OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

YouthDirect: Promoting Transparency, Advancing Prosperity & Safeguarding the Future of Food

Unleashing youth to drive value chain excellence through a youth-owned brand, combating corruption, unemployment & food insecurity.

Photo of Katie Messick Maddox
11 10

Written by

*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

-Youth participation + employment (on & off-farm) necessary to address joblessness in rural communities; youth-youth in-person exchanges huge payoffs; youth-elders developed + reciprocal mentoring relationship
-Combat corruption @ Farm Gate, recognise power of middlemen/cartels
-Wider ecosystem of support & in-person training key for effective adoption & use of digital tools
- Youth commitment to youth-owned brand, Producer Organisation leadership buy-in (co-financing) of product sales/brand

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

We have the most young people in history living on the planet, with 1.8 billion youth.This is the biggest youth population in history. YouthDirect unlocks the collective power of a generation of peak youth to promote prosperity across rural communities and safeguard the future of food by launching a youth-owned agri-enterprise and food brand promoting transparency and traceability from the base of the pyramid. Farmers are ageing. Food production is stagnant.Youth unemployment is rising. Corruption is rampant. Climates are changing. Population growth is continuing. Rural communities (youth, coop leadership) & our Producer Trustees shared that engaging youth & addressing corruption in the agricultural sector is critical to promoting prosperity & protecting the future of food at the household, community and global level. YouthDirect leverages young people’s entrepreneurial spirits, interest in pioneering technology and commitment to a more prosperous, sustainable, just, & peaceful world.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Smallholder communities are facing a myriad of challenges - changing climates, pests, price shocks, political instability, limited financing options for on-farm improvements, aging smallholders, youth unemployment, limited access to real-time data & information preventing informed on-farm decision making, value chain corruption at the farm gate, & limited market access particularly for smallholders (women/youth) with limited volumes who have limited bargaining power with middlemen.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

Cuts out the middlemen, pioneering a youth-owned brand, transforming value chain structures from the bottom.

Addresses youth joblessness creating employment in a youth-led agribusiness (on-farm & off-farm).

Provides a wider ecosystem of support led by farmers, for farmers via access to our Centres of Excellence (Training,Financing,Markets,Data).

Utilises blockchain (or other distributed ledger tech) to trial Smart Contracts, promoting transparency & traceability in food value chain

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

2 years:
- Increased income (50% for 20,000 youth)
- Increased youth employment (50 new jobs)
- Improved digital credit histories for unbanked (from digital records)

- Increased resilience, food security, financial inclusion
- Increased value chain transparency & traceability
- Youth-owned brand w/projected turnover $5.1m by 2023 (crops: coffee, tea, cocoa, honey, avocado)
- Resilient food system w/ youth @ helm, replicable model to promote food security, poverty reduction

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Feedback from stakeholders enabled us to refocus (recognizing YouthDirect will be supported by a wider ecosystem of bundled in-person/digital support services): 1 Youth employment in the agricultural sector (on & off-farm) & 2 Fighting corruption in value chains from the farm gate via a pro-integrity approach. During conversations, we understood how pervasive corruption is in food value chains going as far as discouraging youth from joining the sector (stories were shared about middlemen proactively disrupting youth from forming groups to aggregate & sell bananas). We can’t afford to discourage youth further -as they are already battling limited access to financing & land. Initial efforts encouraging remote crop bundling via 2Kuze have been effective, yet farmers are now wary of Youth Agents (who have absorbed the role of middlemen in terms of transport logistics). Piloting smart contracts & launching a youth-owned brand safeguards against corruption and promotes youth ownership.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

0-6 Months:
Youth Networks: Work w/ Youth Coordinators hosted by Producer Organisation partners to identify 1 Youth Leader to manage the project roll-out in rural communities.
Digital Tools: Improving current tools (2Kuze + on-farm logbooks/record keeping); design/build integration/overlay of DevCheck tool

6-18 Months:
Youth Networks: Support youth to roll-out & test digital tools (training on accessing/using tools, traveling to smallholder farms to share data & information with farmers)
Digital Tools: Develop Smart Contracts Technology; Pilot Smart Contracts & Integration of DevCheck
Micro-Loans: Distribute 200 loans
Brand: Pilot sales (veg, honey, coffee) in local markets

