This post was written by Bernard Kiprop, Strategy & Research Specialist on One Acre Fund’s internal consulting team, based in Nairobi, Kenya. He grew up in Baringo county in Kenya and graduated in 2015 from Amherst College.
Pursuing a career in international development makes a lot of sense, but not enough young professionals from developing countries do so.
For me, the decision to join One Acre Fund—and the development field in general—was based on a combination of personal and professional factors. Most of all, I find this work to be extremely valuable because it allows me to make an impact in my community, surround myself with motivated coworkers, and acquire a strong skillset to use throughout my life.
Make an impact on your own community
After I finished college last year, I started working for One Acre Fund’s internal consulting team, which advises and supports the organization on all kinds of important decisions—such as improving the efficiency and scale of our customer support services, finding opportunities to increase the adoption of improved seeds in Sub-Saharan Africa, and preparing internal and external presentations for the organization’s leadership.
Having grown up in rural Kenya, I understand the context under which my organization works, and this allows me to add more value and have a greater impact for those we serve. I have a fair understanding of what challenges farmers might face, and with this knowledge, I can step in and provide some clarity when my team needs it. I can also relate more closely to how the impact we generate affects our farmers’ lives.
Surround yourself with a community of motivated coworkers
Working in international development gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with a community of colleagues who share your values. At One Acre Fund, our mission is to create long-lasting impact for our farmers, while maintaining a culture of humility, and ensuring professional growth for each staff member. These values have brought together people from multiple continents with different backgrounds, undertaking all kinds of work—but always keeping the same goal of serving our farmers first.
Acquire a very useful skillset
Bernard in One Acre Fund's Nairobi office
Lastly, the type of work you do in a development organization is challenging, and the skills you gain are equally valuable to those you would learn in the private sector. In fact, you are likely to get even higher levels of responsibility right off the bat than you would in a private company. The problems that development organizations seek to address are enormous, which forces everyone to really step up. At One Acre Fund, for example, we’re working to lift 50 million farm families out of poverty, and that is quite a task!
One way I’ve been able to grow my skills is through software programming. I had very basic skills when I joined One Acre Fund last year, but after six months, I was able to build an interactive tool that allows users to easily visualize data for any country or region in Sub-Saharan Africa on an online map. This is no different from what my peers at tech startups or financial services firms are learning, except for the added benefit of helping us identify the farmers we can serve.
It is always the right time in your career to take the international development path, and the rewards are long-lasting—not just for you, but for your community as well. Owing to our rapid growth, One Acre Fund currently has over 50 open positions scattered all over East Africa, in a wide range of functions including finance, innovations, systems, training, and even consulting. Check them out at our career page on our website. If you wish to learn more about charting your international development career, check out this career-focused piece by One Acre Fund's co-founder Andrew Youn.
In a new partnership with the ONE campaign, we’ll be following a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season. From planting to harvest, we will check in with the villagers of Luucho every month to learn about the choices and decisions their families must make as they seek to suvive the hunger season in rural Kenya. To view the original post, click here.
John Sirengo with goats he brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.
John Sirengo almost never stops running.
The livestock seller from Luucho village, Kenya, starts each morning with the first crow of the rooster. With seven children to feed, he’s always on his feet. He jogs eight miles to the nearest market, herding the cows left over from yesterday’s sales with a small stick.
John spends most of the day running from market to market, but he’s not just chasing cattle. He’s also racing after better prices. Cows usually sell for higher sums of money in the morning, so he always tries to be among the first sellers to arrive at the market every day.
“As a businessman, I try to make as much money as I can, even if it means sacrificing my sleep or walking to the furthest markets,” says John, who’s known fondly in his village as Mchurusi. It’s a name that translates to cattle seller in the local Bukusu dialect, although John also buys and sells goats, sheep and chickens.
