Interview by Ritika Kumbharkar

A simple class project about food security led Malia Bachesta to toward a career in raising awareness around the need for food security.

Global Development IncubatorMalia Bachesta graduated from Northeastern in December 2015 with a degree in Communications Studies and minors in International Affairs and Social Entrepreneurship. Malia joined SEI during her sophomore year and took her Senior Capstone with Professor Minard, where she studied U.S. food systems in rural Appalachia. She is from Seattle and is currently working for Global Development Incubator (GDI) in Washington, D.C. When she is not working, she loves to explore new places, cook new dishes, and stay active by running or hiking outdoors.

Malia’s interest in social entrepreneurship was sparked by the idea of making meaningful and lasting impact in the world. She had learned about how nonprofits struggled to sustain their impact due to limited financial and non-financial resources. So when she heard about SEI, she was ecstatic at the opportunity to take a class that would help her understand the different organizational models to create social impact, besides the traditional nonprofit model. As she continued to learn more about development, she saw how these types of models – where this is some kind of income-generating activity – are proving to make more targeted and sustainable impact.

Her Catholic upbringing, emphasizing the moral value of “servant leadership,” influenced her to create impact in the lives of others. As long as she can remember, she has always thought that the purpose of a career is to make a difference in the world and serve others. Serving some of the most marginalized people in the world is a way for Malia to live out her Jesuit upbringing.

Currently, Malia works at the Global Development Incubator (GDI). GDI is a nonprofit organization that launches startups and creates partnerships to tackle social impact challenges. In her role as Communications Associate for AgEnterprise, she leads communications to their Agricultural Finance focus area, which includes two initiatives. The first initiative is the Initiative for Smallholder Finance (ISF) and the second initiative is the MasterCard Foundation’s Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab (the Lab).

Her roles in these two initiatives include: managing their editorial process for publishing blogs, research briefings, and outside press materials; managing their digital media presence including their website and social media channels; and identifying important conferences and coordinating “learning” events for the broader rural and agricultural finance sector. Malia finds her role challenging and that is why she loves it. The inherent complexities of the AgFinance space push her to keep up with the steep learning curve and force her to think differently about how they communicate their work to the broader world.

Malia had the opportunity to coordinate the Lab’s annual learning event in Kigali, Rwanda alongside the MasterCard Foundation’s Symposium on Financial Inclusion. The event gathered some of the top influencers in agricultural and rural finance to share learning around digital finance, alternative data, and the business case for smallholder finance. It enhanced her understanding of the different players and what their roles look like throughout the rural and AgFinance ecosystem.

Malia works in this space because after her Senior Capstone with Minard and her six-month internship with Root Capital, she saw how critical smallholder farmers are to the success of economic growth and global food security.  In her current role she’d like to publish more “farmer stories” so that the broader public can start putting a face to farmers in rural sub-Saharan Africa and begin thinking more about these issues with an authentic beneficiary in mind.

One of the key factors holding back smallholders from reaching their full potential is lack of access to finance. Without insurance, credit, and savings, farmers are unable to break out of the poverty cycle; and with a USD $200 billion gap in financing, the rural and AgFinance sectors will need to work together to double projected growth with an aim to meet more than half of the financing need by 2025. With the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and other large organizations looking to find innovative solutions to feed the world’s 9 billion people by 2050, smallholder farmers will play a critical role in sustainably and effectively assisting food security needs. 

In the future, she hopes to mainstream the work of agricultural and rural finance so that the sector is more widely understood by the average individual. Right now, many people do not understand what AgFinance is. With better communication efforts we can help the public gain a basic understanding and therefore have a more invested interest in the benefits and effects that come with providing farmers better access to finance.