18-24 Months:
Our focus during the last 6 months of the project will be on collecting beneficiary feedback, evaluating, collecting/sharing lessons learnt with partners (including smallholders, producer orgs) & replication and scaling through established networks (i.e. Wefarm’s 900,000 user-base)

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Nairobi-based Sylvia Ng’eno, the mastermind behind YouthDirect, will lead initiatives on the ground and manage partnerships with Producer Organisations & our network of Youth.Our London-based team will work with IntegrityAction & blockchain experts (David Acton, Bennett Gordon) to develop tools promoting value chain transparency. Our Peruvian, Kenyan & Tanzanian Board Members offer additional expertise in rural development, digital tech, scaling agribusinesses & brand/market development.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

Total: $250,000; co-financing secured
Support: Youth-owned Brand, Fight Corruption
Youth Networks:providing value chain logistics, data services, digital & financial literacy training-$75k
Digital Tools:enhance on-farm logbooks,expansion of 2Kuze,integration of blockchain-based Smart Contracts, DevCheck for transparency-$110k
Support youth agripreneurs to access rotating micro-loans to invest on-farm-$40k
Youth-Owned brand:youth-led design process,testing of branded product sales -$25k

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

1. Pro-Integrity Value Chains - We have expertise in Base of the Pyramid blockchain/distributed ledger technology (David Acton, Bennett Gordon) who are keen to support the development of distributed ledger technologies, including smart contracts, in ways that benefit smallholders and increase traceability and transparency. However, effectiveness depends on this approach being developed within the context of building (a) youth-led supply chain(s), from the point of production to product sale. Recognising the need to build these supply chains from the base of the pyramid to the wider set of actors required to be engaged, we would welcome expertise on strategy to build bridges with this wider ecosystem of actors from the early stages of project design.

2. Linked to the above, we would welcome further ideas on our approach to tech. We are a farmer-owned org & our expertise is in our in-person work w/smallholders & producer organisations, we have entered the tech space because smallholders and youth in our network recognise to improve on-farm profitability (incomes, food security), technology is a necessity. We are wary of tech solutions developed in isolation of beneficiaries, yet open to sharing and learning on blended in-person and tech approaches.

3. We are a nonprofit and entering the social enterprise or hybrid space necessary for the youth-owned brand will be a shift for our organisation and team. We are looking for mentors and support on how to make this transition. We have expertise on our board and in our strategic partner Cafedirect plc, as well as the obvious expertise from our network of 38 Producer Organisations representing a network of 280,000 smallholders, but when it gets to some of the details on the business plan we are seeking external support on product branding, marketing. We anticipate a turnover of $5.1m in the next 5 years, with $30.7m by 2028 (all led in partnership - including co-financing) from Producer Organisation partners.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

The future of food is at risk, as is our planet. By 2050 our population will reach 10bn. Food production will need to increase by 70% to match this growth, placing significant strain on limited resources. 500m smallholders are responsible for producing 70% of the world’s food supply, but they are ageing, with the worldwide average 60 years. In the next decade, 1bn youth will enter the job market; 600m of them will not find jobs. And although we are in a generation of Peak Youth with half the population <30, youth do not view agriculture as a viable livelihood.

Corruption permeates the sector, with devastating impacts on smallholders - particularly women & youth who are combating cartels & corrupt middlemen. On average, smallholders recover <1/4 of production costs when selling small volumes via middlemen.

We are offering an obvious, yet underutilised solution: pairing youth & smallholder farmers to safeguard the future of our planet & cultivate prosperity. Working through a network of 38 Producer Organisations (cooperatives) makes us well placed to deliver a sustainable solution (from the bottom up) at scale to reach all 500m smallholders & 1.8bn youth.

We will work through youth groups to invigorate the agriculture sector, introducing young people to our pioneering digital tools (Wefarm, 2Kuze, dashboards/logbooks), while simultaneously providing access to our peer-to-peer bundled support services providing access to: Markets for products, Financing to establish agrienterprises, Training to do this sustainably, & Data to improve decisions. We will underpin our model with Integrity Action’s DevelopmentCheck tool, as we combat corruption in value chains and hold upstream actors account, challenging current power structures.

