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Spencer Campbell (above, second from right) is a recruitment manager based in Kigali responsible for coordinating One Acre Fund’s new internship program in Africa. We sat down with Spencer to talk about what he looks for in applicants and the type of work interns do.
Why is One Acre Fund offering internships?
In my work as a recruiter, I’ve traveled across Africa speaking about One Acre Fund. I’ve met hundreds of young African graduates who were bright and capable, but still struggled to find meaningful work opportunities. Many of these new graduates weren’t quite ready yet for an associate position at One Acre Fund, but I knew they could still add a ton of value to the organization. We started the internship program to help build a place for young people to get work experience and training—but there’s also a lot of potential for career advancement within One Acre Fund. We hope to hire as many as half of our interns placed this June on as full-time staff when the program is over. So it’s a great long-term recruiting initiative for us too.
What do you look for in an intern?
Our internships are for African students and recent graduates in the countries where we work. The application process is competitive, and the standards are very high. In our last cohort in Rwanda, we placed one graduate of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Before working with us, he spent 2016 taking leadership courses in the U.S. – and he even met President Obama!
Of course, that’s just one example, and we’re looking for interns with many different types of experience. Any university student or graduate who speaks English fluently is eligible to apply, and we don’t have any previous job requirements. Primarily, I'm looking for someone who is able to learn quickly and take feedback well. The ideal intern also wants to work for One Acre Fund for the long-term and lives the organization’s values. To read more about what we’re looking for, you should check out our recent blog post on application tips.
What type of work do interns do?
Well they don't make tea and run errands, that’s for sure! Currently, our interns are working on a lot of different high-impact projects. We have interns coordinating early stage research on our innovations team, looking at things like soil health, livestock, and drought resilience. On our partnerships team, one intern is evaluating ways that we can better educate our government partners on the difference One Acre Fund is making in communities. At our finance office in Kigali, interns are working on projects that will help us reduce waste and inefficiency.
What are the other benefits of being an intern at One Acre Fund?
From the start, I wanted to make sure that the internship experience was great for both interns and managers. We pay all our interns living, housing, and communication stipends. All interns go through a one-week on-boarding program at our field headquarters, which involves meeting farmers and field staff, and really getting to know what our organization is all about. Every intern has a buddy who helps them integrate quickly into their team, and a manager whom they speak with one-on-one on a weekly basis. We also try to arrange a few "Leadership Lunches" with senior staff. Our first Rwanda cohort this year was able to meet One Acre Fund’s Co-Founder and Executive Director Andrew Youn, and several other members of our leadership staff.
What advice do you have on the application process?
The application process is rigorous and includes tests, written exercises, interviews and essays. One of my favorite essays from last year talked about how One Acre Fund had affected the candidate personally. The candidate talked about how he learned about One Acre Fund when we provided his family with a solar light. He studied for exams under the light of the lamp, and when he got to university, he decided to major in electrical engineering so he could learn how to bring light to every community in Rwanda. So here’s my biggest piece of advice: Don't be afraid to tell your story.
How do you apply?
If you’re ready to apply, you can click here to fill out our internship application form. Applications need to be completed by April 15. On the form you need to include your work history, educational background, and job skills. You can also list up to three departments you'd like to intern with—later in the process, finalists will be offered more information about their specific projects and teams. Good luck!
Eliazal Kabuke is a One Acre Fund farmer in Mukimba village in Rwanda. Eliazal is 65 years old, proud of his farming and expects a good future from it. "I hope I will live longer! My family is healthy now because of my farming.This makes me happy," he says.
Stacks of seed and fertilizer wait piled high in one of the National Cereals and Produce Board's warehouses in Bungoma, Kenya. Within two weeks, One Acre Fund delivered 1.190 million kgs of fertilizer and 185,269 kgs of seed to farmers in Western Kenya.
Anysia Nyirabahutu stood outside her home last September, looking towards the cloudless sky. “The rain is from God’s mercy,” she explains, “if it rains, we will be able to work our lands. We hope that God will bless us with the rain.”
Anysia is one of more than 1600 One Acre Fund farmers in Huye district, Rwanda. Six months ago, her land was completely dry. Anysia had already received her seed, fertilizer, and other inputs from One Acre Fund, and was anxious to plant what she hoped would grow into the best harvest of her life. But her One Acre Fund field officer had stressed the importance of waiting until the rains came to grow the best harvest possible. And so Anysia waited.
On October 15, nearly a month later than expected, the first rains arrived in Huye. But farmers still had a bit longer to wait to ensure that this really was the start of the rainy season. After two more weeks, in which many farmers struggled to decide when it was appropriate to plant, One Acre Fund farmers in Huye started their faming activities as planned.
Planting time differs from one region to another in Rwanda, as rains are not equally distributed within the districts where One Acre Fund operates. In some districts in southern Rwanda, like Rutsiro, maize had already germinated in September. Meanwhile, farmers like Anysia in Huye could not plant until late October, due to a longer dry season than usual.
