Monthly Archives: June 2013

What is resilience?

I really liked this explanation of resilience with the exception of the Matisse example.  He does a really good job introducing the topic. is the great 7 minute video.

Considerations for M&E capabilities during Farmerline’s early-stage pilots

In the past week, I’ve been working with the Farmerline team on how we can take the next steps to expand while in the middle of a pilot (and beginning another). Farmerline plays an integral role in getting stakeholders the information they need to better manage crops, reach markets to sell those crops, and appropriate market prices for inputs and outputs. One of the toughest things I am constantly thinking about is what will be able to prove our business model. Right now, they have had strong interest from non-profits with large groups of beneficiaries, but the hope is that farmers would be able to pay for the service to sustain business. While all its value-added services are extremely important in the process of getting vital information to farmers in Ghana, what do farmers demand the most? Right now, they need information from non-profits and government to reach the market and manage crops. But what services do they demand where the net benefit of Agro-Calls and Call-Ins is positive for their growth? At this expansion phase, we know we have to take advantage of growth at the right time and make decisions quickly, all of which is difficult while in the middle of the pilots.

The uniqueness of Farmerline is a combination of ease of use, wide applicability and its specific focus on small shareholder farmers. At a glance, this seems like a win-win for so many organizations working with differing cultures, languages, and access to a mobile phone. I’ve learned that in Ghana, the country in which they operate, researchers have cited up to 91% of the target population for mobile use is saturated. The vast use of mobile phones has seen an explosion of apps targeted at solving deeply entrenched social issues, but the new space has created what one article from SSI calls “pilotitis” (Khan & Joseph, 2013). Writers Khan and Joseph highlight the need to move beyond the “conceptualizing and testing phase” in order to “catalyze systemic change” (Khan & Joseph 2013). This “innovation cult” drives inventors to seek new solutions to endemic problems, which is inherently good, but ultimately change needs execution to scale. Even though the founders developed this technology as they themselves lived and worked on smallholder farmers, wide adoption is still key to success.

One of the suggestion the authors recommend is “linking pilot approval phases to the solving of associated executional demands” (Khan & Joseph, 2013). For us, each hypothesis Farmerline posits during its pilot can have a decision-making step once it is proved or contradicted. That way, we can hopefully take advantage of quickly moving opportunities and adapt the product to how farmers and stakeholders best need it. One of the benefits of having a widely applicable technology is that during the pilot phase, Farmerline will be able to test which of the umbrella options in its technology are most beneficial. For non-profits seeking monitoring and evaluation technologies, the Agro-Polls technology is tailored to their needs to compute statistics and qualitative research. But in testing the buying power of individual farmers or farmer-based groups, Farmerline can understand if calling in a hotline or receiving weekly/monthly subscribed updates is worth paying for to help them increase yield and reach access to market. As we work to scale the current services, we focus on these needs.

As I think about the BCR tool in relation to how Farmerline enhances monitoring and evaluation, it becomes tricky. We are currently facilitating better M&E for nonprofits with our real-time dashboards that come with polling systems. Real-time data collection and analysis is possible for non-profits. The key is to make the product sticky enough so that when the pilot ends with a non-profit, its beneficiaries will realize its benefits. The flexibility of the pay-as-you-go platform creates affordability for low-income farmers, and allows nucleus farmers to regularly send updates to the hundreds of smaller farmers they support. After testing the nucleus farmers’ receptiveness to the service, Farmerline could then develop in-house M&E tools that measure farmers’ increases in yields and productivity since the time they have been using their ICT. At this pilot stage, developing potential impact metrics to put in place later on will test M&E capabilities. As an ICT organization, Farmerline addresses very specific pain points along the agricultural value chain; however, quantifiable impact is more indirect as it allows faster communication and facilitates better management practices among stakeholders. Providing in-house workshops on BMPs is one example of how direct impact can potentially be linked to Farmerline’s services.