Together we will Increase value chain transparency & combat corruption; Improve food security sustainably, nutritiously & ethically; Promote sustainable agricultural practices to build resilience; & Increase incomes & prosperity.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The goal of our solution is to inspire systemic changes across the sector, benefiting all 1.8 billion young people & 500 million smallholders who are struggling to provide for their families in the face of limited resources & changing climates, yet are responsible for feeding our planet & safeguarding our natural resources. In the next 24 months, we will empower youth (18-35) from smallholder communities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, & Peru. Although our focus is on youth & women, we will continue to engage all smallholders to guarantee buy in across smallholder communities, & to gain traction for wider scale. Youth will benefit from accessing bundled support services and specialised training in accessing, using and training peers on pioneering digital tools including 2Kuze (a market access tool developed in partnership w/MasterCard Labs), Wefarm (world’s largest peer-to-peer network) & in-house solutions including farmer-facing logbooks & dashboards. Incomes will increase by 50-100%.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

- Led by farmers,for farmers

- Youth & smallholders are partners,not beneficiaries or targets; Empower youth as today’s leaders, not tomorrow’s

- Identifies nexus between youth & smallholders

- Peer-to-Peer, farmer-led bundled service delivery available in-person & digitally (Market Access, supporting smallholders to bundle remotely &fetch fairer prices, Financing via a pioneering peer-to-peer model,Training in climate resilience/adaptation & quality/volumes,Data for smarter decision making & to hold value chain actors to account)

- Rooted in local systems via Producer Organisations;Youth Groups

- Pioneering digital tools developed in partnership w/farmers guaranteeing accessible, affordable and relevant (digital record keeping; dashboards; DevelopmentCheck tool; Climate Edge weather stations;Wefarm farmer-farmer digital network; 2Kuze digital market access)

- Pro-integrity approach to tackle corruption in food value chains via DevelopmentCheck Tool, Smart Contracts

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We are Producers Direct, an award winning enterprise led by farmers for farmers; and our goal is to transition small-scale farmers (particularly women & youth) to small-scale business owners via access to digital and in-person bundled support services including access to Markets, Financing, Training and Data for improved on-farm decision making.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The future of our planet is at risk. Living in an era of Peak Youth provides us with a unique 1-off opportunity to leapfrog development, harnessing the united power of 1.8bn young people & 500m smallholders living on the planet today. We need to work from the bottom up and promote local innovations to address the world’s greatest threats, safeguarding the future of our planet - it’s rich biodiversity & natural resources - and to build bridges to cultivate prosperity for the most vulnerable.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Prosperity is impacted by corruption and a lack of transparency, which is compounded by political unrest, changing climates, and market shocks. Take the recent maize buying scandal in Eldoret, Kenya that placed cartels and middlemen above smallholder farmers. Corruption is endemic in food value chains in the regions where we are working in East Africa and Latin America, which is why we are looking for digital solutions to protect smallholders and to hold upstream actors like middlemen & cartels accountable via increased digital transparency.

Planet is influenced by changing climates & increased pressures from growing global populations on food production - oftentimes in unsustainable, harmful ways.

Prosperity and Planet are inextricably linked. Both are influenced by increased pressures on smallholders to feed the planet, compounded by aging smallholders & an unemployment crisis facing youth, placing the future of food, planet & prosperity at risk.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We work through a network of 38 Producer Organisations (POs), which is why our team of 12 (across Kenya, Haiti, Peru, & the UK) has such a large impact globally. In Africa, we will work via our partners: Sireet OEP in Nandi Hills Kenya, a cooperative w/ 6,000 smallholders; Kayonza, a cooperative w/ 7,000 members; ACPCU a cooperative w/ 8,000 members; and RSTGA, a cooperative w/ 15,000 members to roll-out & test our solution across our network of established Centres of Excellence at each Producer Organisation.

