In April, the six finalists in GFAR and YPARD’s Youth Agripreneur Project headed back to their homes in the four corners of the world after an intense week of orientation and skills building at the GCARD3 Global Event, to embark on their personal adventures–and tackle their particular challenges–in agricultural entrepreneurship. Over the last three months, Jax, Anil, Nikki, Lillian, Jony, and Kellyann have taken what they learned in the YAP induction workshop and used it to fine-tune their business plans and set realistic milestones for progress; they have channeled the excitement of the pitches they delivered at GCARD3 into campaigning for support through social media, crowdfunding, and getting their names out in their communities; and they have started forming relationships with their mentors who will support and challenge them during this year, and help them identify the resources they will need to make their businesses successful.
Now, with a little more experience under their belts, we asked the YAPpers to reflect on where they have come since GCARD3. Lillian Beauttah co-founded the social enterprise Afrika Jilishe, whose aim is to increase the resilience and adaptive capabilities to climate change of nomadic pastoralists and other communities within the ASALs ( Arid and Semi-Arid Lands) by making use of high tech, low cost, and innovative solutions. Her YAP proposal is to build “The African Desert Greenhouse”, an artificial, closed ecosystem that creates viable crop growing conditions requiring a minimal amount of water. Here is what she has to say about where she has come thus far…
Business has always been a foreign concept to me. At ten years old, there were two things I knew I’d never be, ‘a business woman’ and a lawyer. Turns out I was only half right.
Even at a young age it was evident that dabbling in business would entail being at the frontlines of a constant onslaught of rejection, not to mention having to bear the burden of being ‘the face’ of a brand. The perfect recipe to make any sound-minded introvert bolt in the opposite direction. But what happens when business’ siren song is just too alluring to resist?
Four to five months after graduation and beginning my first job, I had already began to plot my exit. You might say that this was the classic case of the ‘restless millennial unable to hold down a job’ but what my story and other ‘Y-Gens’ who quit their jobs to pursue a passion have in common can be summarized in three words: Need for Impact.
No, it wasn’t monotony that killed my employment dream. Nope! It was the conscious knowledge that my actions were not contributing to change in societal or environmental status quo. Thus the dormant entrepreneur within was activated.
Harrowing to Enthralling
So fast forward three years into the future. It’s 2016, I’ve been selected as a YAP Finalist and now it’s time to put impact where my mouth is, so to speak. The journey that began in April with an email tilted ‘URGENT: You have been selected as a Young Agripreneur to today’s regular Monday morning team meetings can be described in every spectrum of emotion from harrowing to enthralling.
‘The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.’ Compelling words from Liberia’s and Africa’s first female president, Ellen Sirleaf. I tend to consider myself perpetually terrified which turns out is not such a bad thing because fear in its primal form has been dubbed ‘An Entrepreneur’s Best Friend’ and is a recognized ally in business. Go figure!
Fear, Like Any Other Problem, Has a Root
What three months’ worth of YAP experience has taught me is how to convert fear’s otherwise paralyzing effects into a source of power through a simple discernment technique, i.e. the 5 Why Analysis, that allows one to get to the root cause of and appropriately remedy any predicament.
This along with breaking down goals into bite sized mull-able portions, maintaining a rigourous daily work schedule, acknowledging the possibility of unavoidable roadblocks to progress and dedication to deliberate, continued learning are entrepreneurial tenets that I’m striving to live by. At times falling short, mais c’est la vie, non?
Along the journey though, there are moments when the stars just simply align. For instance, on continued research into best practice methods to build my greenhouse, I came across a team of scientists that had successfully constructed prototypes in Germany and Spain. My apprehension in contacting them was fueled by concerns that they would not be willing to share their information or would disregard my small scale attempts to replicate what can only be summed up as their life’s work.
Sacrifice at the Altar of Fear and Ego
I have many a times heard, ‘ You have nothing to lose! ‘ quipped a bit too cavalierly. Do these self-appointed pundits really fathom the lengths and breadths of the situation at hand? Are they even aware of the immense sacrifices that have to be made at the altars of fear and ego?’
