Planting Promise

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Planting Promise

Sierra LeoneLondon, United Kingdom
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

We run businesses in farming & food processing to fund free, high-quality education for kids with no other chance to go to school.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Some horrifying and actually quite distressing numbers: Up to 30% of children still lack access to Primary Education in Sierra Leone. Only 19% of students access secondary education. 37.5% of children are undernourished. And although 80% of food is imported, only 15% of land is farmed. So unemployment of over 60% is understandable - and very damaging: if you know no one who has had success, what motivations or aspirations can you hope for? These bleak numbers are the need: children need education; the country needs food; young and old alike need jobs and, above all, role models and aspiration. That is why we are in Sierra Leone.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution is sustainability and integration. We get seed capital to start businesses in farming and food processing - vital industries that the country needs. We agree with farming villages, through the local Chief, to start a farm. They provide labour + land, we provide wages + tools. At harvest time, we take 80% of the profits and leave the village 20%. That 80% we use to fund more farms, and to pay the wages of teachers in our schools. We bring in partners: schools in the UK partner with our schools in Sierra Leone to drive up the quality of our education, and we seek partners to help our farms become environmentally, as well as financially, sustainable. The farms create their own value, contributing to rural development, unemployment and food security. The schools address the huge educational shortfall the country has, and start to deliver that most important of tools for development: aspiration.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

In education, other schools and charities providing education. But we have our innovative partnerships with UK schools, and the commitment we make to quality: every term we have a focus area and are starting to see the benefits of those focuses coming to life. In farming, our competition is imported rice. We can undercut these producers with preferred local rice. In food processing, our product is unique. It was our idea to create a fortified staple product, and the market goes crazy for it - and our patent keeps us safe. In terms of running an ethical business in Sierra Leone, we are pretty unique. So we're confident that if a competitor emerges in one of our products, we'll still have the best story to sell, and the most experienced sales teams to tell it.
About You
Planting Promise
Background Information
First Name


Last Name


The competition is only open to people between 18-34 years-old and resident in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands. Does this apply to you


Country of residence of entrepreneur

Tell us about your personal background. Why are you passionate about this issue? Making an idea a reality takes innovation, dedication and strong leadership. Do you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills to realize your vision?

I left school and joined the British Army for a Limited Short Service Commission. I was put in charge of a platoon of soldiers and was forced to be a leader. I had to learn quickly how to lead people although I was younger, less professional, and intimidated. It was so important to my development as someone who could not just lead, but inspire.

I went to university and started Planting Promise one summer. I got to Sierra Leone and was struck by the presence of huge social need - the world's poorest country - and the incredible opportunities for business - only 15% of land is farmed in a country that imports 80% of its food. I was 19, and had had everything. Kids my age in Freetown were 'lucky' if they had all their limbs. It seemed not just mad to do nothing: it seemed wrong.

So I came up with a visionary concept: create and run farms, and use the profits from the farms to fund free, high quality education for kids with no other chance of going to school.

Every element of the vision was groundbreaking in Sierra Leone: people don't farm commercially; profitable businesses are few and far between; the quality of education is dire. So getting each piece of the puzzle was so difficult.

We're not there yet. But we're getting there. And now we're going to try and start sustainability agriculture, making our operations environmentally, as well as financially, sustainable.

Vision is key. It's the only thing that keeps me going in Sierra Leone. Being able to continually remember that germ of inspiration so clearly before you that it actually starts to become reality is my greatest strength. And a cause I'm completely devoted to.

Leadership came from the Army. But every day I am refining and honing my leadership skills as I, at the head of our growing organisation, have to meet the challenges we face at every turn.

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Planting Promise

Organization Country

, LND, London

Country where this project is creating social impact

, N

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The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Our primary activities are farming, food processing, and education. We run farms and we do so in an environmentally sustainable way using agro-forestry and interplanting to generate high, sustainable yields year after year. This involves training our farmers and villagers in improved methods that they can then take to their own smallholding farms.
We run the farms as a commercial enterprise, and split the profits with the villagers 80%/20%. We then use our share to fund free, high quality education for children with no other chance to go to school. We build a school, recruit the staff, train the staff, and then create a partnership between that school and a school in the UK. This partnership will send teachers from the UK to Sierra Leone, and work to train the teachers to a higher standard. This then reflects in a higher quality of education for our children. All our schools are centrally run and privately managed, so that we can enforce what is deemed appropriate by our weighty Board of Trustees in the UK.
Our food processing is a core part of our operations. We take the staple crop, cassava, and turn it into 'gari'. This adds value, creates employment, and turns a perishable into a non perishable item. We then take the process a stage further, and add protein and minerals to make the product more nutritious, and more tasty. Then we sell it: using the market to unleash better nutrition nationwide. And deliver us a profit we can use to fund quality education. This "Welbodi Gari" is gaining a great reputation in Sierra Leone. But more importantly, it's improving nutrition and attainment.
The best specific example of our activities? That two of our students from Class IV, who have been at our school since it opened, took the exams for Class VI in June 2011, and passed with flying colours. So our products are not only rice and "Welbodi Gari": they're highly educated future leaders of the nation, keen to show how they can make a difference.