We will also work with global partners including Wefarm - the world’s largest P2P digital network (initially a Producers Direct project), Restless Development - expert’s in youth-led development (who we have worked with to improve youth engagement at Producer Organisations), Integrity Action - promoting transparency and access to DevelopmentCheck digital tool combating corruption, and Climate Edge - providing on-farm weather stations accessible to smallholder farmers.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

-Partnership w/ 38 Producer Organisations, 7 Centres of Excellence in East Africa & Latin America
-Engaged group of Lead Farmers demonstrating 50% increase in incomes, 90% increase in volumes, 87% diversifying into new agrienterprise
-Network of Youth Groups (>700 youth) trained in digital tools, participated in cross-border exchanges to empower next generation of farmers (led w/ partners Wefarm & Restless Development)
Effective use of digital tools (logbooks, dashboards, 2Kuze, Wefarm)

Geographic Focus

We will work w/ partners & Producer Organisations (cooperatives) in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda & Peru.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We will need 24 months to empower the next generation of agripreneurs & promote transparency in food value chains. 24 months provides time to bring together various global partners at the start and close of the project to share lessons learnt, while providing adequate time to scale up/focus current components (at more advanced stages) & test/pilot newer components (layering Integrity Action’s DeveCheck tool & testing Smart Contracts), promoting increased transparency in food value chains.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

We transitioned from experimenting with IoT tech to launching focused digital tools effectively (i.e. Digital Record Keeping & Logbooks & Farmer-Friendly Data Dashboards). Further, since our last bid we won the World Bank’s Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development, enabling us to form new partnerships with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Climate Edge. Further, we are on the verge of completing our 24-month Global Resilience Partnership (funded by USAID, SIDA & Rockefeller Foundation) initiative, developing digital tools to promote supply chain transparency & to build resilience for smallholders, which is providing key lessons learnt as we look forward and take our initiatives forward.

Rebrand from Cafedirect Producers Foundation to Producers Direct, showcasing our direct relationship with smallholder producers and our transition to working with a diverse network of smallholders, particularly youth and women.

We have inverted our model and farmer journey to focus on access to: 1) Markets 2) Financing 3) Training & 4) Data. We are prioritising Market Access for specific products, followed by Financing and Training tailored to these products, rather than focusing on prioritising Training. To support this transition, we are also piloting Co-Branded Product Sales with our partner Producer Organisations (focused on honey, banana, tea, and coffee). Product sales will support the long-term sustainability and resilience of our partners and our organisation as we look to transition to a hybrid. We are focusing on empowering youth in focused agrienterprises and providing market access for these young people, equipping them with the digital tools to succeed and combat corrupt upstream actors by aggregating products remotely.

A renewed ability & focus on combating value chain corruption & promoting transparency via Smart Contracts and partnership with Integrity Action, committed to holding upstream actors to account.
View more

Attachments (5)

Workplan - Sheet1.pdf

We've attached a workplan to provide further information to the narrative workplan in the body of the proposal.

Farmer Feedback Loops.jpg

Here is another visual of various data points we are collecting and how we are using data to benefit smallholders, in response to Gayanjith Premalal question in the comments section. Hopeful this image and the Data Flow image below help!

Farmer-Led Data System.pdf

Data Flow: We've drafted this visual on the various data that we are aggregating to share back with smallholder farmers and producer organisations, enabling smallholder (and their producer organisations) to make smarter (and more informed) decisions, this is in response to one of the community coaches who asked to learn more about how our data systems are supporting farmers to do better and to share a data flow diagram. Please note, these data systems sit within our wider ecosystem of support.

User Experience Map - OpenIDEO 120718.pdf

Updated User Experience Map, please note that our user experience reflects our proposal's focus area (Youth engagement and employment + Improved value chain transparency) as well as the wider ecosystem of support our model offers (via co-financing), so we are able to present a full picture of how the full model works.

IDEO _ Impact Grahphic.jpg

An overview of the model we are proposing in partnership with OpenIDEO & GHR Foundation.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gayanjith Premalal

Hi Katie Messick Maddox , Congratulations on getting shortlisted for the refinement phase! It is great to have you on the challenge. This idea is really fascinating. I come from Sri Lanka which was a highly agricultural country a couple of decades ago. But as you have correctly mentioned in your post, the middle men have destroyed the agricultural industry in a way that it cannot stand on its feet again. Recently, the Sri Lankan farmers had to give away their pumpkin crops free of charge or for a few cents because of this corruption. I'm glad to see you trying to find a solution for this, which all our governments failed at.

