Impact Stories & Blogs
Our team share their insights and perspectives on the impact our program is having on youth in East and Central Africa.
Linda Chepkwony is the CEO of Rift Valley Organics Africa an Agribusiness that she started to process agricultural products through Value Addition. Since its inception, the company has continued to deliver genuine organically value-added products. Linda envisions transforming the food sector into a healthy, transparent and socially responsible business.
“ My company is an agro- processing and value addition company that creates market opportunities for small holder farmers and beekeepers through value addition of Honey (plain and infused), Nuts and Nut Butters (from peanuts, cashews and almonds), Herbs and we are now getting into Gluten Free flours, starting with Peanut Flour which we get from the peanuts we process for peanut butter. We also have paper beaded jewellery which is a social enterprise community empowerment program for young mums and youths reforming from crime. I also sponsor and support Atlas Football Club which is a locally based football academy that supports upcoming football talents from Kibera and Langata, through giving them a platform to nurture their football skills and talents”.
Before she got into YALI, her business wasn’t doing well to lack of information on the kind of structures that needed to develop the business. She also had not put much attention to it, but after undergoing the YALI RLC EA DOW cohort 1 in training, she learnt a lot from the skilled experts who facilitated the sessions as well as from the different entrepreneurs who were in the same program. She learnt the sustainability business model through development of long and short-term business strategies. “ I had never practiced an elevator pitch and during a certain class session we were all required to do an elevator pitch and through this I saw the need to have a master piece elevator pitch which you can quickly present to an investor.
Being an agro-processing company, we are connecting small holder farmers in East Africa to markets through buying from them and doing value addition and this has helped in improving their incomes and livelihoods. We are also working with young people in the community as our distributors and social franchisers, this has been an indirect way of creating employment for them. We are also assisting women and youth groups who are doing bee keeping, but they don’t have any skills and expertise on value addition, we are offering this mentorship for them for free, to help them to increase their income.
We are also assisting school children from Mathare informal settlements through a daily healthy nutritious porridge program for breaktime. Most of these children come from families that can’t afford three meals a day ,therefore some of these children go to bed hungry and at times report to school without breakfast, therefore to keep them in school and support their education, we are giving them free porridge daily so that they can concentrate in class, attend school daily and even if they don’t find food at home in the evening, at least they got to eat something at school. Additionally, we are helping to end violent extremism in our communities through sports and community libraries.
The impact has been numerous, also some of the activities ,impacts and initiatives from my business are aligned to the Government’s Big Four Agenda on Manufacturing and Food Security as well as on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on – Ending Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and wellbeing as well as on Good Quality Education.
I came to know about YALI during President Obama’s visit in 2015. I had tried applying several times but I wasn’t lucky to be selected, I gave up at some point, and I got motivated when I saw how it had improved the lives of young people that I knew in the community and this made me to try my luck again last year in 2020 and that is when I got selected. I used to see how people who branded themselves as YALI fellows or Alumnus were respected, YALI is a very big name in Africa, and once people associate you with it, they give you some level of respect in life , as they consider you as an important person empowered to transform the community.
In the meantime, I used to be part of the online YALI Network. My experience was good, naturally I’m an introvert, so being part of this amazing program gave me the opportunity to work on my social and communication skills as most of the activities we were involved in during the first two weeks of the program was all about team work and therefore I had no choice but to learn people’s names, get to know about them also since we used to sit randomly during sessions, food time or in the bus, therefore I had to learn how to interact with others since someone would always start a conversation, especially non Kenyans, who were asking more about our Country and I had no choice but to keep the conversation.
Another good thing was the food, it was amazing and the amazing environment which gave a fitness enthusiast like me the opportunity to jog in the walkways and attend the school gym daily in the evening after classes. One skill I took was on great business and communication , the YALI experience I got really boosted my confidence , we had design thinking sessions which had us going to the campus to meet with random students, ask various questions and through their responses I was able to see there are different aspects of my business that I had incorporated different things, also we had some learning modules from the experienced coaches which made me see on what aspects of my business that I needed to work and improve on and after that, I incorporated them and my business has really changed and improved to the point of winning various local awards and being nominated for others too.
In the next five years, I see my business getting fully into the export market to other African Countries , I also plan on creating employment and economic empowerment opportunities to over 10,000 youths in East Africa through the different value chains in my business, either as distributors, social franchisers, urging youths to form groups and we buy products directly from them and also starting an ecommerce platform whereby any youth who is in the agricultural value chain can sell their products directly through our platform, and this helps in eliminating middlemen who exploit many young people in agriculture. We also plan to create a huge mentorship platform whereby we will be connecting young entrepreneurs to giants in the business industry and we hope to improve the lives of small holder rural farmers especially the women and youth through market linkages and information as well as value addition, and lastly it is to have a manufacturing and innovation hubs in all Counties in Kenya which will give the youth and women the opportunities to improve their businesses.
At YALI RLC EA, I networked extensively. We’ve partnered with some of them in different initiatives, others who are in the YALI Network have seen me online as an alumni/fellow and therefore they’ve approached me to assist them in YALI RLC applications ,telling them more about YALI and others are serving as community volunteers through my organization. So, I have been able to connect with the whole YALI family through different platforms. I’m in the agro-processing industry and one of our short term goals is to export our products to other East African Countries, and therefore these networks I created during the YALI Dow Cohort, will link me up with market opportunities and information in their Countries and even assist me in getting distributors in those Countries.
Despite my successes, I have faced come challenges such as the community mentality and culture . Most people think that all the solutions to their problems will be solved by the government and therefore they do not want to take any initiative to take themselves forward and with this, it is hard to convince most people to take up their own initiatives to improve their lives. I am one person who has never bought the idea of waiting for the government or elected leaders to solve the problems in my community, I took up an initiative or registering a community based organization and an association, to give the youths a platform to volunteer, mentor and bring change to their communities and besides that, assist them through trainings, capacity building programs, sensitization and advocacy in order to see their lives changed and use it as a platform to communicate with the Government as a united voice of the youths on some of the issues that are affecting us, policy and even convince the Government to partner with the youths in order to improve and transform lives.
The concept of YALI is an ingenious one. You can get involved and be part of the YALI community through three different ways, first as a YALI Network member, as YALI RLC fellow and Mandela Washington Fellowship and now we have also the YALI Africa cohort. By being part of any of those programs, not only will you be exposed to a wealth of knowledge and skills through the trainings. There are various funding opportunities that are exclusive for YALI RLC EA Alumni and post training programs that are organised by partners and the US. Embassy in Nairobi and you’ll also get to network with people from the different Countries in East and Central Africa.