Reimagining Social Ventures During COVID-19

2020 Social Venture Challenge winners share their journey

As this year’s Social Venture Challenge teams prepare to pitch their ventures to a panel of judges, we revisit a few of last year’s teams to see how they are faring and what role reimagining and resilience have played in their entrepreneurship journey. 


ISOKOFARMS

Isokofarms

Left to right: Kevin Ganza and Lawali Franck in one of the ISOKOFARMS partners’ pineapple plantations in Rwanda.

Tell us about yourself and the name of your team 

ISOKOFARMS, is a venture led by Kevin Ganza and Lawali Franck Ghislain Ki, Mastercard Foundation Scholars from the American University of Beirut. We won the Social Venture Challenge in 2020 and thus were accepted into the Resolution Fellowship Programme.

What is the challenge that your business, ISOKOFARMS, is addressing and what has been the impact so far?  

According to a report by the World Bank, about 78 percent of the world’s population live in rural areas and rely largely on agriculture. Most of these farmers are subsistence farmers and are vulnerable to the harmful effects of climate change and due to their low incomes, have low standards of living. In resource-constrained countries, many smallholder farmers lack access to digital markets and knowledge on modern farming techniques. ISOKOFARMS aims to solve these two challenges for farmers by using mobile technology to connect farmers to markets and allow the community of farmers to exchange information on farming techniques to improve farming.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant measures like the lockdowns, farmers were disconnected from physical markets. Digital market accessibility through mobile phones is thus crucial to sustain the livelihoods of farmers. Since last year, ISOKOFARMS have reached more than 30 farming cooperative groups of roughly 7500 farmers who are being enrolled in our mobile smartphone technology. Currently ISOKOFARMS is working with different partners to integrate the system to reach even more farmers and help them access digital markets.

How did you feel when you were announced as a winner of the Social Venture Challenge and how has winning impacted your venture?  

We still feel enormously proud of winning the Resolution Fellowship Social Venture Challenge. The Resolution Project and Mastercard Foundation provided not only much needed seed capital but also life-long assistance through mentorship to ensure that our project is successful.  Winning provided us with an opportunity and a responsibility to make sure that our work is impacting people in their communities.

How have you had to reimagine your venture since winning last year? How do you see it changing again in the post-Covid year?  

The big question after winning the Social Venture Challenge was about sustainability and growth, that is, creating a business model that is consistent albeit adaptable to the challenges of different times as they arise. For instance, we are currently trying to reach farmers and work together whilst complying to COVID-19 protocols. We had to change our ways and become more innovative in using the approaches that enabled us to respond urgently to the COVID-19 situation. We are hopeful that in the post COVID-19 era, we will use the lessons we learned this year to be able to reach more people with little hindrances. It will also give us an opportunity to work more closely with both beneficiaries and our partners.

What have you learned about leadership as a Social Venture Challenge Winner and as an entrepreneur? 

As Social Venture Challenge Winners, we have learnt that leadership is about service and the impact you are bringing to the people and how they are benefiting from it. As social entrepreneurs, becoming Social Venture Challenge Winners encourages you to make sacrifices that inspire and motivate you to do things that benefit your community.

What advice do you have for the current Social Venture Challenge finalists?  

Don’t lose hope, social entrepreneurship is worth it as it presents a pathway to achieve your personal goals, as well as those of your community. You also have all the support you need through the Mastercard Foundation and Resolution Project, utilize them to advance the mission of your organisation.