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YouthDirect: Bridging Youth <> Agriculture, Shifting Power Dynamics to Advance Prosperity & Safeguard the Future of Food & our Planet

Unleashing youth to drive value chain excellence to shift power, improve prosperity & promote sustainable food systems to protect our planet

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

The feedback phase clarified key problems: 1 Youth Joblessness & 2 Ageing Smallholders. The obvious solution is to build a bridge for youth to join the agricultural sector. Considering most youth are disinterested in farming, we were thrilled to learn from youth that our initiatives 1 demonstrating there is money in farming 2 providing opps for youth to access funds and share/learn with peers and older farmers & 3 championing youth as leaders in digital tools are driving youth to farming.

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)

Youth joblessness in rural smallholder communities is on the rise. We have the most youth in history living on the planet (1.8b youth). In the next decade 1 billion people will enter the job market. 600 million will not find jobs. This reality is felt acutely in the communities where we work (1 in 6 youth in Kenya is unemployed). Farmers are aging fast. Less than 5% of farmers in rural areas are <35. The average age of farmers in our network is 55. Producer partners are concerned about the lack of young talent entering the sector & significant barriers preventing youth from participating (land, finance, corruption). The rest of the world is starting to realise the significance of this problem in light of growing global populations and increased pressure on sustainable food production. YouthDirect leverages partnerships with Producer Organisations & young people’s entrepreneurial spirits, interest in pioneering tech 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: climate change, pests, price & political shocks, stagnant productivity, limited access/understanding of digital tools, value chain corruption, ageing farmers & lack of young talent, youth joblessness. The few youth interested in farming face an uphill battle with limited: financing, market access (exclusion) & land. With global populations reaching 10b by 2050, smallholder communities are pressurised to produce more with fewer resources.

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)

Our youth-driven solution transforms agriculture systems. We are building bridges from youth to agriculture, promoting prosperity & safeguarding the future of food sustainably.

YouthDirect promotes a transition amongst youth from viewing farming as an unprofitable default way of life to viewing it as a profitable enterprise full of potential. Youth are empowered to unite & challenge traditional power structures, promoting youth inclusion & participation in food value chains from the BoP.

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 yr: 50% increased incomes (youth-owned enterprise w/ $5.1m turnover by 2023); Decreased youth unemployment/increased employability (leading YouthDirect, Youth Agent employment, digital/financial literacy skills); Increased value chain inclusion/shifting power structures; Increased sustainable agricultural practices, Effective use/ownership of data/digital tools.
Long-term: Sustainable, just & resilient food system w/youth @ helm promoting replicable model promoting prosperity & food security.

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)

Our idea transformed significantly during various feedback phases, providing opportunities to work with smallholders, youth & partner Producer Organisations to redefine the problem, and then work collaboratively to map out the solution. Expert & Community Coach Feedback challenged us to trust the Human-Centered Design process. It’s been a journey! We are now proud to present YouthDirect - a youth-owned agri-enterprise that gets youth excited about farming. YouthDirect builds a bridge from young people to agriculture and promotes prosperity & safeguards our planet and food’s future. Our solution addresses the challenges our partners outlined: 1 Youth unemployment & 2 Ageing smallholders. It empowers youth to shift power dynamics in value chains from global food/beverage companies to farmers, promoting inclusion and an even playing field. In August, we also received confirmation from our Kenyan partner Producer Org that they’ll provide $50k co-financing to get YouthDirect off the ground!

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)

YOUTH NETWORK: In partnership w/ Youth Coordinators & Producer Orgs: 1) Hire Full Time Youth Leaders to manage roll-out, 2) Hire Part Time Youth Agents & provide training in digital/financial literacy, 3) Identify youth &/or youth groups to receive initial disbursement of rotating micro-loans, 4) Youth exchanges (local, national, regional).

YOUTH-LED BRAND DEVELOPMENT: Market research, Brand development, Pilot sales (testing youth-led bundling/transport supported by 2Kuze & potentially blockchain) in local markets (coffee, tea, honey, vegetables) (note: processing & packaging led by partner Producer Orgs).

DIGITAL TOOLS FOR SMARTER ON-FARM/BUSINESS DECISIONS: 1) Improve analogue & digital record keeping (logbooks), 2) Visualisation testing of farmer-facing dashboards, Scaling 2Kuze (mobile marketplace), 3) Test DLT/Blockchain, Smart Contracts (pro-integrity value chains) 3) Install on-farm weather stations (improve product yields & support climate-smart, sustainable practices).

