Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vipani, The Farmers Marketplace

An Indian social entrepreneur funded by US philanthropists to help Kenyan famers with the assitance of a Chinese and an Egyptian. I knew nothing about non-profit work before this summer and I am also sure there is much more to learn, but at least I believe I came a step closer.

Vipani, indian for "marketplace, is still a small non-for profit startup which until recently was
a one man show. It's driven by the strong vision of its founder, Thomas. His vision is to re-establish trust between different players in the small farmers world by creating a trusted marketplace.

I enjoyed the many discussion I had with Thomas about the logic of his model and his takes about
many of the other approaches to helping farmers, he's quite critical of most of them! Although he's not a sophisticated business person and I have some take about some of his strategies, he's definitely a man of high intellect and is a strongly opinionated person. I think i am also learning a lot from observing the founder-funder dynamics - especially how things get harder when funders try to micro manage.

I went to the countryside several times, except for the spectacular nature in some of the valleys, the farmers and unit managers aren't very different from their Egyptian counterparts in terms of standard of living or sophistication. Julius, Samuel, and Elizabeth, the Vipani Unite managers, remind me of salesmen i used to train while implementing SalesBuzz at different CPG companies.

I have two more weeks, my main task is to make sure the new process we designed is in place and maybe have some supporting excel worksheets. So far we did some re-organizational changes and are trying to restructure the pricing model agriculture experts are using to charge farmers.

The experience also goes beyond Vipani. Vipani itself is located inside the famous Kickstart. Kickstart's management are extremely friendly which gives me a chance to get some insights about their operations from time to time. Moreover, Kenya seems to be the land of NGO's. Whenever you meet anyone you end-up listening to some story about some non-for profit.

I'm thankful to God for having this experience. I'll have to buy lunch for Jeff, my classmate, for making the introduction when we go back to school.

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