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.