I see that you are going for a Digital Transformation here and also incorporate data warehousing as well, which is really great! I'm interested about learning more on the other systems in the ecosystem that you are creating. And I would love to see a prototype/working product of the platform you are creating and how it helps the farmers to do better. Or even a simple data flow diagram would be sufficient to understand how your platform works. Very curious and excited to know more :)

Photo of Katie Messick Maddox

Many thanks for reaching out Gayanjith Premalal ! Addressing corruption in the agricultural sector is challenging, especially in a way that harnesses buy-in from all actors.

Our initial work in remote product bundling and aggregation with the digital platform 2Kuze has been effective, yet does place Youth Agents in a role close to that of a middleman (in terms of transport logistics and support linking producers to buyers, registering on the system etc).

Although we’ve not seen or heard of corruption yet, some of the farmers we spoke to during refinement mentioned being wary or unsure of youth’s role, indicating we need to do more to prevent corruption down the line and also to ensure smallholders participating have a transparent view of transactions and all costs (i.e. who pays for breakage/spoilage during transport etc.).

We have been discussing partnership with london-based Integrity Action for the last several months and have identified how we can pilot their DevelopmentCheck digital tool to promote a pro-integrity approach to value chain transparency and traceability. We are also working with London-based leaders in blockchain / distributed ledger technology to devise Smart Contracts from the Base of the Pyramid - and Base of the Supply Chain - starting with smallholders, with a lens to ensuring we benefit smallholders, while also recognising that for this to work we’ll need to engage actors further up the value chain, including middlemen in some cases. With increased pressure on food companies from consumers demanding transparency, traceability and ethically sourced food products, our solution offers opportunities for participating actors to improve Food Trust with their consumers/buyers (an incentive to participate).

We’ve mapped out benefits to various actors as follows:

Smallholder - increased trust in value chain integrity and decreased perception of corruption, increased incomes via shifting power dynamics
Businesses - increased earnings/market share (digitisation and ability to trace products and provide evidence for consumers), leading to increased Food Trust
Public/Government - Improved agricultural sector resilience, profitable and competitive agricultural sector, decreased GDP loss linked to corruption, a replicable model for sustained growth

We’ll also apply the Smart Contracts to our youth-owned brand, which we hope to scale in the coming years to incorporate honey, banana, vegetables/fruits as well as cash crops (coffee, tea, cocoa) - linked to our historical relationships with coffee, tea and cocoa cooperatives.

In sum, yes, we are happy you recognise our approach as a digital transformation, it’s one that is led by and for farmers. What I also wanted to clarify is that we know that digital is not enough, in-person delivery and wider ecosystems of support are critical. Digital does not stand up on its own, which is why we’ve seen little impact from the numerous ICT4Ag tools launched in rural communities across the globe in recent years. Our board members and smallholders we’ve been working with since 2009 often speak of these tools being parachuted into communities with little explanation, meaning the tools are not used.

In the attachments, I added a diagram outlining the various data streams and our goal to create positive feedback loops with farmers, which we’ve not yet mastered due to various literacy levels and limited connectivity in rural areas, though we are working with our vast networks of youth to identify the best solution. The wider ecosystem of support you asked about is linked to our model as Producers Direct, which provides access via Centres of Excellence (hosted by Producer Organisation partners) to: 1) Training (led in person on demonstration sites by Lead Farmers focused on resilience, adaptation, diversification, crop quality/yields), 2) Financing - micro-loans, 3) Markets - in person via youth networks doing bundling/transport to markets and digitally via 2Kuze platform, and 4) Data for improved on-farm decision making. The key data points we are utilising to help farmers make better decisions includes: digital record keeping/logbooks (farmers collecting data on-farm to provide holistic farm views) - covering everything from various micro-enterprises to profit/loss and cash flow; on-farm weather stations providing real-time, actionable information about adaptations; historical satellite data from CIAT to help make farmers make decisions to adapt or diversify on-farm. All the data is aggregated (in an ideal world, we are making progress - slowly, but surely) on our digital data dashboards (using Tableau) and delivered back to Producer Organisations and Smallholder Farmers (via youth agents who have smartphones or tablets that can be actualised on farm or off farm and shared on screen or print out).

I know that is a lot of information, so please let me know if that clarifies (or confuses!) things!


Katie & Team!

View all comments