BLOG Category: staff-profile
David Renaud Umugabe (left), Patrick Semana (middle), and Thierry Kamugisha (right) are three of our current Rwanda interns.
One Acre Fund’s internship program is now accepting applications for a number of positions across eastern and southern Africa. To find out what it’s like to be a One Acre Fund intern and how to make the most of the program, we spoke with three of our most recent interns in Rwanda.
How did you find out about the internship program, and why did you decide to apply?
Patrick Semana, Procurement Team: I first found out about this internship on Facebook. When I opened the link to read about One Acre Fund, I quickly fell in love with the organization. I grew up in a village in Rwanda that was struck by famine in the early 2000s. Many people fled in search of a new life in other areas, especially out of the country. I grew up with a bitter hatred against hunger, so when I learned that One Acre Fund’s ultimate vision is to eradicate hunger, I did not think twice about applying. I saw it not only as an opportunity to enhance my skills, but also to use them in the fight against hunger and poverty.
David Renaud Umugabe, Product Innovations Team: One of my former classmates told me there was an ad on the Internet for an internship at One Acre Fund. I started to read about the organization on its website, blog, and social media, and I realized that its values and approach were something that I wanted to be a part of. Even throughout the recruitment and interview process, One Acre Fund’s team reflected the values of hard work, humble service, and continual growth.
What sort of work do you do as a One Acre Fund intern?
Thierry Kamugisha, Product Innovations Team: My first project has been about advancing soil health. One Acre Fund has conducted a large amount of research in this area, and my task has been to review all of those research papers and trials, to try to understand the soil health status across Rwanda. Hopefully we will be able to identify new initiatives that can improve soil health and impact on the lives of our clients.
Patrick Semana: I am working on two projects related to tendering and storage, which ultimately may help the organization benefit from decreased prices and reinforce relationships with suppliers. I am so far on track to complete my projects, thanks to the help of my entire team. Working at One Acre Fund requires concentration and focus, but everyone is kind and willing to help. This makes learning as an intern very easy. I do weekly check-in meetings with my manager, which provide me with guidance and the kind of help I need to execute tasks. It is also a pleasant time to talk to my manager and listen to their feedback about my work.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned during your internship?
David Renaud Umugabe: Being here has provided me with an amazing opportunity to learn from people from different cultures, experiences, and expertise. I’ve had the chance to meet people of who are passionate about serving and putting farmers first in their daily work. This internship has opened my eyes and my mind to what types of career development opportunities are out there, and what my work can achieve.
Thierry Kamugisha: I have always wanted to work in an organization that focuses on agricultural research and technology, so I have enjoyed every moment I’ve spent at One Acre Fund. I have the hope that we can make this country of a thousand hills an East African paradise. Rwanda has a lot of potential—a good climate and favorable temperatures that are suitable for agriculture. We just have to change a very few details about how we farm, and we can achieve a lot. Interning with One Acre Fund has given me the confidence that there are people out there supporting farmers and providing them with new agriculture techniques and access to inputs. I feel lucky to be here, and I hope to remain as long as possible.
One Acre Fund is hiring in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia for its June-August 2017 intern class. Our internships are paid, and any university student or recent graduate with work permission in those countries is eligible. Click here to apply.
A group of One Acre Fund's interns from Rwanda
An internship with One Acre Fund is a great way to launch your career, and we’re now looking for the best and brightest young Africans to join our team. Applications for our June-August 2017 intern class are now open for students and recent graduates in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia.
Our internship hiring process is competitive—you’ll have to fill out an online application, write essays, and complete written tests, interviews, and work exercises. Here are some tips to make your application shine:
Understand the mission. We’re looking for interns who really get what One Acre Fund does. You can learn more about us by checking out our blog and reading the articles in our Insights library. You can also take a look at some of our past annual reports. Candidates who deeply understand One Acre Fund's work tend to do better in the application process.
