Francisco Noguera

Friday Roundup – 12/10/10: What Works? An Update from One Acre Fund

This week’s roundup includes an update on One Acre Fund, our usual Weekly Roundup and opportunities you won’t want to miss coming from both Cornell and the University of Michigan.

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Earlier this year, Rob published a great interview with the founders of One Acre Fund, a social enterprise that works with smallholder farmers in remote areas of Kenya and Rwanda. This morning I attended a session led by co-founder Eric Pohlman, as part of the Development Practitioners Seminar that brings social entrepreneurs and development practitioners to campus to share insights with students of the MDP program I’m currently enrolled in.

I got a lot more out of Eric’s talk than I would have just a few months back. I’ve spent much of the last semester digging deeper into agriculture and studying the nature of the development challenges faced by Kenya, where I’ll likely spend the Summer of 2011. I’ve focused my research on understanding the way market based solutions complement public sector-led interventions in areas like water, sanitation, energy and agriculture, so hearing from someone like Eric was as close as it gets to the questions that I’m coming across and will continue to explore through the rest of my time in school.

In addition to the impact and scale it is achieving, it was interesting to hear Eric speak about the growth of One Acre Fund and the strategic questions they’re facing as the organization grows. He spoke about staff development as a fundamental growth and mentioned the leadership development challenges of scaling their model to more locations. From the perspective of the clients and the effectiveness of the model, he underlined the importance of choice as a success factor in their work and any other development intervention; OAF’s clients achieve impressive productivity gains but these benefits are reaped only by those who choose to be part of and pay for the program, a siginificant difference from many government-led interventions with small farmers in the very countries where they work.

I left the room with a desire to dig deeper into the business model of One Acre Fund, and understand its potential for scaling thanks to the margins it produces and, just as importantly, through its ability to influence the agricultural policies. Borrowing a framework introduced by Acumen Fund’s Brian Trelstad, OAF is a model that is fulfilling its mission of helping small farmers be more productive and prosperous, is currently scaling thanks to margins and philanthropic support, and has an opportunity to multiply its impact and scale significantly by virtue of both margins and mandates -policies introduced by local authorities that wish to see these impacts expand. How market based interventions induce such “mandates” is a tremendously important question we should continue to explore.

I also left reassured that I’m in a good place to explore that intersection between “margins and mandates”. A similar thought led me to this choice for graduate school, even though I hadn’t found such a clear and simple way to describe the relationship. I bring this up because around this time a year ago I was putting the final touches to my school applications, and I’m sure that more than one of you out there is thinking about similar questions right now. I’d be happy to discuss my experience so far and help you find out if graduate school is the right move for you. It isn’t for everyone. If it falls within your interests, I may even even encourage you to apply and be one of my classmates. It would be great to be joined by NextBillion readers and, more generally, by people willing to explore the boundaries between different approaches to the goal of serving the poor.

Now on to our weekly roundup.

In case you missed it: NextBillion this week

Make sure you don’t miss it: Upcoming events and opportunities

  • The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management is accepting submissions for its 2010-2011 Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Short Essay Competition. This competition seeks to highlight the challenges of implementing business in underserved markets and identify innovative business initiatives or solutions to those challenges. For more information click here.
  • The Social Venture Fund at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is accepting business plans for U.S. – based social ventures. Click here to learn more.
  • You still have time to apply for a place at the Unreasonable Institute!
  • The Aspen Institute’s First Movers Fellowship is acceting nominations. If you know any trailblazing social intrapreneur, a person creating programs and initiatives that serve the poor inside large corporations, please click here and learn more.