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)

Kenya-based Sylvia Ng’eno & her team lead initiatives locally, managing partnerships w/ Producer Orgs, Youth Networks & 2Kuze. Our Youth Coordinators at Producer Orgs (Emmanuel Tarbe, Carolyne Mutai & Gilbert Misoi) are experts in youth enterprises who’ve played key roles in leading youth initiatives to date. African board members offer expertise supporting smallholders, brand & market development & scaling successful African agrienterprises. Our London team works w/London-based tech partners.

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

TOTAL: $250,000; Co-Financing Secured from Cafedirect (staff), Producer Orgs (brand, loans), World Bank (digital)
YOUTH NETWORK: $85,000 (youth agents, digital & financial literacy training & scaling out, value chain logistics digital + in-person)
YOUTH-OWNED BRAND: $40,000 (youth-led design process & research, testing product sales, marketing)
DIGITAL TOOLS: $65,000 (record keeping, dynamic dashboards, 10 weather stations, 2Kuze expansion, DLT/Smart Contracts)

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.

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): 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)

YouthDirect was co-designed with Kenyan, Ugandan & Tanzanian Producer Orgs who host our 4 Centres of Excellence. Until now, our Centres have provided in-person & digital bundled support services to farmers addressing 4 barriers: 1) TRAINING ( adaptation, diversification & financial/digital literacy), 2) FINANCING (enabling farmers to apply lessons learnt on farm), 3) MARKETS (to sell products!), & 4) DATA for smarter decision making. Over the last 8 weeks, our idea has gone through multiple iterations as we’ve worked to incorporate valuable beneficiary, expert & community feedback, while striving to keep our idea simple - yet dynamic & radical - and centered on building a bridge from YOUTH to AGRICULTURE to promote PROSPERITY (increased incomes, job security, employability & sustainable livelihoods) & PLANET (safeguarding the future of food via climate-smart, sustainable practices & replacing ageing smallholders w/ energised youth empowered to overhaul food systems from the base).

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

- CO-FINANCING SECURED for YOUTHDIRECT: During the week commencing 25 July 2018, our Nairobi-based Head of Programmes (Sylvia) and Africa Coordinator (Valerie) traveled to visit our partners at Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment Project (Sireet OEP) in Nandi, Kenya. Their trip had 2 goals: 1) Conduct further research and beneficiary feedback with smallholders, youth and leadership at the Producer Organisation and 2) Share an updated business plan (based on feedback received in Entebbe, Uganda in May 2018) of YouthDirect with leadership and board members at Sireet. We are thrilled to share that we secured $50,000 of co-financing for YouthDirect, to support product processing, packaging, branding, and marketing, as well as pilot testing local sales. This also provided a great opportunity to redefine the problem with smallholder community members, enabling us to refocus on building a bridge from youth to agriculture, addressing youth joblessness in communities like Nandi while simultaneously addressing ageing farmers, which is a significant concern for smallholder families (in terms of food security and incomes), as well as a concern for our Producer Organisation partners looking to ensure they have a sustainable value chain looking forward. The trip also provided valuable feedback on how to improve some of our digital tools including the record keeping App, dashboards and 2Kuze, which we’ll address if funds are secured from this challenge.