Showcase your key job skills. No matter where you intern with One Acre Fund, you'll be working on important projects with the potential to create a big impact. If you’ve got relevant job experience for our teams, anything from field to finance, let us know! Make sure you tell us about any leadership experience you’ve gained through other internships or volunteering. Skills in research and proficiency in office software like Microsoft Excel are also a plus.
Write great essays. We ask interns to submit a short work history as well as two essays as part of their applications. Your essays help us understand why you want to work at One Acre Fund and what you could bring to the team. The spelling and grammar don’t have to be perfect, but take your time writing these. We expect your essays to be original works that only you write—we’re eager to know about your experience and insights.
Live One Acre Fund's values. Read our core values before you apply. Our values guide our work, and we consider the values-fit of every candidate. We’re looking for interns who are ready to serve with humility, learn a lot, dream big, and make a big impact. Does this sound like you?
Want to find out more about One Acre Fund’s internship program? You can read about the experiences of some of our interns in Rwanda here.
If you’re ready to apply, here’s our online application form. Good luck!
Janina Schnick, One Acre Fund Government Relations Manager
One Acre Fund works in six countries across eastern and southern Africa, so the relationships we’ve built with governments have been crucial to keeping our operations running. As we look forward to future growth, the team’s role is becoming even more important. Janina Schnick, a government relations manager based in Nairobi, sat down with recruiter Divya Bisht to talk about how the organization works with governments, as well as new opportunities on the growing team.
Divya Bisht: What does the government relations team do?
Janina Schnick: The core role of our team is to maintain relationships with governments and provide support to key departments, so that One Acre Fund can keep doing its work in all the countries where we operate. We work on compliance, government procedures, risk and issue resolution, relationship management, and policy. Our team takes care of governments, so other teams don’t have to.
DB: Why is your work important?
JS: We’re one of the departments that doesn’t have a lot of visibility—you don’t hear from us if everything goes well. While working with governments can sometimes be challenging, it’s important to understand that One Acre Fund cannot operate without their approval. Nothing can be done in the long-term without government support. Government relationships depend on different country contexts and often on individuals, so our team focuses on leveraging those relationships to achieve the best possible operating environment in every country.
DB: Where do you see the department going in the next 3-5 years?
JS: Apart from making sure we have smooth operating environments in the field, we’re moving away from the support function only. We’re going to become more specialized, with different team members focusing on distinct topics such as policy analysis, expansion support, regulatory compliance, and new stakeholder engagement. In some countries, we have also started building political champions, for example by hosting members of parliament to field events, which is great marketing for our program in expansion areas. Of course, as One Acre Fund expands and enters new countries, we will regularly have to reassess our approaches of engaging government in different country contexts. While our strategies have been tried and tested in the places where we’re already established, this doesn’t mean that things will be the same elsewhere, so we’re always trying to keep an open, innovative mind about ways to engage governments for the benefit of One Acre Fund.
DB: What do you find most exciting about your department?
JS: I really like our department because it is quite nimble and diverse. We don’t need a lot of people to make a lot of things happen in many countries. It’s also interesting because we’re involved in many different aspects of One Acre Fund’s work, which starts in the field and can reach up to the highest levels of government. Our interactions with the Product Innovations team are particularly exciting: In many cases, we need licenses and permissions from the government to conduct field trials for new products, so we get to be involved in those processes from an early stage.
DB: What roles are you hiring now, and what kind of profiles are you looking for?
JS: Ideally, we’re looking for East Africans, because in general, One Acre Fund is trying to hire local staff into higher-level roles. Work experience with governments would be an advantage, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Overall, ideal candidates need to have good communication skills and a patient attitude—in this field, you need to have a high frustration tolerance. I’d also add that candidates need to be very independent, because their manager may not be in the same country with them all the time.
DB: What is the trajectory for career growth?
