Njabini Incorporated's newest project: Wakulima Pamoja (Farmers Together)

by Paula Bass Werner

Michael Behan, a senior in his last semes­ter at North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity pur­su­ing a busi­ness major with a dual con­cen­tra­tion in Social Entre­pre­neur­ship and Finance, was run­ning in a small ultra marathon race. In order to get there he needed to drive about fif­teen hours, the last six of which were on tri­als through the desert. Once there, he noticed a young man from afar with a North­east­ern T-Shirt. What are the odds of find­ing a fel­low North­east­ern grad­u­ate in such a remote region? Mike started a con­ver­sa­tion with him and dis­cov­ered that his name was Sean Smith, a grad­u­ate from North­east­ern. Sean Smith is cur­rently an Invest­ment Ana­lyst and New Invest­ment Man­ager at Invested Devel­op­ment, an impact invest­ment fund that pro­vides finan­cial cap­i­tal to for-profit social enter­prises that work in mobile tech­nol­ogy and alter­na­tive energy. After talk­ing they also real­ized they had both take dif­fer­ent sec­tions of Pro­fes­sor Den­nis Shaughnessy’s Social Entre­pre­neur­ship class dur­ing the same semes­ter. The next day Mike and Sean ran together into Kenya’s desert.

 Dur­ing his under­grad­u­ate career at North­east­ern Mike co-founded and con­tin­ues to run Njabini Apparel, a social busi­ness that employs dis­ad­van­taged moth­ers in Kenya to cre­ate var­i­ous prod­ucts to be sold in the United States. His busi­ness has since evolved into Njabini Incor­po­rated to address mul­ti­ple income gen­er­at­ing projects, includ­ing Wakulima Pamoja (Farm­ers Together), a hun­dred per­cent self sus­tain­ing agri­cul­tural pro­gram that plans to reach and dou­ble the income of five thou­sand fam­i­lies by 2015.

The Farm­ers Together agri­cul­tural pro­gram was mod­eled after One Acre Fund, a high impact NGO that focuses on agri­cul­ture devel­op­ment with a sus­tain­able and effi­cient model. After six months of exten­sive research Njabini adapted this model for the cul­ti­va­tion of pota­toes, a preva­lent crop in the region. Farm­ers Together seeks to reach the full agri­cul­tural poten­tial of the area through a ser­vice bun­dle given to pro­ducer groups of low-income fam­i­lies. This bun­dle includes: dis­counted high qual­ity inputs on credit, finan­cial edu­ca­tion, crop man­age­ment, and mar­ket linkages.

The coop­er­a­tive Farm­ers Together col­lec­tively pur­chases inputs (potato seedlings, fer­til­izer, manure and hum­mus), thus reduc­ing the cost and cut­ting out the mid­dle­man. These inputs are then lent to the farm­ers at the reduced price. On the train­ing side of the ser­vice bun­dle, farm­ers receive both finan­cial and agri-business train­ing. Farm­ers learn to develop bud­gets, man­age their debts, and are pro­vided with incen­tives for sav­ing. They also ben­e­fit from effi­cient crop man­age­ment prac­tices that allow them to increase their crops’ yields while still remain­ing envi­ron­men­tally friendly. Lastly, pro­ducer groups are able to greatly increase the pro­duc­tiv­ity of their plots through a crop rota­tion sched­ule that accounts for cli­mate pat­terns and mar­ket changes. Com­bined with col­lec­tive har­vest­ing sched­ule, this enables the dif­fer­ent groups to har­vest their crops at the same time, thus cost-effectively reach­ing whole­salers directly, reduc­ing the inter­me­di­aries, and pro­vid­ing a much higher profit mar­gin for the farmers.

When asked what was the key for Njabini’s suc­cess, Mike responded with: “The peo­ple. There is no hier­ar­chy in Njabini, every­body takes own­er­ship, and while there is a lot of give and take this only makes it that much stronger.”

The US branch (Njabini Apparel), is vol­un­teered based; it is com­posed of dri­ven and pas­sion­ate indi­vid­u­als that deeply care about peo­ple in the world’s low­est income brack­ets. It is a stu­dent led ven­ture in which cam­pus groups run their own retail oper­a­tions. The prof­its from these sales go to fund the expan­sion of the Farm­ers Together coop­er­a­tive, in addi­tion to employ­ing dis­ad­van­taged Kenyan moth­ers. The Kenyan branch pro­vides employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties to local com­mu­nity mem­bers and works closely together with com­mu­nity lead­ers. In addi­tion, Njabini also part­ners with the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture in Kenya, which pro­vides the train­ing aspect of the ser­vice bun­dle offered by Farm­ers Together.

Mike is an incred­i­ble exam­ple of what can be accom­plished by a twenty year old who is dri­ven and pas­sion­ate about social change. After grad­u­at­ing he plans to con­tinue his work with Njabini with a focus on agri­cul­tural devel­op­ment. His biggest piece of advice?

Be con­fi­dent in what a group of twenty year olds can accom­plish. Don’t let age con­strain you.”

For more infor­ma­tion about Njabini, its pro­grams, and its prod­ucts please visit: www.njabini.org. If you are inter­ested in becom­ing involved with Njabini’s efforts join the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion. For more infor­ma­tion join us at OrgSync