Putting Oceans & Fisheries on the Agenda: Accelerating Sustainability in Business for Nature in Crisis

It’s been an energizing and intense week working with project partners around the world to articulate a vision for building the Operating System for the Good Economy that begins with….building biocultural resilience for oceans and fisheries. I am sharing a summary here.

Fisheries Resilience Project Summary

Fisheries industry in Beruwela

Fisheries industry in Beruwela (Photo credit: Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka)

Examples of biocultural resilience in food

I need a place to capture the endless and provocative examples that I am learning about of biocultural business – commerce that builds environmental and social resilience drawing from traditional ecological knowledge.

Stevia is taking the natural foods industry by storm purporting a healthy alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Stevia is a small shrub native to the region of South America. The scientific name for stevia is Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni and it is a member of the largest family of plants, Asteraceae which is also called the “sunflower family”. There are 240 close relatives of stevia and they are all herbs or shrubs originating from the tropical and semi-tropical areas. Indigenous Peoples used the leaves of this herb to counteract the bitter taste of the popular drink ‘’mate’ (a tea-like beverage), and also as an herbal remedy for various ailments. Dry stevia leaves are about 40-60 times sweeter than sugar, steviol glycosides extracts are about 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia leaves contain sweet tasting components called steviol glycosides.

Real Stevia is one company brought to my attention today sourcing from Paraguay and China.

Earlier this month, I watch an inspiring pitch for a start up by Love Grain offering ancient grains for modern diets tapping into the Ethiopian grain teff.  It’s definitely an African superfood. You gotta love being around the start-up energy and determination people like the founders of Love Grain.

Working with and the BCR Tool

I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with a solid concept and inspirational entrepreneur, the co-founder of In the short time I have been working with Alloysius Attah and his dedicated team on expanding his company, a mobile messaging technology company that provides increased access to information and communication pathways for farmers, I am beginning to understand the potential for social enterprises to collect the kind of information important to diverse stakeholders.

As he describes it, the technology is beneficial to the government’s extension agents who need to provide best management practices within its farming industry. The non-profits operating in the area can also use this versatile platform to understand the meaning and depth of their impact through SMS and voice surveys with their beneficiaries. Fish farmers participating in their pilot in southern Ghana can consistently communicate with other agricultural stakeholders to help them increase yield, save money, and connect to the market efficiently.

This interplay of different organizations and stakeholders creates an interesting case for the biocultural resilience tool. As Kevin Jones likes to say, we seek a tool that will “thrill the entrepreneur and satisfy the funder.” Working with Alloy and the team at Farmerline, I look forward to seeing how the metrics for monitoring and evaluating impact can be central to the core business processes of As a team, we want to center the platform’s technology around what best enables small shareholder farmers to reach access to market and increase their autonomy in the industry. One of the questions we are all thinking about is what kind of impact metrics align with positive financial success? For now, we are trying to understand the feasibility of this in envisioning Farmerline’s potential trajectory as a sustainable business that maintains its mission to serve the farmers who need the most help reaching supply chains and increasing income. Working hand in hand with both Farmerline and connecting with the investor pool, I am looking forward to understanding the needs of both sides.

While I am still getting familiar with Alloy’s vision for an agriculturally rich Ghana, I think his Skype status, a quote from George Bernard Shaw, sums up the right mindset to follow as an social entrepreneur: “The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” As an entrepreneur, his view is impressively focused on adapting the structures of the technology world to his vision of how he can increase communication and information channels for farmers. Lookout for the next post on our expansion updates! Excited for the next pilot to start in June with fish farmers in the northern region of Ghana. Read about their work here.

– Katie Athaide

An updated powerpoint describing our accelerating biocultural resilience

I am sharing here an update to our presentation.

I just  gave Alloyssius Attah of Farmerline and Katie Athaide, the Frontier Market Scout assigned to this project, privileges to blog on our place holder site for the biocultural resilience tool. Alloy and I are blogging together here, on his site and on the SOCAP site. This is part of the Oceans Theme with my SOCAP hat on. KDJ