Over the past few weeks as a Tallahassee Food Network and FSU Social Entrepreneurship Intern, I have had the privilege of working at the iGrow farm in Frenchtown, led by youth leaders in the community who are passionate about agriculture and understand the demand for healthy food in the Tallahassee community. At the iGrow farm, I have gained a new appreciation for agriculture and farming and have witnessed the behind-the-scenes take on harvesting vegetables from the soil (what most people do not see or think about when they go to their local markets or grocery stores and buy sweet potatoes or peppers off the shelf). I have been exposed to the basic formula for Compost Tea, which, if used in farming and growing vegetables, will enhance the process of plant growth in a more efficient, effective, and natural manner so that more fruits and vegetables are available to the community. This is a product that Tallahassee Food Network will be developing with the proper ratio of ingredients after I conduct the research needed to figure out the least costly place to buy the ingredients, the market Tallahassee Food Network will be targeting, and potential ways of advertising this product.
By working at the iGrow farm, I have realized the usefulness of compost during the planting process and the positive effects of using it while planting, which only makes me twice as sure that the Compost Tea recipe (when finished) will be a success. I have thoroughly enjoyed working at the iGrow farm and being a Tallahassee Food Network Intern, and it is even more rewarding to see the progress of the plants that I planted each time I go to the iGrow farm. But the best part is, at least ten volunteers have been around to help out the Tallahassee community each time I have been to the iGrow farm, and this effort and dedication makes me want to continue going back, even after this semester.
It’s been a few weeks now of interning for Unhoused Humanity, and I have already gained so much from this experience. After one of my first social media fundraising pushes, we raised enough funds to house a woman named Nadia, and it was so heart-warming to be a part of that accomplishment. So far, I have been managing updates on our website, implementing changes to help it work better, posting on social media, and managing an excel sheet of our donations and donors. One really great thing that the organization does, that I think really helps keep people invested, is sending update emails and thank you videos. I have enjoyed recording the videos and seeing the pictures of the people we have helped, and feeling very connected to the people we are helping.
As an intern, my goal for the semester is to learn more about how to best make and streamline a website, improve my IT and communication skills, as well as learn how start-ups work and operate. It is hard to balance everything sometimes as a busy college student, so another goal of mine is to find a balance with time-management and make sure that I can dedicate as much time to Unhoused Humanity, but also still stay dedicated to my studies and extracurricular activities. I am excited for the semester to come, and can’t wait to see how I grow and change throughout this intern experience!
As this being the final week, things have slowed down even more. Most of the students are busy working, either on their business or on other matters. On Tuesday the rest of the group went to see one students’ area where she wanted to keep and harvest bees. I was unable to go due to sickness, but from what I heard, what she has in mind is not feasible. There are too many costs and more kept coming up each time we met her. However she has decided to continue this using her own funds and other methods to receive money On Saturday we went to the house of a student who will be baking cakes and selling them for birthdays and weddings. We saw the oven and the tools she bought to run her business. She already has a few clients, and with weddings a common occurrence here her business has a high chance of succeeding and being quite profitable. Monday was the last day of classes. We spent the day reconvening and discussing how their two weeks went and what went well or did not go well during that time. On the final two days, Monday and Tuesday, we spent our time going over any last questions and to give our final goodbyes. Unexpectedly, the whole class surprised the teachers and mentors with their own personal words of thanks as well as small gifts. It was truly a kind gesture and brought immense joy to me knowing that the students enjoyed their time and that we all made a positive impact.
With official classes over, the overall project has winded down a lot. During this week we have been meeting with the students to talk individually on what is next for their projects. For those who are receiving funds we began to discuss what their funds would go to. Those who had a shop or land where they will conduct their business we visited to see if it was a usable place for them. On Wednesday we went to the northern province of Rwanda with a fellow student named Angelique. As her business is chicken farming we brought her to a fellow chicken farmer who is working with Tyson. They talked a lot on what is needed so that she can succeed. On Sunday we went to the Eastern province of Rwanda to see the land that another student, Frederick, owned land and was planning on herding and selling goats. After touring the place we decided that he had lots of land and all of the resources available to achieve what he wanted to do. With the students who were not receiving funds we talked about how they could either change their business enough to where it would work, or how to look for a new business idea. Some business ideas were just not feasible. For them we offered the chance to go to a workshop where they could think of new business ideas that would work for them. Others we found out would be receiving funds either from family or friends. During this week we found out that one student did not want to receive the funds as she will still be in school and cannot begin her business right now. Another student who was going to receive funds will not because many factors, such as workers and clients he had, fell through. He as well will be going to the idea workshop to see if he would like to pursue another idea of his. Finally one student who did not make some areas clear on her pitch was able to clear things up and showed a better financial report. She has already started her business though, so she will not receive the funds as they are for start-up businesses. We chose to direct her to a company that works with Belay Rwanda often, called Inkomoko. With them she will be able to make her business better and fine-tune the financial aspect even more. Overall the week has been productive.
