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Helping displaced persons achieve sustainable livelihoods

We will help displaced people in Sierra Leone return to their homes and engage in profit-making agricultural enterprises.

Photo of Jon Bart
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

People: more than 2,000,000 million people were displaced by the long Civil war in Sierra Leone (SL) and thousands more have since moved to cities in search of jobs. Problem: We have worked in SL for 12 years but do not know of a single agricultural company in SL that is making a profit and paying all its employees at least minimum wage, We have studied this problem and believe the root causes are (a) the government is too corrupt to carry out effective programs, (b) to be profitable companies must use modern methods throughout both production and processing yet programs for resident farmers (not imported expats) virtually never do this, (c) qualified mechanics to maintain and repair tractors - and reliable supply chains for parts - are seldom available so new tractors rarely last more than 1-2 years, (d) programs that target individual farm families repeatedly fail because the land owners - who are the only people capable of becoming modern farmers - feel left out and because the landless farmers do not have the background to participate in modern farming programs. Solution. We work closely with government scientists but funding must not go through the government. We will recruit the most respected and progressive land owners offering to partner with them so they can become independent modern farmers within 2-3 years. We will design the program for their land (ca. 15 ha/land owner) and in the first year will provide all of the technical support and mentoring while they learn the methods. All of our activities will be fee-based with pay back at harvest. They will be responsible for mobilizing and supervising all temporary labor (up to 200 farmers per land owner) but we will lend them the needed funding. We will work with a local company that has recently started an excellent program to sell and maintain Sonalika tractors. A special effort will be made to bring people displaced to the cities back to their farms.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We will work in the northern part of SL where we have excellent contacts with agricultural experts and with reliable land owners. SL is one of the poorest countries in the world but receives 9 feet of rain per year on gently rolling, modestly fertile, land and is thus an excellent location to test this approach. Much has been written about why agriculture is failing so badly in Africa. If our approach works in SL it will probably work elsewhere.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We will involve people who have been displaced (to the cities), people who are in danger of leaving their rural homes, and people committed to remaining at home in a common effort to establish profitable, self-sustaining agri-businesses. The project will bring these people back together in their natal homes and - at the same time - will increase their standard of living substantially so that they can remain there with their families.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Most of the people in SL who have left their farms, may leave, or remain behind live in poverty or extreme poverty (e.g., UNDP data). The ONLY way to break this cycle is to establish good jobs in rural areas and - in SL at least - this means transforming traditional agriculture to modern agriculture. We are keenly aware, however, that increased income is not necessarily spent in ways that increase the standard of living. We will therefore structure our fees so that the program produces at least 20% profit and we will use these funds for community projects. Specifically, we use ten broad metrics to define the standard of living and up to 8 quantitative variables are used to assign values to each one. Our goal is to see a large, long-lasting increase in the average standard of living - measured in this way - among people in the project areas. These measures (details available on request) describe both tangible and intangible (e.g., joy, hope, dignity) traits.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Success will be measured by whether the program is self-sustaining (after the first year in a given community) and by how much the average standard of living increases in the subsequent years. Self-sustaining means that external support is no longer needed; Village Hope will remain in the communities helping to provide various forms of support for the foreseeable future. These are the program's objectives. The strategies, broadly, will include the agricultural businesses - described above - and the community programs which will be directed by a "Community Development Team" (CDT) for each community. The CDT will be given a budget and asked to propose ways of improving the community, e.g., by insuring decent salaries for teachers, monitoring teacher performance, insuring that medical staff are adequately paid but are not charging additional fees, improving roads, and so on. Village Hope will insure that the projects are carried out properly

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

We started work in SL in 2008 in 36 rural villages. We did typical donor-type things like building schools, digging wells, and running microfinance programs. But after two years we concluded that such efforts were never going to improve lives to the degree we wanted. So we shut down all of those programs, studied economic development for a year and gradually developed our current "Charity Business Model": a charity starts businesses to provide good jobs; profits are used for community programs. We are convinced that if reducing poverty in rural areas (at least in SL) is the goal but the strategy does not include job creation, then the program must fail. This is the inspiration behind everything we do. Our approach is somewhat similar to social businesses but businesses must keep most of the profits not spend them on community programs and most are not very good at community programs. Most NGOs, however, have little idea how to run profitable businesses. We are thus unusual.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

(Note: We have studied your Community Research Guide and like it. All but one of our staff, however, are Sierra Leoneans who grew up in rural villages and practiced farming. They thus already have the knowledge your Guide helps applicants acquire.) In SL, the government includes the Member of Parliament responsible for a given area, the Paramount Chief, Section Chiefs who manage an area, one or more other Chiefs who manage specified activities (e.g., development), the Village Chief, the elders, land owners, and numerous committees. Typically, a village of 500-600 people has 3-4 land owning families (30-40 people). All others must seek permission from the land owners to till land. Most members of the village are illiterate and have no experience with modern farm methods except that outside groups sometimes give them tractors, fertilizers, etc. but these programs - it is widely agreed - almost never do any lasting good.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Our program was developed by Sierra Leoneans for Sierra Leoneans. The President is the only non-Sierra Leonean and he leaves day-to-day operation to the staff. Every phase of the program involves the local people in making the major decisions. We will offer our services to land owners but they will choose the specific tasks (e.g., plowing) they want help with and they will know the cost. We will offer them extensive training and mentoring - so they can take over the entire operation within a few years (and earn far greater profits) but they will decide which of these to participate in. The CDTs will be given a budget and asked to propose projects to Village Hope for funding. In this way, we will empower communities by avoiding hand outs (nothing is free) and forcing them to make all major decisions. Village Hope will take responsibility for insuring that work - once agreed on - is done to high standards.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our main partner is the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute which provides us with extensive technical assistance. Our main collaborator there is also a member of the Village Hope Board. We work with many other groups as the need arises including: 1. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2. World Hunger (a German NGO). 3. COOPI (an Italian NGO). 4. The SL Produce Monitoring Board 5. Various community leaders and members of Parliament or government.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Returning home

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Village Hope

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Village Hope is an umbrella term for three small agribusinesses in SL: 1. Village Hope Inc, a charity working in SL and registered in the US 2. Village Hope Enterprises, an agribusiness run solely by Village Hope staff 3. Sierra Farm Products, an agribusiness available to investors seeking equity Village Hope Inc is managed by an international Board of Directors. The two businesses are owned by the President and Managing Director (who are the same people for all three groups). These three organizations have exactly the same goal and use the same methods (except that equity partners may receive a share of profits). The 3 groups let us work with charities, businesses, and equity investors. Village Hope has two main programs: improving agricultural programs (the subject of this proposal) and a trading program that buys products (e.g., cocoa, honey) from several thousand farmers and sells them on international markets.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

Sierra Leone

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Freetown, Western Region


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Jon Bart! A thousand applauds to this noble design. However, I am worried that almost all solutions targeted at vulnerable people often do not make special provision for disabled persons in their designs. You may agree with me that the deaf, dumb, lame, blind, etc can be productively incorporated into most designs, borrowing from my knowledge of operations research. Anyway, is there any provision to accommodate them in your own design?

Photo of Jon Bart

Dear Uchenna Okafor:

Many thanks for your comment! In all honesty, I think you've pointed out a weakness in our application (though not in our project). We failed to discuss the point you raise; it's a mistake we won't make again. I also acknowledge that this will be a new endeavor for me (if we receive support). Do you know of any case studies we should review for specific ideas on employing the disabled in agricultural programs?
Thanks again.

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