The Value in Understanding Value Chains

On a mildly cold day at the end of January, a collection of students from the MDP cohort packed themselves into the lovely Alumni Hall (side B!) at St. Paul’s University at the University of Waterloo to build up their development practitioner skill-sets and learn about Value Chains and Market Research. The full day workshop was organized and run by MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), a Waterloo, ON based not-for-profit NGO that specializes in business development in the developing world. In operation since 1953, MEDA provided the MDP students the opportunity to learn from their extensive history and experience working in the developing world.

The workshop, run by MEDA Project Manager Catherine Walker, focused on recognizing and understanding Value Chains, which when created properly can build small, local economies and businesses in communities that have been ignored, or cannot participate in, the global market. Value Chains, at their core, represent the pathway that materials move along from a raw resource, to the finished product, to the end customer, and all of the stakeholders involved in the process along the way. A simple example of such a chain is the sale of vegetables:

Value Change Example

With this we can see that value moves from the bottom (supplier of vegetable seeds) to the top (consumer) of the chain. Factors that affect the value chain and its analysis were discussed next, which provided the MDP students with an understanding for the work that is involved in ensuring projects deliver impactful results. From this workshop, every MDP student was able to take away the skills of identifying promising value chains, efficient ways to help micro enterprises take advantages of any open opportunity, and chances for productivity increases.


After breaking for a delicious lunch curtesy of the MDP program, the MEDA workshop moved to the topic of Market Research, which is used to identify the various actors and components of the value chain, and in finding opportunities, inefficiencies, and markets that may exist. In this portion of the workshop, MEDA was further able to add to the MDP student’s tool box by introducing the most commonly used market research methods:

  1. Interviews;
  2. Market Observations;
  3. Focus Group Discussions; and
  4. Stakeholder Meetings

When discussing each method, MEDA ensured that they highlighted: the differentiations that exists between each method; the proper requirements of each method; and the “do’s” & “don’ts” to ensure that market research data is collected correctly and effectively. And to guarantee that the students were actively learning, the workshop had them participate in various role playing activities that saw the class split into groups that acted out scenarios while the other students reviewed and assessed it to collect data. Not only did this provide the students with the ability to practice these market research methods, but it also allowed them to quickly build their understanding of the different roles and impacts each actor has in the value chain, and about the complexity of these interactions.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the students were able to talk with Catherine about her own experiences as a development practitioner and the big, challenging world that awaits them. Thankfully they are more equipped to help individuals and communities improve their livelihoods and hopefully their well being – which is exactly what everyone in the MDP program is here to do.


Blog Stephen

Stephen Little is a Master’s Student of cohort 4 in the Master of Development Practice program. Stephen is the Class Representative for his cohort. His research interests include sustainable urban futures and social-ecological development.


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