We all create expectations for ourselves and the things we do. While working in Rwanda I have found that expectations are almost always getting in the way of reality. Everything that has happened over the past few weeks has been to constantly overturn expectations. No matter how many times it happens it is always jarring and educational.
When we first arrived we my understanding of what were going to be doing was turned on its head. We were given almost total control over the entire program with a free had to conduct it as we saw fit. It was so much more then I though we would ever get to do and we were all very excited.
At every turn during the class nothing went as expected. The biggest surprise of all was the first day of presentation, all of the students were fantastic and we felt that the class had been a huge success. The day before we were questioning the value of the class and were dismayed at the fact that no one seemed to have understood the material.
The very next day we left feeling vindicated and very proud of the work that had been done.
A lot has happened in week four. On Tuesday there was a lot of worry again for the students and for what we were able to teach. One big issue we saw was that many were not prepared for the pitches on Wednesday. While many were given plenty of opportunities to come in and receive our help, very few did. The biggest part that was lacking in their business plan was the financial aspect. Some figures seem to be speculations rather than facts. On that day I felt the worry that every teacher has felt for his or her students. On Wednesday and Thursday I those worries dissipated and a sense of relief came over me. Most of the students pitched well and showed that they were able to implement what they learned. With only a little over three weeks of learning I feel that they have done quite well. The progression has been quite interesting to watch. When the proposals ended we decided that six would be receiving some amount of funds, ranging from thirty thousand francs (around forty-two dollars) to two hundred thousand francs (around two hundred eighty dollars). While it is not enough for them to start the business they dream of, they will be able to start small and grow from that or find other sources of income. On Friday we spent the day talking to each student individually to discuss what went well and what did not with their business plan and pitch. With those who will get a startup fund from us we talked to them about providing clearer projections of what they will do with those funds and allow us to help them spend wisely. With those who will not receive funds right now we talked about what they can do better and how we can help them for the next couple of weeks. Even though they did not receive the funds this time around, they still have many opportunities to prove Belay that what they are doing can work. In addition I created a short questionnaire asking each student what they enjoyed and did not enjoy about the project as well as what could be improved with the teaching methods and the curriculum. Out of the eight that answered, four wished for more examples when teaching and another two said that more time was needed so that they could spend more time on the more difficult areas such as financing. What really hit me was that all of the students said that they enjoyed the material learned and how dedicated and personable we were to them. It felt really good to know that while throughout the teaching period there were many doubts that arose, it worked out in the end.
With the third week come and gone a lot more progress has been made with the class. During this week I took a more supportive role as other members of the group had better experience with both marketing and finance and so could teach the content better. On both Monday and Tuesday we taught the class marketing and how to properly sell your product. We used examples from other companies well known to the class such as Coca-Cola and a local Internet provider. As the class opened up to us more we began to learn that the use of examples and group work helped them better understand the content, so we tried to provide more of that in the teaching process. On Tuesday we brought in someone from a company that is friendly with Belay Rwanda, Inkomoko, and she taught the class more on marketing. This was beneficial, as she knew more on how to market their product in Rwanda better than we did.
On Wednesday we helped everyone start writing down his or her business in the proper format. While they have not learned everything needed for their full business plan, they have enough to start on the more essential aspects such as company overview, market and industry analysis as well as marketing strategy. From this first draft we will then fine-tune the model and make it more presentable in the following week.
On Thursday basic finance and accounting was taught to the class. A simple game was used to address many financial terms as well. In the afternoon the students were taught the beginnings of how to pitch their product or business such as presentation and what is expected from them. A video example from the show Shark Tank was used to give an example for how to present and pitch a person’s idea.
Friday was spent learning each individual’s cost and selling prices for their business and its products. Once we learned what they think they needed we helped with learning their own salary and any costs that could be eliminated and assets to add. IN order to better help teach this subject we also brought in an accountant who taught the more detailed parts of finance.
In relation to the previous weeks disagreements and misunderstandings with Belay Rwanda, once everyone understood what was the most important aspect of this project (each and every students right to learn every aspect of starting a business) the overall planning and execution became much easier. No one party was fully at fault. Just as with the students, a better method of communication is essential in order for the project to run more smoothly. Helping everyone instead of pushing the weaker students has been very informational and has helped me relearn the more important aspect of what this project was meant to do. Watching every person grow and seeing their enjoyment in learning the information has truly been a gift. They have been more open overall with what they do and do not enjoy in regards to the subject material. A main cultural interest is that when answering a question they usually begin to respond with explaining the reasoning why they do something and after some time answer the question. We have tried to explain how when pitching an idea to someone they have to be more precise, and when the time comes they might do that. As of now though this situation might be normal in Rwanda and it is us the foreigners who are not understanding the difference in responding.
FSU Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation interns blog about their experiences.