Once the rains finally came, Anysia was prepared not only with improved inputs, but also with training on new planting techniques. Her field officer had taught her best practices, like how to plant in a straight line and measure the appropriate distance between rows of maize. She also learned how deep to plant seeds and how much fertilizer to use. To ensure that all of the techniques were followed correctly, Anysia was encouraged to plant with her producer group, and her field officer visited her fields to spot check her methods.
Despite inputs and training from One Acre Fund, the delayed rains posed a significant challenge for Anysia and her community. After the rains arrived, many farmers rushed to plant quickly because they feared the rains would end soon. Some farmers opted to ignore the new, more time-consuming techniques they had been taught in favor of quicker, more familiar methods. One Acre Fund field officers redoubled their efforts, following up with their members and sometimes even helping replant improperly planted crops!
Thanks to the hard work of farmers and field officers, 70 percent of maize germinated, exceeding One Acre Fund’s expectations for maize germination this season. “We are happy for this figure! We were not expecting such a good percentage. As the rains were not enough, we thought the seeds would fail to germinate,” explained Aaron, One Acre Fund’s director of monitoring and evaluation in Rwanda.
One Acre Fund farmers are just now beginning to see the results of their hard work as harvest begins. Colette Mushimiyimana joined One Acre Fund this season, and is confident that this harvest will be her best yet. Her maize stalks are larger and healthier-looking, and are beginning to grow large cobs.
“I am proud of my maize!” Colette explains. “I can see changes in size of my maize compared to the maize I used to grow before One Acre Fund. This promises a good harvest this season!”
Farmers in Kayenzi, Western Rwanda, learn the proper amount of fertilizer to apply during maize planting.
One Acre Fund has more than 800 individuals on staff that work directly with smallholder farmers. These individuals, called field officers, have a lot to do in an average week. They must enroll a high number of farmers and still manage to deliver quality trainings and support to farmers throughout the season. They are also effective at collecting repayment and mobilizing farmers to attend meetings. We need more high-performing field officers to achieve our goal of providing high-quality customer service to farmers as we grow.
In March and April 2012, One Acre Fund monitoring and evaluation (M&E) staff conducted a detailed time-use study with field officers serving farmers in western Kenya. The primary goal of the project was to gain a better understanding of how our strongest field officers structured their time in order to maximize productivity. We hoped that by comparing these officers to some of our less effective field officers, we would be able to uncover some best practices in time management that could inform our future trainings, tools and expectations for field officers across One Acre Fund.
The field officer time use project began with a survey that measured the number of hours per day spent on activities like walking, training, collecting repayment, visiting fields, waiting for farmers, and resting. We also asked M&E survey agents to observe which tasks seemed to be most difficult for our field officers. In order to avoid altering their usual routines, each survey was conducted during a single, impromptu, day-long visit during which the survey agent pretended to be a new One Acre Fund hire with a shadowing assignment. This approach allowed M&E agents to collect more candid responses and even advice from the field officers in the study group. Our total sample consisted of 55 field officers working across five districts. Half of the sample were high-performing field officers, while the rest had been identified as some of our weaker staff.
The study results were fascinating. We found that the number of hours spent working did not predict performance. Instead, it was how field hours were allocated that made the difference in service to farmers. Strong field officers spent significantly more time conducting meetings and trainings than their weaker counterparts, while weak field officers spent more time visiting homes, waiting for farmers, and collecting repayment. Seventy-five percent of the survey agents thought that moving around the sublocation and mobilizing farmers to attend meetings was the most difficult task for field officers. Agents considered site geography (large territories, long walking times), waiting for farmers, and unprepared group leaders to be the top causes of field officer inefficiency.
In the past six months, One Acre Fund has made a number of operational improvements based on the results of this study. To assist with field officer planning and time management, we created a new version of their weekly “toolbook” to include template agendas for weekly farmer meetings, a way to track tasks delegated to group leaders, and a section for strategic mapping of travel routes and regional “clusters” of farmers for meetings. We also rolled out a number of initiatives to support group leader development and involvement, including a leader’s constitution and a group leader curriculum that will include monthly sessions throughout the 2013 season. To assist field officers in overcoming geographical challenges, we split a number of large sites into two different territories and created a new volunteer mobilizer position for each region. The mobilizer team proved instrumental in boosting attendance at meetings where farmers signed contracts for our alternative crop package a few months ago.
There are also a few new projects in the pipeline to help improve field officer effectiveness in western Kenya. We will soon be involving the field officers’ direct managers, or field managers, in a data-driven initiative to improve training quality. We also hope to offer a training for field officers about the benefits of working efficiently. Finally, we are in the process of trialing new methods of mobile repayment that could allow field officers to avoid collecting cash entirely.
We hope to continue to explore new ways for field officers to free their time to focus on agricultural trainings and monitoring of their clients. As One Acre Fund grows, we must continue develop our field staff to ensure that they are providing the best possible service to the people who matter most: our farmers.