Turns out though that actual-pundit Steve Jobs was of the same mindset: ‘ Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ‘
Thus as serendipity would have it, my inquiries into the workings of these European teams’ greenhouse prototypes were received warmly. Our email correspondence lead to a Skype call and bore insight into a colleague of one of the leads who would like to continue the work in Kenya. Contact has been made.
All YAPpers are linked up to a mentor and to add another jewel to my crown of ‘ Happy Happenstance ‘, mine, Dr. Nicholas Korir, is very well-versed in self-sustaining greenhouses. Following our first meeting it was evident that we would make a great team. Through his insight we have been able to figure out locations to set up our greenhouse as alternatives to land leasing that so far has not panned out well mainly due to accessibility issues.
Further learning opportunities presented themselves at the ‘ AU-EU: Investing in a Food Secure Future ‘ conference that myself and fellow YAPper, Jony Girma, attended in Noordwijk, Netherlands between the 4th and 6th of July. We were granted the opportunity to be panelists in working group sessions, each with a presentation that touched on the role of the entrepreneur in Climate Smart Agriculture.
This being my first time representing my venture, Afrika Jilishe (Swahili for ‘Africa Feed Yourself’), at a professional level conference with seasoned experts from various fields of agriculture and policy, I have to admit to having been slightly unnerved. I quickly got into the swing of things though, on realising the overwhelming support for youth in agriculture. All appropriate leads were thus adequately pursued.
Conference Pro Tips
Courtesy of the AU-EU experience, I also managed to draw up a set of 9 Pro Tips for Attending a Conference:
- Build a SMART plan of strategy prior to arrival:
- What do I want out of this ?
- Who do I need to speak to ? For this you have to have done a bit of prior research on the speaker and attendants.
- What sessions do I need to attend ? Many a times we are of the opinion that we have to attend EVERY session. Not so; figure out your un-missable sessions and the rest of the time should be spent networking to make those crucial connections.
- During speeches and presentations, note down: speakers’ names, highlight points that would make good conversation starters on ‘ bumping’ into them, and follow-up questions. And importantly, commit their faces to memory. It’s surprising how alike conference goers tend to look, all dapper in similar tones of navy and grey.
- Study up on unfamiliar conference topics beforehand. You never know what might come up at that cocktail table.
- Take down notes for a potential blog piece. Remember, that content will not just create itself.
- Leverage this as a platform for visibility for your brand—raise that hand, make that speech, ask those questions.
- During proceedings take down interesting statements to live-tweet. Maximize on the buzz created around the conference to increase your visibility, visibility, visibility.
- Perform a ‘ Take Home Audit’ that will encompass running through conference outcome documents to establish what points would be beneficial, and then determine if a ‘ Participants List ‘ exists that you can use to follow up on said pledges or leads.
- Take ‘ money shots ‘. Like I said, content does not create itself.
- And finally, faites attention. Stay hungry, stay foolish.
The entrepreneur’s learning curve is undoubtedly steep and fraught with mayhem, but whether we are inherently wired for it or not, with the adequate amount of discipline and support from a team that is brilliant and self-motivated, this self-aware solitudinarian is raising her own silent revolution. Ashes to anxiety and doubt to dust.
 Swahili for ‘Africa Feed Yourself’.
 Term adopted instead of ‘introvert’ in order to do away with the negative connotation that comes with it.
Watch Lillian introduce her project at the #GCARD3 conference:
Read the original YAP proposal here.
Blogpost by Lillian Beauttah – limobachi(at)gmail.com – one of six finalists in the Youth Agripreneurs Project, a pilot project targeting young agricultural entrepreneurs (“agripreneurs”), co-organized by GFAR and YPARD. The YAP Finalists launched their projects during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016.
Photo credits: 1-Pixabay; 2&3-Lillian Beauttah