The two things I love most when Alumni return to the Bloomberg School is how excited they are to recruit from their alma mater and when they share something from their experience. Both of these things happened in the first five minutes of Tony Kalm, MPH ’95’s presentation on the non-profit One Acre Fund.
After Dean Emeritus Al Sommer’s introduction, Kalm took a moment to share how his time at Bloomberg shaped him and his career. He spoke fondly of Edyth Schoenrich, a mentor for him, and how she always calmed him down when he came back from overseas feeling lost about what was next in his life and career. Kalm claimed he always felt unqualified for any job and that he was not making a difference in the world. He said she’d sit with him and talk through his most recent experience and help him discover his next step.
Not wanting to be sentimental too long, Kalm immediately launched into a plea for people. As President of One Acre Fund, he’s very aware of the needs of the non-profit. They currently have 5,000 full-time staff and are hiring for 60 positions, mostly in cities and countries in Africa, and some in the US and Europe.
What I found most interesting about Kalm’s discussion of One Acre Fund is that the individual parts of the organization are not innovated. They provide loans, deliver farming technology, train the small rural farmers and help these families increase their yield. However, what is innovative, is they provide all the services. Instead of attacking one challenge these small family farmers have, they attack all of them at one time. Prior to starting a location in Rwanda, there were only two places farmers could buy seed. Now, the country is blanketed with locations that the farmers can walk to for their purchases. In 2006 with its founding, One Acre Fund helped 38 families. In 2015, they partnered with 305,400 families. Some of their original farmers are now employed by One Acre Fund as site managers, teaching farming techniques and more. Others no longer need One Acre Fund to succeed, which is the celebrating point of the non-profit. As One Acre Fund continues to grow, they empower these rural farmers to be part of the environmental conversation as they are most affected by global warming. In addition to stopping hunger, One Acre Fund has a goal of being self-sustaining and not relying on donations. Kalm pointed out no non-profit serving the rural poor has ever broke even financially. In their strongest locations, Kalm reports a 94% sustainability.
If learning about One Acre Fund wasn’t inspiring enough, a current MPH student stood up to ask a question of Kalm near the end of the lecture. He is from Rwanda and was familiar with One Acre Fund from home. He asked Kalm about their approaches towards investment education, child labor and hiring farmers for those open positions with a point of view different from most in the room. Watching the two discuss the challenges and approaches was fascinating, but a special moment that isn’t rare at Bloomberg.