Arriving early not only guarantees better prices. John is also able to spot and buy the healthy-looking cows before his competitors. He regularly buys cows, anticipating that he will be able to sell them for more money at the next market. Cows with large udders, straight legs, large frames and complete sets of teeth are in high demand and attract top prices.
On a good day, John can make a profit of $20. However, his income is never guaranteed. Market prices fluctuate every week, and it is common for cattle sellers to end up with losses.
Scenes from around Myanja market, one of the markets in Kenya where John sells his livestock.
Sometimes sellers like John are unable to find customers who are willing to pay more for their cattle. That often means they are forced to keep their livestock at home, incurring high costs for feed. John cannot afford such losses. Before traveling to any market, he calls his friends who live nearby to inquire about the prices that day.
“I have many responsibilities to provide food, clothing and education for my family, and so I’m always in need of money,” John says. “Still, I cannot solely depend on selling cattle, and so for three days in a week I work in my farm.”
John, like many Luucho residents, is a smallholder farmer. John owns half an acre of land that he uses to plant maize. For many years, he experienced a series of poor harvests. In 2009, John learned new planting techniques from One Acre Fund, a nonprofit organisation that supplies smallholder farmers across East Africa with seed, fertiliser, and training. John started applying the skills he learned, such spacing his plants in rows, and in the next season, his harvest tripled. While John keeps the majority of his harvest for food, he now has a small portion left over to sell when he goes to the market to trade his livestock.
Goats John brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.
Apart from selling his own produce, John also helps other Luucho farmers find good markets for their crops. While conducting his cattle business, John scouts for the markets offering the highest prices for maize and other farm produce. Many of his neighbours knock on his door in the evenings to ask where they should sell their crops the next day.
Those evening courtesy visits also come from neighbours who are interested in buying cattle.
“The whole village trusts me to choose the best cows. If people want cows for milk, beef or to pay a dowry, they all come to me,” John says. “I’ve built good relationships with all my neighbours because of my work.”
John also plays the role of a banker. Despite the small income he makes for his business, John is among the highest-earning people in Luucho. Most of the people living in his village depend solely on agriculture for their livelihoods and have to raise money from limited income sources to feed their families. Because of this, John often lends small quantities of cash to his neighbours to buy food.
“This season, we have not received enough rainfall. Our crops wilted, and as a result we are going to harvest very little,” John says. “I’m worried because this means the whole village will be hungry.”
If indeed farmers in Luucho harvest little food this season, then John as their Mchurusi will become more important to his village than ever before. The demand for him to lend money to his neighbours will increase, and in turn, John will need to wake up even earlier to find a better price for his cows.
Want to keep up to date with the citizens of Luucho? Check back next month for part three of this year’s harvest series.
Alexis Roehrich, One Acre Fund human capital development manager (second from right), prepares to participate in a staff olympics day event.
Career development and education are a big part of One Acre Fund’s mantra – we’re constantly looking for ways to help staff learn and grow in their jobs. That’s why Alexis Roehrich, a human capital development manager based in Rwanda, makes career enrichment her business. She sat down with recruiter Liz Sims to talk about One Acre Fund’s approach to training and mentorship.
Liz Sims: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you ended up moving to East Africa to work with One Acre Fund?
Alexis Roehrich: While attending Smith College, I was an assistant at the executive education center for two years. It was an incredible learning experience. I got to learn a lot about business strategy, presentations, negotiations, and trainings. After I graduated, I got a job at the Brookings Institution to do executive education for the federal government. I liked the job and I liked the field, but I felt pretty disconnected from the end-product. I would coordinate one- or two-day sessions, but I never got to see the effect it had in the office or on the participants. That’s how I ended up at One Acre Fund. I wanted to do human capital training, and I also wanted to work in-house. I saw the One Acre Fund job posting, and I knew that this was my dream job. I never thought I’d move to Africa, but I thought, “I have to give this a shot.”
LS: What do you like about your job now? What does human capital development mean to you?