Select the stage that best applies to your business

Operating for 1-5 years

Social Impact
What is the social impact you have had to date and how you measure it?

We have had a huge social impact in Sierra Leone, both through our businesses and the education we provide. Businesses provide long-term employment, bring money and development to rural areas, promote the idea of business as a tool for good and increase food security. Our schools teach over 900 children every day and employ teachers in Freetown and smaller villages. We have 5 key performance indicators:
1. Number of school places
2. Number of school dropouts
3. Tonnage of production (rice)
4. Tonnage of production (Welbodi Gari)
5. Number of employees
All of these are subdivided - i.e. point 3. includes areas cultivated, profit margins, profit returned to village. Point 5. includes internal learning as the systems we base this on is the balanced scorecard approach.

What barriers might hinder the success of your business? How do you plan to overcome them?

We ensure our farms are diversified to reduce risk of crop failure. We retain reserves of cash and product to ensure we have other avenues of income in case of drought or related problems. We treat our employees well, and have very low rates of staff absenteeism and departure. Working in Africa also brings risks of corruption which we work very hard to mitigate against by placing a high premium on working with people we know and trust, and ensuring our operations are completely accountable and transparent. There is a skills & capacity shortage that is a barrier to scale. We will fund more training and professional development.

How does your model address financial, social, and environmental sustainability?

Sustainability is the absolute core of what we do. We started because I don't think you help people by making them dependent on you. We stand for social needs addressed by sustainable businesses, not by giving people something for nothing.
We achieve financial sustainability by generating running costs of schools from businesses. We will move into profitability (when profits exceed costs of schools) in 2014, if we can raise enough money to invest in capital. Until then, we will raise the money, with our UK team funded till 2014.
Social sustainability is our ability to sustain operations with the involvement of stakeholders, and ensure that funds are deployed efficiently by management. We rely on the goodwill of our villagers to work our farms. Our profit share agreement of 20%, with our commitment to fund education after 2 years of successful village partnership, ensures our farm partnerships are strong & resilient. Our staff are shareholders, and incentivised to make the business succeed. With training and oversight from UK staff, we expand and sustain management capacity for our operations.
We practice environmentally sustainable farming. With agroforestry and interplanting, and low tillage systems, our farms are high yielding but low input, so don't drain the soil of nutrients. Our pig farm provides manure and an anaerobic digestion unit is planned by our environmental partner, The Global Sunrise.

Awareness & learning
How do you see social entrepreneurship contributing to the improvement of developing countries?

Charity (rich donors funding service provision for the poor) isn’t just ineffective, it can be damaging. You don’t help people by making them dependent on you. Britain didn’t get rich on the dregs of other people’s wealth: it created prosperity through business.
Aid is a zero sum game: a fixed pot of wealth that everyone strives to get a piece of. But business adds to the total sum of wealth. And business is a social good in itself: it creates jobs, skills, and prosperity, and is infinitely scaleable. Above all, it shows it is possible not only to aspire, but to succeed. In developing countries where good examples are thin on the ground, this is vitally important.
Social enterprise goes a stage further. It recognises the value of business. But also that poor countries face real challenges. It undertakes to fund service provision, but in a sustainable, rather than draining, way. Uniting business with social causes: unstoppable!

What aspects of your stay in Uganda as part of the competition do you think you will find most challenging and rewarding?

I am passionately curious. I find listening to and learning from people's stories deeply rewarding: there's always something to learn or draw from. An environment of like minded people will be deeply rewarding for me, as it will give me a chance to learn new things and hone those things I think I know. Being a social entrepreneur can be lonely and it will be great to share ambitions and ideas with like minded people. Keeping the flame of aspiration alive is often a product of being in the right environment and I look forward to that.
Having spent time with Sierra Leonean farmers, I'd love to spend time with Ugandans: to identify what problems are specific, and what generic, in African agriculture, which will be such an important issue in future.
We will share what we know, be challenged physically and emotionally, and will draw on those rewarding experiences as we move forward with our passions. The reward will come in the results!