary to build one's life, it is no less true that it must also and above all be a source of moral satisfaction and self-fulfillment and that 'after all, the accomplishment of tasks must be beyond anything, exhilarating to the mind.
That's what brought me back to Planet Paysans in September 2018, to pick up where I left off in 2011, working with people who fight every day to improve the conditions of their lives and those of their fellow men. The program that Planète Paysans is a noble program that aims to change the current order of things for a better future in terms of food production and consumption habits. It does this via an entrepreneurial aspect. The aim is to help small farmers understand that the use of chemical inputs is a real danger for nature and the environment as well as for humans, a danger that must already be stopped; It is also a question of teaching them new modes and methodologies of production that respect nature, the environment as well as humans, while at the same time bringing them all the economic satisfaction.
What do you want to happen with Africa? What are the problems and what can this program do? Africa, moreover, remains the continent where land is still available and will be in the coming years called to play a huge role in the supply of food to all humanity. Therefore, we must already begin by exploring new techniques and production methods that will ultimately provide the appropriate solutions to the many challenges already identified or looming on the horizon: to feed humanity without upsetting or degrading the environment. This is exactly what Planet Farmers is trying to do with the small farm world in Togo. Beyond this, it is a question of building a strong link of cooperation and South-South inter-exchange, pledge of a radiant future for Africa and certainly for humanity.
1. As a farmer yourself, what do you see in the program for Togo’s future?
This project interests me because it was my dream to have such a project in order to improve the lives of small farmers and their families. I see that “Planète Paysans” will bring a change in the living conditions of Togolese small farmers.
2. What are the challenges facing Togolese farming in the next 10 years? .
-Stopping the use of poisonous chemicals,
- stopping deforestation
- educating farmers about new production methods in agro-ecology by planting trees that fertilize the soils, using organic products (composts, organic insecticides)
-getting farmers' cooperatives trained (in management, transformation of produce and manageing farm accounts )
-finding outlets for the distribution of farm produce.
5 Can we succeed? YES we can succeed if we are united and if we use these objectives in perfect collaboration. Agriculture can be the Africa’s bread basket and that of the world in the future.
Alice Adabra is the youngest member of the team just having left school. Her father wanted her to become a doctor. She chose to become an agricultural technician. Here are some of her response to the needs in Africa.
“You are young, a woman, just out of school. Why agriculture? And how is agriculture going to create changes in Togo/Africa/the world?
Agriculture is the bedrock of life since the living being depends on the food and the latter is based on the earth. It is necessary to cultivate the land because it has a great heritage to exploit, so Agriculture is a pillar for the economic sector of several developed countries. How should this change TOGO and AFRICA?
The population is predominantly agricultural in Africa It is necessary to develop Agriculture, in addition to control the agricultural production well. All the more as land constitutes an important resource for Africa. But we lack channels in our agriculture. It is therefore necessary to make the inhabitants of the country autonomous in agricultural production, so that we limit imports and the wealth can be returned to our country. It is also very important to develop the agrifood processing sector. The development of the various value chains will increase the trades in the agricultural fields. It is therefore the pillar of the economy. It requires an agricultural policy that supports producers, which promotes sustainable agriculture and not only subsistence.
What do you see in this program that will encourage farm potential and reduce poverty?
Knowing that the Town and Country project aims to reduce poverty, it encourages farmers to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability. It supports farmers not only with farm credits but also with an all-inclusive technical support so that they can clearly advance and collaborate for their well- being. It is necessary to establish technical support for small farmers in sustainable development. The whole idea is to impact society, the environment or even ecology while remaining profitable. Indeed, for the project to be sustainable, activities must also generate economic benefits.
What challenges lie ahead?
Ø It is necessary to develop a social impact or to be socially effective but also to generate profits because we are operating as an enterprise and need to become self-sustainable.
Ø Some groups are located in areas where the roads are almost impassable, which makes it difficult for me to ride a motorcycle as a woman on some paths
Can we succeed in these challenges?
With the will and determination we will arrive at a destination whatever the path that leads to it, it is enough to put oneself in it. Through this sentence I am going to say that I think I can succeed in these challenges with the collaboration of us all.
In this project other activities can be carried out among others: such as develop a market activity where there is a greater social impact than that targeted in previous years: example of the establishment of a neem oil production unit.
It is important to adapt to this changing world, so we have to create other more commercial activities and impact society as well. We must start small with sensitization and training on different themes.:On the farm management for example in that the farmer must be able to manage his farm.
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