JS: In the roles we’re hiring for, there are definitely going to be management opportunities from the start. We want to hire people who think broadly about their careers, who are always looking for new opportunities, and who seek out ways to develop new projects that help us in our work. Eventually, there will be opportunities to be involved in higher-level strategic decisions for the apartment. And, I would also say that since our department is quite small and global, there are opportunities to travel and work in many different countries. For example, I’ve worked in Uganda, Kenya, and have recently taken on handling government relations in Tanzania.
One Acre Fund is currently hiring for more than 60 open positions. To learn more about career opportunities in government relations or other teams, visit our careers page.
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.
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.
I joined One Acre Fund in October 2015, as a recruiter on the people operations team. I am based in New York, but my job as a recruiter is to find highly skilled individuals to serve smallholder farmers in East Africa. You may be wondering: how is a recruiter based in New York supposed to fully grasp the staffing needs of teams based in East Africa?
To ensure every staffer understands the mission and feels connected to the farmers we serve, One Acre Fund sends non-field-based staff on extended field visits. These field visits help staff understand One Acre Fund’s operational context just a little bit better, which allows us to hire the right people, and provide farmers with the service they deserve.
For my first visit to the field, I planned to spend six weeks observing One Acre Fund’s operations in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. My goal was to meet with as many colleagues and farmers as possible, and soak up all I could about One Acre Fund’s field operations, so that I could come back and paint a clear and compelling picture of life in the field for stellar job candidates who would then join One Acre Fund’s family of leaders. I was on a mission.
My first stop was Kenya, One Acre Fund’s first-ever country operation. After meeting with my recruiter colleague Wangari Mungai in Nairobi, I traveled to Bungoma, where One Acre Fund Kenya is headquartered. In Bungoma, I had the opportunity to attend a district-level farmer meeting, visit our tree nursery, and check out our livestock and poultry trial center. I even had the opportunity to plant maize with farmers!
I also met with colleagues who run our field operations, to gain a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of things like input delivery. One colleague took me on a tour of our very recently emptied warehouses, which gave me a very real sense of the scale of our input distribution operation in Kenya.
In Uganda, I arrived at One Acre Fund’s headquarters in Jinja just in time to observe a candidate selection process. There were over 30 applicants who showed up! First we administered written tests, and then invited the top 10 performers for an in-person interview in the afternoon. The top three performers were then invited to an all-day, in-person interview the following Monday. I had heard about One Acre Fund’s unique, in-person candidate selection process for field-based roles, but it was really useful to see it in-person.
My field visit concluded in beautiful, hilly Rwanda. I am the recruiter for the finance team, and One Acre Fund’s finance team recently centralized operations in Rubengera, so I was able to spend a lot of time meeting with finance team members, learning about their needs and discussing strategies for attracting top candidates. I was even able to interview some candidates applying for finance roles in Rubengera.
Before I knew it, the six weeks were over, and I was back at my desk in New York. However, I returned with a new sense of confidence representing One Acre Fund’s model and organizational culture in interviews, and found myself more prepared to answer candidates’ questions about what it’s like to live and work in a rural area.
Overall, my visit to the field helped me gain a more nuanced understanding of One Acre Fund’s mission and impact, which has in turn helped me be a better recruiter.
Interested in joining the One Acre Fund recruitment team? Apply to become a recruitment coordinator today!
This blog was written by Hilda Poulson, senior analyst at One Acre Fund, and originally published by Devex. To view the original post, click here.
Jake and Jennie Calhoun met in the summer of 2009, when they were both interning for a small NGO in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. Just one year later, the development neophytes moved to Bungoma, Kenya to work for One Acre Fund, where they spent three and half years before re-locating to New York City.
Now, seven years after that summer in Cambodia, Jake, 32, and Jennie, 34, have joined the ranks of One Acre Fund’s senior leadership. They’ve also become parents to daughter Cassie, 2, and son Noah, 6 months. Their professional advancement and the growth of their family has coincided with a period of explosive growth for One Acre Fund, which has grown from 23,000 farmers served in 2010 to over 400,000 farmers served in 2016.