AR: We have an amazing staff, and I really enjoy getting to know them and helping them become the best professional versions of themselves. Leading trainings is such a high. After participating in a training, I hope people think, “I learned something today, I’m going to apply it to my job, and I will be better, our team will be better, and our impact will be better.”
I like to think about our approach to learning as falling into three buckets, something we call the 10-20-70 idea. With this approach, 10 percent of training comes from learning and self-study, 20 percent comes from mentorship, and 70 percent comes from on-the-job projects and stretch opportunities.
There are several ways in which this 10-20-70 approach manifests. For starters, we are building online and physical libraries so staff members have tons of written resources at their disposal. We’re also building regular professional development training opportunities, including a program that offers coaching opportunities for high-level staff. In addition, we’ve rolled out an intensive orientation program for all new hires that takes place every month at our headquarters in Bungoma, Kenya, and at our second-largest site in Rubengera, Rwanda.
LS: How do you cater your trainings to staff members in different roles, and at different levels?
AR: We have a diverse staff coming from around the globe, with a wide range of educational backgrounds and specialties, so tailor-making training for everyone can be challenging. We start by doing comprehensive needs assessments to get ideas and make sure trainings match each audience. Right after a training session, we ask for feedback. A few weeks later, we reach out to managers and ask, “Have you seen improvement?” Then we use this feedback to shape our trainings in the future.
LS: As One Acre Fund grows as an organization, how do you see career development adjusting?
AR: The biggest adjustments will happen as we integrate technology and partnerships into our program. One example of new technology is the tablets we’re using now to make data collection more efficient. We’re also looking to form more educational partnerships. Long-term, we may consider partnering with East African universities to provide graduate or undergraduate opportunities to staff. More of these opportunities will come up as we expand.
Overall, I think it’s really incredible the extent to which One Acre Fund already values and seeks to invest in staff development. Everyone in the organization cares a lot about career development. There is always help and ideas coming from all over. It’s nice to know that it’s not just my team working towards this, but rather people on every team.
Alexis (first on the left) with members of One Acre Fund's Rwanda team
LS: What advice do you have for people that may want to join the global training and development team?
AR: I’m going to answer in the 10-20-70 format, because that’s just how I think!
10: Read: There are tons of books on training and professional development. Find a topic you are interested in and keep reading. The Harvard Business Review is an incredible resource.
20: Find someone in the field: You can learn a lot from asking a practitioner about how they spend their day.
70: Practice: A lot of people who get into this work don’t follow my career path. Finding executive education at age 19 is not common – what is common is mentorship. Mentorship programs exist everywhere – find one and join as the mentor! Also, take on training opportunities at work if possible. Be the person who organizes a lunch discussion around a leadership, management, or professional skills topic.
Visit One Acre Fund’s careers page to learn more about opportunities on the global training and development team.
Nov 01, 2016
Jaconda Chengula, Tanzania
This blog was written by David Hong, One Acre Fund's global senior policy analyst, and Homi Kharas, senior fellow and deputy director for global economics and development at the Brookings Institution. The article was originally published by The Hill and can be viewed here.
The U.S. will soon go to the polls to elect our new president, who will walk into the Oval Office with a laundry list of global challenges. Not all of those issues grab daily headlines. However, it’s important to remember that 800 million people still don’t have enough food to eat, and the situation may become even more serious in the future. By 2050, we’ll have 2 billion more mouths to feed.
The next president of the United States will play a critical role in how these problems are addressed, because the U.S. is the world’s single-biggest donor to food security programs — spending about $2 billion annually. Nevertheless, we can do more to channel our taxpayer dollars efficiently, and better-target funding toward countries with sound policies and the greatest needs.
There are some important reasons why the new president should pay attention to global hunger. Food insecurity — defined by a lack of reliable access to healthy, affordable food — can contribute to political instability, child malnutrition and the loss of precious natural resources. The geopolitical consequences can be staggering. Food price crises in the past several years have sparked riots around the world, igniting political chaos from Haiti to Egypt and leading the intelligence community to warn of future risks.
