Posts

How Agriculture Ends Poverty: 
3 Discoveries About What Works

by Roxanne Addink DeGraaf

Growing up in Iowa, the agricultural heartland of the United States, I was surrounded by farms. I remember childhood summers milking cows and “walking beans” (walking between rows of soybeans to pick weeds) on my grandparent’s farm. I saw how the farm put food on the table, as I always enjoyed a cold glass of milk from the dairy after chores.

After college, I began to understand agriculture from the perspective of small-scale farmers in Kenya. I worked for two years alongside women who spent long days in their fields to not only put food on the table, but also to earn an income for their families. Everything from buying school uniforms to medical services relied on their farm’s output.

And this is not unique to Kenya. Traveling the globe with Partners Worldwide, I’ve continued to witness the centrality of agriculture in many countries and communities where we work, from subsistence farmers to thriving cooperatives.

Agriculture: A Primary Occupation of the Poor

While employment in agriculture is declining overall, agriculture is still the primary occupation for one in three people in the world (FAO). For people living in poverty, 70% live in rural areas and the majority are involved in agriculture (World Bank/Gates Foundation).

At Partners Worldwide, these facts are shaping how we work towards our vision to end poverty through business so that all may have abundant life.

We recently launched a pilot initiative focused on supporting and leveraging the resources of our partners in Africa who were already serving the agricultural sector. This pilot has been our learning lab. We’ve had some failed experiments, while other interventions have led to powerfully positive outcomes. Overall, the results affirm the vital role that agriculture plays in ending poverty.

Here are three stories, that illustrate three discoveries we made about what works in investing in agriculture to end poverty:
1. It’s Business
Liberian farmers rise amidst the Ebola crisis

During the Ebola crisis, Liberia’s borders were closed, cutting off the country’s access to vital resources like rice—the staple of the Liberian diet. In response, LEAD, a faith-based Liberian business training and lending institution, invested in thousands of small-scale farmers across the country. Specifically, they bolstered their investment in the rice sector by making sure rice farmers had the inputs and support they needed to increase yields.

The investment paid off, with a significant harvest that helped feed the nation during this tumultuous time. The harvest brought good prices to the farmers (in part, thanks to the World Food Program’s purchases during the crisis), resulting in a 100% repayment rate by the farmers on their loans from LEAD. Since the Ebola crisis, these farmers have continued to grow their farms and outputs—lifting their families out of poverty and feeding their communities.

Business is a powerful tool to meet basic human needs and impact communities. Even in the midst of a crises, agribusiness solutions can alleviate poverty when they are linked with viable and profitable markets.

2. It Takes Persistence
Productive oxen, failed soybeans, and thriving sunflowers in post-war Uganda

Talanta Finance was founded by entrepreneur Timothy Jokkene, who had faith in the talents God had given the people in his community of Gulu, in Northern Uganda.

Gulu was caught in the center of Northern Uganda’s devastating 20-year civil war. People were displaced, lives were lost, and families were separated. Farmers, too, were forced to leave their land. In the aftermath of the war, many farmers longed to return and continue farming.

By offering a unique loan product of two oxen and a plow, Talanta equipped hundreds of farmers and their families to make a living off their land again.

The results? A decade after the war ended, nearly 100% of the displaced farmers participating in the oxen loan program reported being food secure and able to send all of their school-age children to school. But one of my favorite pieces of feedback was from a young farmer who remarked, after a high yield that season, “Now I finally have enough money for a dowry for my wife!”

On the momentum of this success, Talanta Finance launched a program with 100 farmers to help them grow and market soybeans, a product in high demand. However, poor rainfall and the challenges of new market relationships led to a very poor harvest and little profit. The Talanta Finance team reflected on the results to learn from their mistakes, and tweaked the program accordingly.

This time around, they added sunflowers to the mix, another high-demand product. This past season, the soybean production rose and the profits from both the soybeans and the sunflowers amazed even the farmers—with some farmers moving from lean subsistence to ten-fold profits in one season.

Ending poverty is not a quick process. Ending poverty through agriculture isn’t a quick fix, either.

Success often comes from patient investments in people and businesses, with room to fail and learn. Impact comes when leaders have persistent faith in the creativity of their neighbors and hold God’s long-term vision of a world restored.

3. Locally Rooted
Uplifting Swaziland’s vulnerable through poultry and honey, a locally-rooted initiative led by innovative, compassionate leaders

Tinashe Chitambira is the strategic mind behind a successful poultry value-chain model that links some of the most vulnerable women in Southern Africa to viable, profitable markets.