With so much change at work and at home, many people would be content to just stay the course. But not this couple, who recently made the bold decision to move their young family to Rwanda. Here, Jake and Jennie share how they got to where they are today (Chief Financial Officer and Director of Global Recruitment respectively), and why mid-career professionals with kids at home can still build long and happy careers in international development.
1. Jake, you started with One Acre Fund in 2010, and Jennie in 2011. Can you tell us how you came to work for the same organization?
Jake: I started my career as a systems engineer at the nonprofit Finance Fund. That role taught me the importance of back-office and finance roles at nonprofits. I knew I wanted to transition out of engineering though, so I went to Columbia Business School to make it happen, and landed a job as a finance manager at One Acre Fund in 2010. I was based in Bungoma, my first experience in rural Africa, for three and half years. Looking back, it was very critical to my career that I was within walking distance to One Acre Fund clients.
Jennie: My career in international development started in a fairly unlikely place – Chicago! I started my career in international development at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was my first job after college, and it was a fantastic experience, but I wanted to get experience in the private sector early in my career to develop strong project management skills. Deliberate networking landed me a referral at Accenture, a management-consulting firm, where I worked for four years consulting for different Fortune 500 companies.
I enjoyed management consulting, but I realized I wanted to have more of a social impact. So I went back to graduate school in 2008 and got my Masters in International Affairs. Jake and I actually met in Cambodia, while I was interning at various NGOs as part of my masters program.
2. You’ve both been with One Acre Fund for a long time now. What made you ultimately decide, “yes, this is the place to build my career long-term?”
Jennie: I think strong employees who are committed to the mission and their team is really important. Working with great people can mean the difference between a marginally satisfying job and a career that knocks it out of the park. I absolutely love the team that I work with and find real fulfillment and joy in getting other awesome people from all over the world to join One Acre Fund and help us serve farmers.
Jake: I agree with Jennie—I joined One Acre Fund because it was a fast-growing organization with a strong leadership team and a very impactful business model. But I’ve stayed for 5+ years because of the people I work with. I can’t overstate how inspiring it is to work in a place where you’re surrounded by smart, passionate, and fun people.
3. Jake, you’re One Acre Fund’s Chief Financial Officer, and Jennie, you’re the Director of Global Development. What is your absolute favorite thing about your job?
Jennie: I think my favorite thing is that my current role combines all of the things I enjoyed about consulting with the social impact I always wanted to make. What first caught my attention about One Acre Fund was the mission, and the fact that I would get to work in the field, close to the client. Once I started, everything just “clicked” for me: I was really excited by the organization’s business approach, and the emphasis on using analytics to make decisions and generate social impact. That excitement is still a big part of what I love about coming to work every day.
Jake: It’s probably the chance to imagine providing life-changing products to over 1 million smallholder farmers. While the finance team focuses on details and keeps day-to-day operations running, we also get the chance to step back and think about the big-picture stuff, like how we can build a team to serve 1 million clients by 2020. Over the last five years, we’ve transformed from a scrappy start-up to an established organization, and it’s really awesome to dream about what the next five years will look like.
4. You guys are married, and you both serve in leadership roles at the same organization. What’s the secret to keeping work and home life separate?
Jake: The main thing is to create boundaries and actively avoid the trap of talking work while at home, or out with friends…but luckily friends don’t ask too much about our jobs, so…
Jennie: Well, to be honest, we don’t have a strict “no talking about work outside of the office” policy! That wouldn’t work for us, but there is an upside — we can talk about work without having to explain context, and can use each other as sounding boards and support systems.
Jake: Obviously we talk work at times, but I think it’s more like how partners talk about work (celebrating accomplishments, complaining about random things, etc.) and less how colleagues would talk work.
I think having other things in our lives (kids, friends, family, etc.) is also important to maintaining a good balance. We have a lot of shared experiences that are not related to work, and these experiences are more interesting to talk about and joke about.
5. You guys also have two kids under three years old. How do you balance making time for your family with pursuing your careers?