Children often bear the brunt of food insecurity, which can have huge social and economic costs. Child undernutrition damages brain development and reduces a country’s GDP by two to three percent, according to the World Bank. Unsustainable farming methods may also contribute to a shortfall in food supplies longer term, as farmers try to squeeze more production out of their land and soils become alarmingly degraded. If current trends continue, experts warn that there will only be 60 years left of farming.
Programs like Feed the Future, our government’s official strategy to improve food security, don’t go far enough to address these challenges. Still, there are many solutions about how the U.S. can improve its aid policies, as outlined in our new report, Ending Rural Hunger: The U.S. Response to the Challenge of Global Food and Nutrition Security. Specifically, the next administration should focus on three main points.
First, the U.S. needs to increase support for smallholder farmers.
Farmers cultivating small plots of land account for 75 percent of the world’s poor – and in spite of their work, they face near-constant food insecurity. We need to get better at delivering foreign assistance to this demographic, and we can do so by concentrating our resources on a smaller number of countries. Feed the Future aims to do this by focusing on 19 countries, but our research found that only a third of the $2 billion we spend every year actually ends up there. The majority of funding is spread across nearly 100 other nations, some of which receive money more for geopolitical reasons than need.
Second, funding should be more transparent.
Smallholder farmers need tools and services that enable them to earn higher profits, grow more nutritious food, and improve their soil’s health. Yet there is little transparency about how Feed the Future’s resources are being spent and current reporting is insufficient. Congress, advocates and the public need more information to hold Feed the Future accountable, so that we can ensure funding goes to programs that have the largest impact.
Third, more funding should go toward innovative ideas that stretch donor dollars further and maximize social good.
One example is my organization, One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that offers smallholder farmers loans in the form of high-quality seeds and fertilizer. Farmers also receive agricultural training, and they usually see a dramatic increase in crop yields after joining our program. Not only are our clients able to repay their loans in full, they earn an average of 55 percent more income compared with their neighbors who haven’t joined One Acre Fund.
One Acre Fund defines “social good” as scale multiplied by impact. With a client base of over 400,000 smallholder farmers who earn $137 more than their neighbors, this translates into over $40 million of social good. This earned-revenue model enables donors to achieve a higher “return” on their investment – greater incomes mean smallholder farmers and their families are better nourished and their children attend school more often.
There are a lot of practical reasons to double down on our work to improve global food security, but at the end of the day it’s simply the right thing to do. If we, as a country, want to be a “shining city upon a hill,” then we need to ask our leaders to raise the standards and transparency for how we deliver foreign assistance. If the next president fails to act, the challenges of civil unrest, child malnutrition and natural resource degradation will only continue to grow.
How far are you from the nearest power outlet? If you’re in North America or Europe, the answer is likely within 20 feet. But what would it mean if the nearest outlet wasn’t even in your neighborhood?
In most East African countries, only 10 to 20 percent of people have daily access to electricity, even in urban locations, according to a 2012 World Bank report. The situation is even more critical in rural areas, where people often lack access to even their most basic needs. Homes without electricity also don’t have running water or refrigeration, which can influence sanitation behaviors, cooking, and grocery shopping frequency. This also can affect how populations spend their money and time. And, the vast majority of these rural populations are farmers, since more than 75 percent of the world’s poor farm as a profession.
Most rural East Africans do not own cars, so the challenges are even tougher for farmers trying to access seeds, fertilizer, competitive markets, or even a safe place to keep their money.
So, how do farmers in East Africa get around?
The reality is that many of them walk, often barefoot or in flip-flops. For farmers who don’t own a bicycle or motorcycle, this is the most affordable way to get somewhere.
“I never have the 20 Kenyan shillings (approximately $0.19) that people use to go into town, so I prefer to walk,” says Christine Nakhumicha, a widowed mother who lives on the outskirts of Chwele, Kenya. “It’s not so far away, and it’s good for my health.”
