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Sierra Leone
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Rugiatu Kanu: My YALI experience

By: Rugiatu Favour Kanu (The Slay Farmer SL)

After years of studying and graduating with a B.Sc. in agriculture, there was no immediate job, so I must do a voluntary internship with the ministry of agriculture in Makeni, North of Sierra Leone, where I researched the decision-making ability of rural women in agriculture, and then I fell in love with field agriculture.

Having worked with several organizations, on different farmer’s support projects I decided to own a farm. It is what is popularly known as a demonstration farm. The farm went on successfully and I was doing it as a business woman, thus planting, harvesting and selling to put money in my purse for my upkeep and as a side hustle as I had gain employment already with the Produce Monitoring Board as a quality control officer in Kambia (now quality control coordinator at the headquarters in Freetown) this was just what I was doing a year in and out.

After several follow up on programs to help build my business skills, I landed on a friend who did not just tell me about the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). He first showed me three people who had applied and gone through the YALI program and asked me to follow up on their business and see how they have improved.

Maseray Sesay, YALI alumni, was doing a home tailoring for just neighbors and few friends before she was selected to attend YALI. After YALI online training, her brand— DEYWAII improved tremendously. Currently, she runs a fulltime entrepreneurship business; this was my inspiration to fully follow up on the program by researching about everything.

YALI is the United States’ signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders divided in to three parts, Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) and The YALI Network (read more at https://yali.state.gov/about/) and because I wanted to be amongst these leaders of change for our generation, I had to keep tab on the program by following all their social media handles. Few months later, I saw the opening for applications for the cohort 39 for the Regional Leadership Centers (RLCs) in Ghana, I Applied.

I was thinking that it was just like some other programs to apply with your basic information and be called for training, but I was wrong. It was much more looking for people creating impact in their communities. I have to be one because I had begun to create impact so I ended up been shortlisted amongst 13,000+ applicants who were called for interviews. I did well in the interview stages and was amongst 76 bright minds across West Africa to be invited for the training which took place at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Accra, Ghana for three weeks.

I arrived in Ghana in a happy mood as it’s a place I have been longing to visit, having transited there on all my travels. I got picked up and checked into an executive hotel – YES. Now that happiness of being in Ghana and checking into an executive hotel changed in just an hour to be a quarantine situation, but this time, we were quarantine to learn new skills and network with change makers.

The next day, the work begins with an introduction session and meeting other 75 participants. It was the biggest gathering of Africa’s brightest minds divided into three groups: Business and Entrepreneurship, Civil Society Management and Public Policy and Management.  I was with the business and entrepreneurship group. It had wonderful people with so many innovative ideas to start a new business, improve old ones, collaborations, and partnership. I knew I was going back home idea filled.

I seize the opportunity to spread my name—The Slay Farmer. I explained to the participants why I choose that name, my passion for agriculture, and how I have chosen the advocacy to accelerate youth involvement in agriculture in Sierra Leone. We had the opportunity to experience the diverse cultures of the countries represented. Performances were done with dance, local songs, and histories of the 9 countries represented were shared.

I was opportune to have met the best of well educated, experienced and motivated lecturers, who do their jobs well and take pride in impacting the next generations of employers and ethical leaders. They took me through the YALI Entrepreneurship curriculum, touching the nooks and crannies of entrepreneurship from branding, to validating your business idea; the structuring to business modelling and communicating every corner of making me a fine and resourced entrepreneur thereafter.

What stood out for me during the YALI trainings were, I was able to have my special modules and best quotes. Chief of which is: “Your value preposition shouldn’t be a singular benefit to the customer but a core value you are looking to offer and define your solutions well thus validating your idea is putting your idea in place.”

During the program, I canvas a business model that helps entrepreneurs to have a proper understanding of how to model and structure their business and which also serve as a guide or business plan. The key elements of the business model include knowing your key partners, key activities, value preposition, and customer relationships.

In the course of the YALI Program, I embarked on a field trip. I visited the Blues skies Fruits factory, one of Ghana’s finest successful businesses; The Farmhouse, a place where fruits and vegetables are fresh all year round; and former president John Kufuor, whom I interacted with.  I asked him about his involvement in agriculture, among other things.

During the training, I also network with fellow participants. I found three sisters— Loretha Ubangoh, Ramzia Sesay and Basiratu Abubakar. Loretha is from Cameroon. We bonded and shared lots of brilliant ideas and she will be taking me to Cameron soonest to meet of young farmers. For Ramzia, although we are both Sierra Leoneans, we never knew each other until YALI. We bonded perfectly. At the moment, we are working on some big ideas to see how we can collaborate. Basiratu is a Ghanaian entrepreneur doing very well in the dress and design space.

I will not forget the simulation which led to us being divided into tracks for presentation and debate. I and two others represented the Entrepreneurs Track on the topic youth unemployment in Africa. We argued that entrepreneurship is a strong tool to solving youth unemployment in the continent. Well, we won. This is the good news.

Also, I learnt about punctuality, from our early morning’s wakeup and joggings and the evening’s power walk.

To the Food, oh wow, just wow! As the foodie I am because I am a farmer. In the 29th year of my existence I was embarrassed with food— Plenty varieties of food were always on time for me to eat.

Conclusively, the YALI program was a well-rounded program that builds every aspect of you and gives you back to your country very ready for greater exploits and greater heights. I am proud to say that with the YALI leadership, business and entrepreneurship training capsuled with my ongoing farming business and hands-on agriculture experience, I can now call myself an AGRICPRENUER.

Finally, I want to use this medium to appreciate The Young African Leaders Initiative, The United States, The US Embassy in Sierra Leone, YALI Regional Leadership Centers, West Africa, United States Agency for International Development, The MasterCard Foundation, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, YALI RLC Alumni Sierra Leone, especially the President, Slay Farms SL Ltd team, Produce Monitoring Board Sierra Leone, Blue Skies Ghana, Farmhouse Ghana,  former President Kufour, and  the entire YALI staff of RLC, Accra Ghana for their generous support.

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