Jennie: It’s not easy, and there is a lot less sleep now! I think one of the key things for us is making sure there is equal support for one another as individuals, parents, colleagues and partners. We try to make sure that each of us has equal opportunity in pursuing work and personal opportunities – even though it might not happen simultaneously.
For example, Jake’s job works better when he’s based the field, closer to all of the people that he manages. But we spent a few years back in the states for family reasons, where it was harder for him and meant tons of early morning calls each week. Now that we’re headed back to the field, it will be a bit harder for me since most of my team is in the US. But we support each other and realize at times, we each must make a bit of a sacrifice for each other or our family.
Jake: It’s been a process, but I can say we’ve identified a few specific things that really work for us in terms of maintaining a healthy balance.
The first this is to put family first. While we make macro decisions (like moving to Kigali) that are career focused, the day-to-day time and devotion to family is the top priority. It makes sense to orient big decisions around careers, but than if all the little decisions are family focused, you actually end up with a nice family-centric balance.
The second big thing is making, and sticking to, schedules. Kids force you to be home at specific times, so we’ve developed a nice system for sharing the child-care responsibilities, and we always stick to our agreed-upon schedules.
Finally, I have to admit that the privilege of having secure and flexible jobs is really the biggest factor.
Jennie: We definitely have a great support system at work, of people who understand the challenges of having young kids, and this helps me be honest when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need additional time to complete things.
6. Raising kids is tough enough, yet you recently decided to relocate your family from New York City to Rwanda. What led you to make this big change?
Jake: Raising kids in New York is challenging! But seriously, I do think that having lived in rural Kenya for more than three years, and having traveled with the kids to East Africa multiple times — we do feel like we know what we’re getting in to.
Jennie and I also just love travelling— we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to explore different parts of the globe while working abroad. We started dating in Cambodia, got married in Kenya, and honeymooned in Malaysia. We think it’s important to expose our kids to the world, and to show them what we are passionate about.
Jennie: When we were talking about this decision, our previous experience living in Kenya was very much in our minds. In many ways, this wasn’t a choice to move, but to move back. We have a rich community of colleagues and friends in East Africa, and we are excited to get back.
In terms of actually deciding on Kigali, we knew we wanted to be somewhere where the kids would have access to quality healthcare and educational opportunities. Given recent changes to organizational structure, the most logical place for Jake to work is probably Kigali, and I can do my job from there too fairly easily. With Kigali, everything just seemed to line up.
7. What would you say to the skeptics out there who may think it’s a crazy idea to move two little kids to Rwanda?
Jake: It’s going to be amazing! We have already found a wonderful Montessori school for our daughter, where she’ll learn French and make friends with Rwandan, European, and American children. Our son will spend his days in the sun, playing with neighbors’ kids in our yard… a yard! Imagine that in New York City!
Jennie: While I’m excited, I think I’m a bit more circumspect than Jake. Every big change seems daunting at first, but we are moving because it’s the best opportunity for our family. The kids will get a wonderful cultural experience, and will live in the kind of tight-knit community that is sometimes difficult to create in a place like New York. They will get to go to schools with kids from all over the world, and see their parents doing jobs they really love. We hope they’ll draw inspiration from that, and from getting out into the field and meeting farmers. We want them to develop a wider and more compassionate worldview.
The biggest downside we see is being far away from our extended family, and the logistics of moving a family of four — but everything else is really promising for us!
8. Where do you see yourselves in 10 years, both in terms of career and family?
Jake: Hiding from my teenage daughter.
Jennie: Wow. I hadn’t really imagined our kids at 10 and 12 years old, or as teenagers – you just made me feel really old! I imagine our family thriving – a little unit that will do well wherever we are. For our careers, I see us continuing to do well, taking on more strategic and management projects within the organization and supporting each other as we do so. I see us focused less on position growth, and concentrating more on how we can help grow and improve our teams and the organization as whole.