When we first met, Tinashe was working in Mozambique and told me, “It has taken us five years of trial and error to get this model right, but now it is having the impact we desire.” Women who had been scraping together a living farming dry land with little rainfall now have successful poultry production businesses. Living in areas with some of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the world, where children are often orphaned, these women now earn enough income to support their children, grandchildren, and at times, orphans and other children in need. Additionally, they used their profits to upgrade from mud-stick to brick houses.

Their success allows the women to look to the future; as one participant shared, “I am now dreaming of buying and driving a car.”

Tinashe, then working for AfricaWorks, a partner organization of Partners Worldwide, launched this successful poultry model next in Swaziland. There the application of the model again had ups and downs, with challenges on the marketing end. So, the AfricaWorks team recently introduced another product for the vulnerable women they serve: beehives.Through beehives, the women were incorporated into a honey value-chain, linking them to an established honey retailer in Swaziland. Resilient impact requires innovation!

Local business leaders and faith-based institutions, like Tinashe and AfricaWorks, bring an essential perspective. They are uniquely equipped to lead and find viable, creative solutions that uplift the rural poor in their own communities.

 

At the heart of every of story I’ve shared are people answering God’s call to be faithful and innovative actors in His unfolding story of redemption. They have chosen agriculture as their path, and are using it to end poverty for themselves and their communities.

I’ve surprisingly found myself back on this agricultural path, walking between the rows of beans with farmers from around the globe. What strikes me is that even these small-scale farmers share the vision to utilize agriculture to end poverty—starting with their own families.

Globally, there is a growing community of leaders who see the potential, and the urgent need, to focus on agriculture in order to help end poverty. Ending poverty for good may seem unattainable. But, If we remain open to learn from our failure as well as our success, share our insights and discoveries with one another, and work in faithful partnership together—the impossible becomes possible.

Roxanne Addink de Graaf photo small copyRoxanne Addink de Graaf is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Partners Worldwide, following a calling to catalyze business for a world without poverty.  Roxanne also occasionally steps in as an adjunct professor at Eastern University’s MBA program and served as an editor for the BAM Think Tank paper on “BAM at the Base of the Pyramid.” On the home front, she is blessed with a creative, fun-filled life with her husband and four daughters in Grand Rapids, MI.

Find our more about the work of Partners Worldwide.

 

Read more about how agriculture and business as mission intersect in our Agriculture Industry series.

 

 

Finding the Right Business Model or Being the Right Business Leader?

AND THE AWARD GOES TO...

Our goal is to provide the BAM Community with the best content and resources available. As we head into summer we are highlighting various articles and resources which have stood out in the past 6 months. Below is the “Staff Pick” for January to July 2017.

Please enjoy and thanks for following!

by Dave Kahle

“Is there one business model that you would recommend to a budding entrepreneur?”

That was the question a young man asked me recently. I reflected for a moment over the past 25 years, and answered this way:

“No. I’ve worked with over 500 businesses, and in that pack there were lots of different business models. What I’ve seen is that the model is less important than the implementation on the part of the company’s leadership.”

Let me explain. It is, of course, possible to have a flawed business model. But, honestly, I have only seen one or two of those, where, no matter what the leadership does, the business is not going to survive. It’s just a bad idea.

These are usually the result of people who are passionate about a product or idea. Unfortunately, that passion displaces common sense, and they ride that idea until it has siphoned their resources and depleted their energy.

The world is not full of bad business models. On the other hand, it is crammed with models that can and do succeed, providing the leadership is effective.

The path toward success is rarely formed by the business model. Far more important are the skills and character of the leadership. Drop a highly skilled, high-character entrepreneur into any model, in any market, and watch as he/she leads that company to growth, prosperity and market leadership.

The ultimate path for business success is far more about improving yourself than it is about finding the right product, market or model. Read more

When Things Go Right: 8 Success Factors to Keep You from Failing

To round out our ‘Learning from BAM Failure’ series, we circle back around what helps you succeed. We asked the same BAM practitioners who shared failure stories to also share what kept their businesses from going under completely.

We asked: If you had to give the top two or three reasons for your overall business success, what would factors would you share?

Here is a rundown of their combined responses in a Top 8 list of ‘What Went Right’

1. Build a wider network and community

Mentioned in some form by almost all the practitioners we asked, top of the list is creating a robust network around the business and its owners. These BAMers said that forging strong partnerships and building a community of mentors/supporters was key. Avoiding isolation is vital.

Having world class partners has been essential.

As an owner, share the challenges you face with your board, investors, mentors, etc. Tell the truth, early and often.

Surround yourself with counsel. Stay attached to God and his people either through a church/agency or personal mentor or coach.

