Many firms don’t mind sharing their failures, but corporate leaders need to incorporate this into the organizational culture of their companies.

That’s what Simon Winter, senior vice president of development at international nonprofit Technoserve, learned from one of his organization’s major failures in the past. In late 2013, Technoserve hosted its first failure forum, which highlighted six failures and the learnings that resulted. As part of the discussion, participants were asked to share their failures by writing them on post-it notes. Far from the smattering of responses expected, the wall was covered with more failures than attendees.

“If the leadership is there, the appetite is there,” Winter said during an exclusive interview with Devex Impact. He shared one failure that stands out to him from his time at Technoserve, a project he called “a total disaster.”

TechnoServe was given a grant from to help find entrepreneurs who wanted to build growth businesses in Mpumalanga, South Africa. They designed the program based off a successful example in another province with the goal of finding 20 businesses that would employ 150 people each. The effort failed.

So what did they learn?

One must be careful about building a case for change on one example, it is important to do one’s homework about why an initial project worked, and scale and replicate carefully and cautiously, and also research communities where expansion is planned to determine whether a particular project is relevant.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.