9. Looking to the future, what most excites you about where One Acre Fund is going as an organization?
Jennie: I am so excited by One Acre Fund’s ability to learn from the successes in our program, and apply those learnings to new contexts. I am also really excited to see the evolution of our strategic partnerships with other microfinance organizations, governments, and research institutions. These are opportunities that can help us reach hundreds of thousands more farmers and generate even more impact.
10. What advice do you have for established professionals who may be interested in moving to the field, but who aren’t sure they’re ready to take the leap?
Jake: My advice would be to think about why you aren’t making the leap, and to then really consider what you’re getting into. If you play it out, committing to a modest amount of time, like two years, in the “field” is not really a big deal. So many things change in two years, the fact that you are physically located somewhere else is probably of minimal influence on your personal life and satisfaction. The upside to moving abroad is a better career and a new and interesting experience. The downside may seem insurmountable, but the things you imagine going poorly or being difficult abroad are just as likely to happen where you are today.
Potential applicants at One Acre Fund's social enterprise happy hour
One Acre Fund is always looking for incredible talent to join our organization. There are lots of ways to connect with our recruitment team to learn more about the hiring process and the opportunities available.
1. Attend a Social Enterprise Happy Hour!
Happy Hours spotlight different social enterprises working in areas like agriculture, health and education. We regularly host Happy Hours and other recruitment events in Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala. Come out for a free drink, a great discussion, and a chance to meet with One Acre Fund recruiters.
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2. Subscribe to our Career Newsletter!
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Louis Terren had been working for corporations for almost five years when he came across One Acre Fund in an article about non-profit careers. He immediately visited the website, and after reading about the organization’s impressive impact, decided to apply to the new country expansion team.
Here, Louis shares his experiences working on One Acre Fund’s first-ever pilot in East Asia, and offers some sound advice for would-be applicants interested in applying to work with One Acre Fund.
What does it mean to be a New Country Scout for One Acre Fund?
Being a new country scout means being professionally curious, driven and adaptable. My role is exciting and energizing, but also requires flexibility and a willingness to see an unconventional set up as an adventure rather than a barrier. Initially, during my first three weeks in-country, I worked out of a hotel room and traveled to the field everyday on a Honda scooter. These days, I still spend a lot of time in the field, studying the market and checking that our strategy makes sense. It can be tricky though, because now I also interview candidates to build our Myanmar team, and am responsible for office and administrative work, which must be done after I get back from the field. Pilot teams are small, so people often carry a wide range of responsibilities, but we also get to work on a lot of new and exciting projects at once…it’s a trade-off!
Can you tell us more about One Acre Fund’s early-stage work in Myanmar?
One Acre Fund is running a pilot program in Myanmar. We’re based in Pyay, a town in Bago province, along the Irrawaddy River. Here, farmers mostly grow rice during the monsoon season and beans and sesame in the dry season. I flew down here four months ago to launch the pilot.
Our goal for this pilot is to test whether One Acre Fund’s model could increase farmer incomes significantly in Myanmar. We’re specifically interested in trying to raise farm profitability for smallholder farmers through yield increase and credit cost reduction. Farmers in Myanmar cultivate many different crops, but the most common crop in the Bago region where we’re located is rice. Unfortunately, rice has not been a very profitable crop for farmers here due to low yields and high costs of labor. So we are piloting a fertilizer loan program at low interest rates to give farmers the opportunity to earn greater profits by increasing the productivity of their land.
What is team Myanmar working on at the moment?
This week, farmers are forming groups to enroll in our program, so I’m in the field everyday with our field director and field officers.
If you were to stop by our office in town, you’d meet Joseph, my agronomist colleague, who is preparing our cultivation training curriculum in Burmese, and Gloria, our accountant, who is closing the books for March and setting up our CRM system. Later this year, we’re planning to research and potentially launch other interventions, such as mechanization, access to markets, cash crops, and an open research station for seed selection and agronomy trials.
What are the priorities for the Myanmar pilot moving forward?
