I remember the days when I went home for an off-campus break and had to spend the two-week break at the farm, tilling the farm with a hoe morning to evening. This is how we had done things on the farm for years, and even though farm activities were for laborers, most of the manual work was being done by my mother, just as 60-80% of the African farming population are women. The most frustrating part was always that each season came with its challenges that farmers had little knowledge on how to overcome, and the yields were too little to be proud of. I could walk around the village and see how desperate households were, knowing they won’t have enough food until the next lucky harvest, nor would they have money for school fees. These observations made me empathize with the situation.

This memory recently came back to me, and this time in a foreign land – Sweden. The memory often comes back to me when I think of UjuziKilimo and why I founded the company, but now the picture of the challenges had expanded to consider the African farming challenges affecting the 450 million smallholder farmers on the continent. I could not have imaged at that time that an idea to empower farmers with knowledge and actionable insights could gain global recognition, let along create a huge impact in the community. But this is what happened a few months ago when I received an email congratulating me for being one of the eight social entrepreneurs who had been selected from 900 applicants globally for the SE Outreach Accelerator, and I had a mixed reaction of excitement and inadequacy.

You see as young entrepreneurs, we often lack specific guidelines to validate what we do, so every time you receive such an honour, it helps reinforce our actions and that is the moment that you are not sure whether your actions have really grown that big to deserve the honours. But over time, as the information sank deeper I realized that we have such big visions that sometimes a year or two’s work does not seem big enough to satisfy our broader expectations.

In Sweden, life was different. I could feel it immediately as I landed at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. The orderliness in everything amid the interlinked lakes surrounding the city, and I could feel the warmth and happiness in people’s hearts despite the freezing temperatures. From the moment I began preparing for the journey back in Kenya, I never knew what to expect from the three weeks that I would stay in Sweden, but I knew it ought to be an experience of a lifetime.

New country and new learnings

The first week started with a little orientation, with the most outstanding part being the “Swedish Fika”, which I learnt meant a coffee break, with lots of pastries. In my home village in Kisii, many farmers grow lots of coffee, but that is as far as we know it and I can bet most coffee farmers won’t even tell the smell of coffee because they can’t afford it once it’s off their farms! Another reason to empower these farmers to earn more so that they can afford I one day.

Over the coming days, I learnt more than I could have imagined. My world expanded, especially because of the people I met. First were the fellow social entrepreneurs from six different countries. Being the youngest, sometimes, I could feel the pressure to push myself harder, but by now, I’m used to it. I could see the passion and sense of purpose that drives each of them, with a strong will to bring change in their communities. I saw how each of them identified an opportunity in their local circumstance and articulated the problem to millions of people who could benefit. We exchanged ideas and cultures with the best part of it being the liveliness of the whole group, including the hosts!

Sometimes we get locked in our own perspectives, shaped by where we come from, but this perspective change when you bring 10 different cultures in a foreign land, and that is where our world begins to expand. Over the course of my stay, I observed that, as an entrepreneur, the “WHY” and motivation to bring change in the community comes from our local challenges but the knowledge, skills and the “HOW” will always come from outside our local contexts and interactions.

As the days went by, the learning became more intense by the day, with a mix of listening, observing and meditation. To me, the value of my stay was amplified from the mix of the three. It was an opportunity to break away from the daily business hustle and reflect on why I was creating UjuziKilimo, how to better it and what could be the best strategies to employ and increase our impact, and of course with a mix of trips like the one to IKEA where we learnt how NOT to sell to the customers, but rather offer them a solution!

As the stay in Sweden came closer to the end, I had one more goal: to learn how to ride a bicycle! And guess what, I did it in a record time of two hours! Perhaps due to the most Swedish thing I learnt, the “work ethic” entailing focus, time consciousness and strive for perfection.

Applying new lessons learnt

Now it’s been two months since I returned to UjuziKilimo with lots of adjustments to do to the business, sharing the lessons with my team and of course, making regular trips to farmers in villages sometimes on a bicycle. The biggest goal for us before I return to Sweden in September, is to learn from the farmers, and use the feedback to enhance our sales process. The journey to make coffee farmers enjoy some Fika has just begun and more than ever before, we feel that it’s our responsibility at UjuziKilimo to empower all the farmers with the knowledge and support they need to move out of poverty!

And the biggest lesson was: To do it for the customers, empathize with the customers, empower the customers, and when you start influencing lives, you no longer do it for you! You have to know that you’re doing something that’s bigger than you. The best way to be happy is to see yourself do the things that you dreamt of doing, and knowing you’re not doing it just for you but creating lots of impact to the world!

Being in Stockholm was not a stay as usual; it was a life changing experience that will forever have an impact on my life, UjuziKilimo and the farmers in Kenya and beyond!

 

This blog post was written by Brian Bosire, a participant in the 2017 SE Outreach Accelerator. To find out more about him and his business, read his profile here.