Christine starts most days by walking to get water. There is a water pump at a church roughly 30 meters from her house, but it regularly runs dry, so she often has to walk 30 minutes to the nearest stream. From there, she’ll fill as many jugs of water as she can carry back home. On average, she returns to the stream for water one or two more times each day.
“I need the water to do everything: cooking, drinking, washing, and to water my cows,” Christine says.
Depending on the day, Christine might also walk to the market for some household shopping, or go to meet with the community savings group that she belongs to. The savings group is the closest thing Christine has to a bank. Each week, members pay a set amount, and one individual takes the lump sum to use for personal needs.
“The meetings for the savings group rotate through the houses of the eight farmers who are involved,” Christine says. “The furthest from me is a two-hour walk, but I have to attend so that I am able to receive the money when it is my turn to do so. Then the market can take an hour to get to and then an hour back.”
Bicycle or Boda Boda
Another popular transportation method is by bicycle. Whether it’s a personally owned bike or a bicycle taxi, known as a boda boda in Kenya, bicycles are deeply linked to farmer mobility.
The term boda boda, which is sometimes also used for motorbikes in other East African countries, stems from a history of people using bicycles and motorbikes to carry items across land borders between countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Because this was the cheapest way to travel longer distances, bicycle taxis became affectionately named after the journey. With a hint of Swahili flare, the name shifted from border to border to boda boda.
Francis Mamati, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, purchased his first bicycle in 1985 to help him travel around for work. By 2006, his bike had started to break down, but since his farming was going well, he was able to upgrade to a newer model.
Similar to Christine, Francis spends most of the time he isn’t farming traveling to access basic necessities like food and water.
“Here we have a problem of water,” he says. “We must go very far to get water, and we would then have to carry the water up a very steep hill. If I don’t have money, and I have a journey I need to make, I can cycle there. To use a boda is too expensive compared to having your own. If I get a boda to take me somewhere, then I also get charged for any waiting, so owning a bicycle is cheaper over time.”
Still, many farmers cannot afford to purchase a bicycle upfront, which means bicycle taxis are a booming business in East Africa. Outside of cities, everything from couches to 100-pound pigs can be seen being transported by bicycle.
Motorbike or Piki Piki
When the terrain is too hilly, the load too heavy, or the distance too far, motorbikes become the next transportation solution. In Kenya, motorbike taxis are known as piki pikis.
For 63-year-old smallholder farmer Juliana Wavomba, using a motorbike taxi is the most effective way to run her business. Juliana goes to the market daily to buy a type of collard green called sukuma wiki in bulk, and then sells it in local villages to those who can’t afford to go to the market. She uses the extra money to care for her six grandchildren.
“I always want to get to the market very early so that I can get the freshest vegetables,” Juliana says. “With a motorbike, I’m assured that I can get there any time I want, and the motorbike owner will come and pick me up from my home.”
To get the freshest sukuma, Juliana leaves her house at 6 a.m. most mornings to embark on an hour-long motorbike ride, which gets her to the market right as the shops open. Juliana says she prefers to take a motorbike because otherwise the journey to the market and back would take up too much of her day, and with the motorbike, she knows she’ll make it on time.
“I think bicycles are slow, and they might not be able to carry my large bags of sukuma,” Juliana says. “On the other hand, public transport buses would want to charge me both for my fare and all my sukuma bags, so I prefer using a piki piki.”
Minibuses, vans, and other means of public transportation are available for some rural populations, but like Juliana, many people struggle to afford them.
Smallholder farmers in East Africa often don’t have regular access to their daily necessities, much less the right types of seeds and fertilizer or markets to sell their crops. This is why One Acre Fund puts an emphasis on distribution and delivery, helping farmers attain the tools they need to produce more food. We believe that this is the best way to support rural populations in growing their way out of hunger and poverty.