Roger Thurow recently authored a story in Guideposts about the farmers featured in The Last Hunger Season. The Last Hunger Season follows a year in the lives of four One Acre Fund farmers in Kenya, chronicling their challenges and triumphs.
Want to hear more about Rasoa, Zipporah, Francis, and Leonida? Click here to read the whole story!
The worst part of Helen Soita’s year began every March. Her previous harvest would be nearly gone, and the next harvest was still months away. Helen would toil for hours in her family’s fields, hoping that this year would be the year she grew enough food to feed her five children. Inevitably, Helen would begin cutting portions, then entire meals. “We would feel so weak because we slept on an empty stomach and then had to go farm,” Helen recalls.
Helen’s story is not uncommon. Up to 75 percent of agriculture producers in Africa are women. Collectively, these women spend thousands of hours working in their fields, only to produce meager harvests that are not large enough to feed their families. For example, over 96 percent of economically active women work in agriculture in Rwanda, yet 57 percent of households live below the poverty line. Breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty for women like Helen requires an innovation in agriculture productivity.
Women farmers around the world face even greater barriers to increasing their agriculture productivity than their husbands or sons. While many rural farmers have difficulty accessing seed and fertilizer from distant market points, women are especially pressed for time and money. It is also particularly difficult for women to access credit in rural communities, as most do not have a formal title to their primary asset: land. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, only 10 percent of credit in sub-Saharan Africa is extended to women. Due to prevailing gender norms, many women farmers are less educated than men, having completed only primary school. Finally, although women are responsible for growing a family’s crops, they are largely locked out of markets to sell their produce. The business of selling crops is male-dominated, and women often have difficulty negotiating with traders to obtain a fair price.
One Acre Fund empowers women to grow their way out of poverty through providing a “market bundle”: inputs, finance, training, and market facilitation. This market bundle is delivered to over 130,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, deep in the rural areas where they live. One Acre Fund requires all loan contracts to be signed by the person tending to the fields, meaning that a large percentage of our loan contracts are signed by women. In Western Kenya, for example, women constitute about 60 percent of contract signers. Once these farmers are armed with new inputs and knowledge, they are able to grow more food and use their income to build better homes, open new businesses, buy more land, purchase livestock, and, most often, pay for their children’s education. In this way One Acre Fund serves not only individual farmers, but entire families.
As women farmers transform their families, entire communities begin to change, too. One Acre Fund commonly hires its most committed farmers to serve as field officers. As more women farmers sign up for the program, more women have the opportunity to lead their communities as field officers. Helen, for example, learned about One Acre Fund from her neighbor and field officer, Phoebe Wanyonyi. High-performing field officers quickly rise through the ranks of the organization. In fact, half of the field directors and assistant field directors in Rwanda are women, and two-thirds of field managers in Burundi are women.
Thanks to Helen’s hard work and Phoebe’s extensive training, Helen’s life has turned around. Since her first harvest with One Acre Fund in 2010, she has paid school fees for her children, diversified her crops, and constructed a new house with an iron roof. She grew so much surplus maize that she even began selling dried maize to her neighbors. “After joining One Acre Fund, I now have enough food. There is no hunger in our home,” she says.
In late 2012, a new maize disease appeared in western Kenya that causes near total to total crop loss. This disease, known as MLND, has quickly spread throughout the main food-producing areas of Kenya. 2013 will be its first full season, and it poses a significant threat to food security in Kenya.
A food crisis in Kenya would be devastating for many people. Already, one in ten children die before the age of one. Among the children who survive, about 40 percent are physically stunted from a lifetime of not eating enough. Adding a crop failure to these chronic challenges would be a huge blow for millions of people.
Luckily, One Acre Fund spotted the risk of MLND early. We are in a great position to help prevent a major food crisis for our farmers.
We recently completed a major overhaul to our Kenya operations to switch aggressively to alternative crops. We are offering our Kenyan farmers sweet potato and cassava to defend against hunger, sorghum and millet for income-generation, and beans and collard greens for nutrition. We hope that this diversified crop package will help our Kenyan farmers remain resilient in a difficult year.
We are also doing things that could be productive for all of Kenya. For example, we are currently multiplying Kenya’s entire supply of improved sweet potato vines. We are also collaborating closely with the Kenyan government and the national research agency.
All of our new research into alternative crops will affect our ability to increase our financial sustainability this year. But we are willing to take a temporary hit on sustainability in the service of an enormous humanitarian opportunity.
We also expect a slight contraction in our Kenya operation this year. However, our Rwanda and Burundi operations will grow as planned, so we will see modest growth organization-wide.
MLND presents a serious risk to Kenya’s food security in the coming years. By acting early, we can help Kenya’s farmers. At this challenging time, our services are more important than ever.
A group of farmers plant maize in Kisiwa, Kenya. They check how far apart to plant the seeds in each row based on the blue ties on their planting string.
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