I’ve succeeded because I’ve had a spouse that has stood by me through thick and thin, not to mention a relationship with my business partner built on tremendous trust and respect. It’s also been important to have mentors and coaches walking closely with us.

A success factor for me has been being well networked in the wider business community as well as the BAM community nationally.

Integration with the local University has been essential. Strong relationships with key professors has allowed us to get first picks on some of the best students who come to do internships with us and eventually become junior staff members.

Read more

When Things Go Wrong: 9 BAMers Share Mistakes & Misadventures

We asked some (otherwise very successful) BAM Practitioners that we know to share some of the errors, disasters and unfortunate events that they have experienced in their business as mission journeys. Here nine BAMers share eleven stories about their mistakes and misadventures:

They Didn’t Come…

In our first years we did not have enough focus on sales and revenue, it was more of a “build it and they will come” mindset. It almost killed us. Then the solution was to hire a sales guy in the US, but the problem was twofold; first I should never have tried to outsource sales so early as CEO and second I hired a great guy but one that had bigger company experience and not the early entrepreneurial sales experience needed at our stage. This was a second failure on the sales side that almost killed us. I have come to fully understand the saying “no margin, no mission” and put sales as a key priority for myself until we got fully into orbit and could hand it off to the right person with right experience for our company stage, deal size and industry. MC

Too Many Cabinets

There’s two ways you can kill a startup: too little business and too much business. A couple of years ago, our 5 month old custom cabinet business was featured on our local news station. In our exuberance, we signed up too many customers with an unrealistic view of how quickly we could complete jobs. In less than a month, we had ended up with upset customers and significant cash flow problems as we made mistakes in our rush to complete jobs whilst also missing deadlines. In this case, we were able to recover our financial footings through a few key factors: Our product ultimately was a good fit with customer demand, so after apologizing and then completing jobs satisfactorily, we were able to refine our product and service to even better serve our customers. We started specializing in only Shaker Cabinets which sped up our production time and allowed us to more strategically market to our customers. Finally, our grasp of our cash flow position enabled us to raise funds in time (through God’s abundant blessing) to make it through our mistake and onto the future. JR  Read more

We’re Only Human After All: Growing Through Failure

We take our humanity to work everyday. One day, we might fail to meet a deadline or misunderstand a client. Another day, failure might bring unrecoverable loss, the closing of a department, losing your largest account, or even filing for bankruptcy.

As failure looks us straight in the eye, we have a choice to make about how we respond. In these moments of hardship we can choose denial, blame, resentment, unforgiveness… Or we can chose to bravely take responsibility for our decisions and the impact on those around us. We can allow God to deepen our character through the roughest of circumstances.

Character Growth Spurts

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I hope I fail today” – rather we hope not to! Yet failure, whether big or small, is part of our human existence. Indeed, it is through times of failure that our characters get a growth spurt. Hopefully, we get enough of these growth spurts early in life before the stakes get too high!

If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts. – Tim Keller

God is passionate about our sanctification. He uses work spaces to cultivate people to be more like Himself. The workplace can be a place of character development if we allow our hearts to receive the instruction. Failure, more than just about anything else, can grow hardy, rock-solid character and deeper trust in God – if we allow it to.  Read more

How Not to Do It: Two Failure Stories and What They Teach Us

Seasoned business leaders are typically no strangers to failure, it is not only the greenest of green BAMers who experience failure. For each superstar company in the world, there are burial grounds of companies that just didn’t work or that limped along without profit for far too long.

However, there are some common denominators among companies that succeed or fail – and their experiences can teach us something: often it is how not to do it!

Lucy’s Story

Lucy lived in a city where she had connections with many non-profits. She wanted to branch out and do business as mission but didn’t quite know how to get going. A non-profit presented a business opportunity, one that, as it turned out, was too good to be true. Under researched, unadvised, and unsustainable, Lucy fell headlong into a bad deal.

An NGO said they would produce soy milk, made possible through a grant, and give the fresh soy milk to Lucy’s new company to sell in the local community. Excited to begin her BAM dreams, Lucy jumped in and signed a three year contract with the NGO, secured a lease for an office space and hired three local staff to get the business started.  Read more

5 Mistakes I Made in My Business and What I Learned From Them

by Evan Keller

We entrepreneurs thrive on an inner fountain of optimism and courage. While these God-given virtues help us scale astounding heights, they also set us up for catastrophic falls. How so?

We simultaneously and unwittingly possess the ominous dark sides of these strengths we so prize. A healthy optimism can morph into a false sense of invincibility, and taking big risks can yield triumphs – or collapses equally as grand.

In my over-optimism about people (thus extending unwarranted trust), I took these five unwise risks early in my business career:

1) Bad choice of business partner

I took on a business partner I hardly knew who made me angry every single day as I did 95% of the work.