One Acre Fund has a decade of experience in field operations serving farm families; we hope to leverage our learnings and systems from East Africa to replicate our impactful programs in the Burmese context. The fundamentals are similar: 70 percent of the population are farmers with very low yields, and who pay very high interest rates to invest in inputs for their farms.
Interestingly, unlike many of our customers in East Africa, most Burmese farmers do not struggle to grow enough to feed their families year-round. However, farmers unfortunately aren’t generating enough profits from their activities to improve their quality of life and achieve financial security. Farmers rely heavily on very high interest rate credits to cover emergency and living expenses between harvests. Our priority is to create programs that can raise farmer annual revenues so that they can build a financial safety net and break free of this debt cycle.
What is your favorite thing about working for One Acre Fund?
I love our complete focus on impact. The organization is very effective at changing farmers’ lives in Africa, and it’s an extremely rewarding project to be part of. I hope we will achieve the same with Burmese farmers.
What has been the biggest lesson you've learned so far at One Acre Fund?
“Success is in the details” is my motto these days. In One Acre Fund jargon it’s called “zooming in”, meaning project managers need to go deep into the operational details to make sure their strategy is implementable. Often times, an idea makes sense on paper and looks promising, but it fails in the field because of simple logistical things like “farmers can’t read” or “you can’t carry 200 kilograms of fertilizer on one motorbike.” One Acre Fund has a culture of building the strategy from the field up, starting with farmer surveys and focus groups, then building up into excel models, and then back down into a field trial, and back up for analysis and strategic pivots. In my opinion, it’s this constant back-and-forth between the field and the drawing board that has made the organization excellent at execution.
Do you have any advice for candidates applying to one of our roles in Myanmar?
Pack your hobbies in your suitcase and start learning Burmese! But in all seriousness, if you’re interested in a career that combines professional rigor with a little bit of risk and a lot of impact potential, I highly recommend applying to a role on our new country scouting team.
Alex Hasbach joined One Acre Fund Kenya in 2012 because she was eager to get practical, on-the-ground experience working with farmers. A trip to Kenya at age 15 had exposed her to the devastating effects of food insecurity in rural communities, and inspired her pursue a career in agriculture development. When she arrived in Bungoma, Kenya, however, Alex realized that she had stumbled upon much more than just your average development job.
Now, four and half years later, Alex tells us how working for One Acre Fund transformed her most basic assumptions about about workplace culture, and the surprising things she learned leading a team of 1,300 in rural Kenya.
How did you know that you wanted to work in international agriculture development?
Growing up, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in conservation biology. I loved playing outside and studying the natural world, and I wanted to help protect our environment. The more I learned about ecology and conservation, however, the more I realized the pressure that our human need for food security places on the planet’s natural ecosystems. This realization, coupled with a visit to Kenya at age 15 where I witnessed a drought and the effects of food insecurity firsthand, are what got me interested in studying agriculture and international development.
Why did you decide to work for One Acre Fund?
I was in graduate school, studying land management and climate science at Stanford, and I knew I wanted to work on the issues of food production and food security for vulnerable populations. I had spent a bit of time in Kenya and Tanzania in the past, and knew I wanted to do something in the field. I attend a presentation on One Acre Fund, and was immediately excited. I saw One Acre Fund as an excellent opportunity to get practical, “on-the-ground” experience.
Once you started with One Acre Fund, what surprised you the most about your work?
Well, I came to One Acre Fund wanting to learn more about “the field” and the “program” side of implementation work. I didn’t expect to learn so much about what it takes to grow and manage an organization, but that has also been a huge part of my experience. I’ve learned a lot of skills that could be transferable to many different management and leadership situations around the world—not just here in Kenya, or even in the field of international development.
You've been with the organization for four years now. How has your job evolved since you started?