- CLARITY ON DIGITAL TOOL INCLUSION: We’ve contemplated the role of data/digital tools over the last 8 weeks. We had an enlightening, grounding conversation with our Board Chair Lebi Hudson (who is also the CEO of one of our partner Producer Organisation that hosts a Centre of Excellence, Rungwe Smallholder Tea Growers Association in Rungwe, Tanzania) on 15 August who reminded us that digital tools simply don’t work in rural communities without wider ecosystems of in-person support (provided by our Centres of Excellence and growing networks of Youth). Further, tools are not adopted if farmers don’t see a clear way the tools are improving their farm productivity and incomes. Tools need to solve real, pressing problem farmers face. Thus, our criteria to incorporate digital tools rests on ensuring the tools are: 1) co-designed by farmers, for farmers and respond to pressing needs, 2) accessible to farmers - meaning they are affordable and easy to use in rural communities by farmers with limited digital and financial literacy & 3) Empower farmers & youth to become owners of their own data and learn how to own and lead the very processes meant to support them, protecting rural communities from a proliferation of digital tools and consequent data extraction. Additional conversations we’ve had in recent weeks supporting the inclusion of tools we’ve already spent considerable time co-designing with partners and beneficiaries (i.e. data dashboards, record keeping, 2Kuze, weather stations) includes: 1) Session with David Acton (blockchain expert) in London, UK on 23 July 2018 (with full UK-based team and Sylvia Ng'eno dialling in from Nairobi) to discuss how to pilot test Smart Contracts with smallholders in Kenya and Uganda and other potential roles blockchain or other distributed ledger technology could play to support smallholders; 2) On 31 July 2018 Producer Direct's Information Manager, Sam Webb, shared beneficiary feedback collected for IDEO with our close partners Cafedirect and held a consultation with the company collecting ideas and feedback on our farmer-led data systems and their role as an upstream actor (looking at what data, information) they would be interested in and what they think their customers/buyers would be interested in - looking at supporting Food Trust, while working to shift power dynamics. 3) Session with Fairtrade Foundation 7 August to share and learn on use of data and digital tools to support and empower smallholder farmers, youth/women's groups and producer organisations.

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 youth who have limited volumes (and power) to combat cartels & corrupt middlemen. On average, farmers recover <1/4 of production costs when selling small volumes via middlemen.

YouthDirect, a youth-owned enterprise, offers an obvious bridge from youth to agriculture addressing youth unemployment, ageing farmers and corrupt food value chains, while promoting prosperity and protecting the future of food and our planet.

Working through a network of 38 Producer Organisations 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 sector, getting young people excited about farming via access to farm financing, opportunities to participate in youth exchanges and training in pioneering digital tools (2Kuze mobile marketplace, dynamic dashboards, weather stations, & record keeping) to support YouthDirect and to build bridges and reciprocal mentoring relationships between youth and older farmers.

Together, we will (1) safeguard the planet and improve food security sustainably, ethically and nutritiously (2) promote prosperity for youth and wider smallholder communities (3) shift food value chain power structures to the base of the pyramid, where they belong.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our solution has the potential to inspire systemic change across the entire agricultural 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 2 years:
- Youth (18-35) from smallholder communities in Kenya (Nandi), Uganda (Bushenyi, Kayonza) & Tanzania (Rungwe) will launch YouthDirect, providing a viable (& exciting) livelihood for young people. Youth will benefit further from training in digital and financial literacy, opening doors to additional employment.

- Older smallholders, families, communities, and Producer Orgs will benefit from identifying successors for ageing smallholders, safeguarding the future of food (& household incomes) sustainably.

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

- Launches a youth-owned food brand, co-financed by local Producer Organisations

- Gets youth excited about farming, building a bridge between youth and agriculture/farming successfully

- Locally-driven solution; led by farmers, youth & producer orgs, for farmers, youth & producer orgs

- Replicable model built to scale organically to safeguard future of food and planet, and promote prosperity globally

- Shifts power structures in food value chains from multinationals and middlement to smallholder communities, promoting inclusive food value chains

- Uses pioneering digital tools co-designed by partners and key stakeholders smartly (not just for the sake of it)

- Unparalleled partnership with local partners (producer organisations, cooperatives & youth groups)

- One of few organisations placed to bridge youth to farming/agriculture in an exciting, viable and sustainable way

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

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 youth JOBLESSNESS across rural communities, and CORRUPTION and a lack of transparency, compounded by political unrest, changing climates, and market shocks. Take the recent maize scandal in Eldoret, Kenya (close to Sireet) that placed cartels and middlemen above smallholder farmers. Corruption and unfair power dynamics are endemic in food value chains, which is why we’ve designed a solution that bypasses middlemen and shifts power balances to the base of the pyramid through a youth-owned, direct trading model that is supported by local organisations. PLANET is influenced by changing climates & increased pressures from growing global populations on food production - oftentimes in unsustainable, harmful ways. PROSPERITY & PLANET are inextricably linked, with both influenced by increased pressures on smallholders to feed the planet, compounded by AGEING FARMERS & 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 Wefarm -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 & access to DevelopmentCheck tool combating corruption, David Acton (blockchain), Champion Agency- providing tech expertise, & Climate Edge - providing on-farm weather stations.

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 who 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/ 4 partner Producer Organisations (cooperatives) in Kenya, Tanzania & Uganda.

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.
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Attachments (2)

Workplan - Sheet1.pdf

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

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.


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