2) Compromise on the fine print

When the fine print of a contract with a national company made me uneasy, I went ahead and signed it after their local representative assuaged my concerns in writing. When he broke his promise, I was stuck in a contract that cost me thousands of dollars while providing no benefit to my company.  Read more

Finding the Right Business Model or Being the Right Business Leader?

By Dave Kahle

“Is there one business model that you would recommend to a budding entrepreneur?”

That was the question a young man asked me recently. I reflected for a moment over the past 25 years, and answered this way:

“No. I’ve worked with over 500 businesses, and in that pack there were lots of different business models. What I’ve seen is that the model is less important than the implementation on the part of the company’s leadership.”

Let me explain. It is, of course, possible to have a flawed business model. But, honestly, I have only seen one or two of those, where, no matter what the leadership does, the business is not going to survive. It’s just a bad idea.

These are usually the result of people who are passionate about a product or idea. Unfortunately, that passion displaces common sense, and they ride that idea until it has siphoned their resources and depleted their energy.

The world is not full of bad business models. On the other hand, it is crammed with models that can and do succeed, providing the leadership is effective.

The path toward success is rarely formed by the business model. Far more important are the skills and character of the leadership. Drop a highly skilled, high-character entrepreneur into any model, in any market, and watch as he/she leads that company to growth, prosperity and market leadership.

The ultimate path for business success is far more about improving yourself than it is about finding the right product, market or model. Read more

Lessons from Leadership: Interview with a Coffee Chain Owner

by Chris Cloud

The following interview is the fourth of a series of four interviews with missional business owners on the lessons they’ve learned about leadership.

 

Pete has established a chain of cafes and a hospitality training business in Asia. His business employs over 120 people and has trained staff for 50 other businesses.

1. What is your philosophy of leadership?

A test of leadership is that people around you are growing. If I want to look at whether my leadership is effective, I look around and see are my people growing as people, is their capacity increasing? Is my leadership creating capacity in others, making disciples, growing other leaders? That’s my benchmark, my measurement of leadership.

I realize now that a growing business is the only kind of business that can truly develop and grow people because it forces people to grow with the business, otherwise there’s a tendency to just stagnate and that doesn’t help anyone. Our business is growing fast, and it’s given so many people an opportunity to rise to the occasion and grow up with the business.

2. What experiences, people, or philosophies have most influenced the way you view and practice leadership?

My big brother has a big influence on me because of his style. He influences people, but it’s through humility. He’s the teaching pastor of a very large church, but he’s just another guy when we’re together.

My mother has also been a big influence – she has been our greatest fan and our greatest critic. Not in the sense that she’s always criticizing, but she knew you had more to give and could go higher. A secure home gives kids a good launching pad. Mom was always for me. She would praise little things like, “you are so helpful, the way you helped that person was so great…” She elevated us in a positive sense and she would definitely pull us aside and give us critical feedback as well. With my staff, I want them to know “I am for you, I want you to succeed so desperately” – then they are secure and I can help them “be more” rather than settle for mediocrity.

In business and in life, you have to first know yourself. What are your strengths? What are your passions? Don’t try to be someone else, or copy someone else’s business. Have a strong core identity and values, and then go and be the best version of yourself that you can be.

3. How has your view of leadership changed over your years leading a BAM company overseas?

I used to be a consensus builder, I like everybody happy, so I’ve led before in the past where it’s all hugs and “ra ra” and everybody likes you. However, but I’ve seen that fail and I realize that it requires more than just leading by consensus. I have to ask, “What’s the most loving thing I can do for this person, within the context of my company and business?” Sometimes the kindest thing I can do is really have a hard conversation with somebody and tell them “you are not measuring up”.

The weakest form of leadership is when I have to say, “I’m the boss” so I try not to operate that way.
Read more

Lessons from Leadership: Interview with a Manufacturing Founder

by Chris Cloud

The following interview is the third of a series of four interviews with missional business owners on the lessons they’ve learned about leadership.

 

Jim co-founded a manufacturing company in South Asia focused on creating jobs for the marginalised and exploited.

1. What is your philosophy of leadership?

Know the principles you believe in and follow them when you encounter difficult decisions.

2. What experiences, people, or philosophies have most influenced the way you view and practice leadership?

Probably 4 years at the Air Force Academy and 7 years active duty. They strongly emphasized character in leadership and following core values, which for the Air Force are: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.

3. How has your view of leadership changed over your years leading a BAM company overseas?

I’ve realized that taking the “nice guy” route is easy, but isn’t always the best thing for the people you lead.
Read more