I began as a program associate on the Kenya Field Operations team at the beginning of 2012. Our program was a lot smaller then, so our team was smaller and everyone did a bit of everything. Some of my early projects included training staff and farmers on our new funeral insurance product, running a trial on dewormers, developing professional development training materials for our top field leaders, and re-working our packaged of trainings and services to respond to a maize virus that forced us to offer alternative crops two seasons. I became a program manager in 2013 and took the lead on coordinating all field activities for one of the two provinces where we operate.
Now, I’m the director of field operations, and I oversee team of about 1,300 staff—the majority of whom are based in one of our 28 district operating units in Kenya. Obviously, I’ve been able to take on a lot of responsibility quite quickly, which has made the job challenging but also very exciting.
What is the most challenging thing about your work? What is the most rewarding thing?
One of our biggest challenges is that there is so much work that we aspire to do, but not enough time to fit it all in! I occasionally have say “no” to a new project or trial idea, which is always a bit frustrating since I know those ideas could help us learn more and improve our program.... but I need to balance that desire with the responsibility to support my team in maintaining a sustainable workload of projects and making sure that we only make plans that we can execute well in the field.
The most inspiring part of my job is definitely seeing individual people dream big and achieve their goals with One Acre Fund’s support. Some of the most inspiring stories, for me, are those examples among our current field leadership team where a staff member who started as a farmer or group leader is now overseeing a regional operation that serves more than 20,000 farmers. I am very proud of the role that I played in helping those staff to develop their careers, and I think that their leadership makes our organization uniquely well placed to continue putting Farmers First, even as we grow larger and more complex.
You’ve been living in Bungoma, Kenya for four years now. What do you like best about living in a rural area?
One of the things I appreciate most about living in a rural area like Bungoma, where everyone is a farmer, is that it forces you to pay attention to things we tend to take for granted at home. For example, I pay much closer attention to the rains now than I ever did living in a city back in the U.S. At home, I used to check the forecast on my phone to know whether to bring an umbrella, but never really thought much beyond that. Here, the timing and volume of the rains can make the difference between hunger and surplus—so rains are a regular topic of conversation, and a source of much anxiety, speculation, and celebration. I like this because it’s a reminder of our basic humanity and vulnerability, and also prompts us to be grateful for what we do receive.
What do you think One Acre Fund’s biggest challenge will be three to five years from now?
We have set a very ambitious 2020 vision and targets that will require us to stretch and continue to evolve. I think one our biggest management and resource-allocation challenges will be continuing to build stronger systems that enable us to do repeatable work at scale, while also staying nimble, flexible and innovative so that we continue to provide the best available services to both our present and future clients.
After almost half a decade, you’re now leaving One Acre Fund to pursue other professional opportunities. What’s the most important thing this experience has taught you?
I’ve certainly learned a ton of valuable skills professionally, but perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was the unparalleled value of an inspiring work environment. One-Acre Fund is a place where everyone is constantly pushing themselves to keep growing, dream bigger, and deliver better results for farmers—it’s a lot more than just a job. I know I will need to look very hard to find another team of people who puts this much of themselves into their everyday work.
From your perspective, what are the three biggest traits or skills that the new field director must possess?
The most important quality we are looking for in a new director is someone who can be a humble leader. A leader in this position needs to be able to listen to farmers and the field staff team, and advocate for their needs (and limitations) at all times. We’re also looking for someone who will bring out the best in others as a manager and collaborator, and who enjoys managing a complex and evolving operation. To be happy in this role, a new director will need to be patient, flexible, and be committed to simultaneously supporting innovation and experimentation, as well as core execution and getting the basics right for the farmers we serve each week.
What would you say to people who are thinking of applying to the field operations director role?
Apply to the field operations director role if you have a passion for teamwork, experience in operations management and the leadership skills described above. One Acre Fund is a dynamic professional environment where you can truly “study at the feet of the farmer,” grow your career, and leverage your skills to create lasting change in farmers’ lives.
Think you have what it takes to lead a committed, passionate team working to help Kenya's smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and poverty? Apply to become our new Kenya field operations director!
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