By Mzukona Mantshontsho
Made with Rural is a movement that is incredibly passionate about transforming the agricultural sector in Africa. Made with Rural is driven by the belief that this is possible by supporting and growing small scale farmers, specifically in rural areas, by leveraging mobile technology and creating access to markets. This is done through a mobile app called PocketCrop, and by allowing small scale farmers to create economies of scale through pooling supply, and through more efficient supply chain infrastructure.
I spoke to Founder and CEO at Made with Rural Leeko Makoene about her personal and entrepreneurial journey so far!
Tell us about your early life to your role today?
I studied Human Resources and Industrial Psychology at the University of Cape Town. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. After graduation I opened my first restaurant, in Cape Town as a franchisee at Primi Patti. I then ventured in the world of agro-processing, where I started my own range of chili sauces Chilladiddo, which are supplied at the news cafe and Brooklynbrothers’ stores. My love for rural development has always been right at the core of what I do. Education and food are two of my passions, and am currently using them to develop emerging farmers in the rural and township areas.
What does the role of being the CEO mean to you?
I actually don’t believe in titles. I founded a company because I believed in the passion and efforts of rural and township farmers, and wake up every day looking for better ways to get them to market and well-represented in the industry. I do all that needs to be done (mostly hands on – harvesting, training farmers, strategizing on how to refine our model ), you will find me in both the fields and board rooms; that’s who I am and that’s what the role of CEO means to me. I am a leader who uses my way of thinking and approaching situations to inspire others to produce superior results, by getting more done with fewer resources, and to fight for a place in the country’s economy.
You have had several professional achievements, list them and indicate which one stands out for you?
- 2014 -SAB Kick Start Business Award
- 2016 – The Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans/Leaders
- 2016 – Speaker at the Global Agenda conference on Africa: For inclusive growth in Kenya.
To date, being the founder of Made with Rural and doing my part in uplifting rural communities stands out as my best achievement ever. Doing what I am currently doing is bigger than I am.It doesn’t only benefit me, but a whole community of farmers and villagers. It is about building a legacy and fighting poverty in rural areas by using agriculture to better people’s livelihoods.
Have you had any particular challenges as a woman professional, how have you tackled them?
It is just stereo-typing. One meets it almost on a daily basis. I don’t farm, I help farmers run successful businesses, and to find their rightful position in the agri-value chain. I am sometimes not seen as the ‘rightful’ person to do this. Some Farmers think it odd that I want to organize them when I am not full-time in the primary farming job, some government officials want me to have my own farm before they can support the work that I do. Farming in its nature is a male-dominated world, from the fields to the boardrooms – I don’t let that intimidate me. I get on with what I am here to do, and focus my energies where it is appreciated.
What advice do you have for younger professionals who are looking forward to joining the profession?
Farming is diverse. Like any other Industry, it requires a great amount of passion, and patience. You need to do your research, and see where exactly you would like to play in this space. Not everyone is built to be playing in the primary farming space, but can use their talents in other facets of the profession. Farming is the future, if you can find any aspect of the industry that speaks to you, pursue it with all you have, and never look back. Our rural communities need more and more of us to make quality produce available to them, and for nutritional decisions to be affordable to each rural home, in our lifetime.
What are you currently working on and what can we expect from you going forward?
We are currently working on rolling our model through out the country, and hopefully the continent, in the next two years. We are also working at adding amazing features on to our App and to finally launch it to a bigger community of emerging farmers.
What initiative (if implemented) would leave the greatest impact for you and for Africa as a whole?
Rolling out our model to more communities will change the way you and me, corporate and retailers buy fresh produce. It is time we came together to help change the way the national fresh produce markets play ‘stock markets’ with food. We need to make fresh produce accessible to every single household across the continent.
What would you change if you had all the powers in the world?
The current pricing system of the fresh produce markets in the country. It disadvantages the small farmer and sometimes makes quality fresh produce inaccessible to those who need the food the most.
What principles and values do you think are important for any professional and why?
The culture of Ubuntu. Every profession has a human element to it. The world will be a better place if we took the time to acknowledge those we work alongside with, to take care of each other and encourage each other to do best and be the best we can be!
What would you say are the most critical resources for your successful leadership? How would people describe you as a Leader?
I am hands-on, very passionate, I put the common goal or purpose of me and my partners first, and money is never at the centre of what I do. I am humble and adaptable.
What is the legacy that you would want to leave by the time you retire?
I’d like to see rural communities transformed (economically) and fresh produce accessible to all.
How do you strike the balance of career, business and interpersonal skills?
Most times I flow with the day, and whatever it brings. I have come to appreciate that I am no superwoman, I have separate roles that I must juggle on a daily basis, and its ok if things overlap sometimes. I just must make sure every single one of them gets its fair share of me. Sometimes my kids need me more than the business needs me, or the farmers need me more than some meetings need me. I priorities accordingly, and look for a win-win situation whenever possible.
How has the company done in terms of business growth objectives?
We are slowly achieving the targets we have set out for ourselves in the first year. Mainly being to grow our network to 10 farmers who can supply good quality produce at a big scale, consistently. We are currently setting up our first privately owned hub in Makapanstad Village which will work as a centralized collection point for our farmers.
How do you maintain ethics, integrity and professionalism?
I am true to the person that I am and have become. I am focused in what I do and trust stands at the core of my work. I work with people who trust me and I respect that.
How do you participate in mentorship, if you do?
Mentorship is right at the centre of what Made with Rural is about. From the time we are onboard we are encouraging them to grow as per our clients’ specifications. This requires both technical and business mentorship. My job is to keep farmers in business. Whatever it takes, I talk to farmers twice to three times a week, face-to face or on the phone about ways to improve their operations and give feedback on their performance and also hear from them what they would like to see happen in the future.
How does the company contribute to the community?
We support a young group of farmers with tools, seedling, mentorship and coaching to get their operations off the ground.
How do you ensure the company is delivering quality customer service?
We work with colleagues that understand the importance of interpersonal skills. We are on the ground every week, managing quality to make sure the produce we send out is of great quality. It’s a hands-on activity.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night?
I live by a simple motto: Made with Rural to the world and the world to made with rural. Every single day, I think about ways to bring the world to our farmers and to showcase the wonderful work that they do, to the world. That’s what keeps me awake at night.
What have been the highs and lows in your working career?
Having big companies like Dew Crisp support us by buying good quantities of fresh produce from our network of farmers, giving us access to the best agronomist and quality guys in their network has been an absolute high, and has helped us grow as a business and to be able to support more farmers.The lows have been when some of the product doesn’t meet the specs and get rejected
What awards has the company won?
No awards as yet. We were shortlisted at the Start-Up Tel Aviv Competition,selected as member of the panel at the Global Agenda in Kenya discussing Africa: for Inclusive growth.
Who stands out for you as a role model and why?
The rural small scale farmers I work and engage with on a daily basis. No matter how tough their conditions are, they persevere. No matter how many times the market excludes them, they keep forging forward and hoping for transformation and to change mindsets of consumers, to encourage them to buy rural
When you not at work, what do you get up to, including family life?
I love traveling – road trips, reading, spending time with my kids, doing whatever they choose, hiking, watching movies and hanging out with my friends over lunch.
Where can people follow you online?
Mzukona Mantshontsho is the founder of Nyakaza Media Solutions. Nyakaza Media Solutions is an organisation that was established to help community organisations, business entities, and schools to research, write, document, report, analyse, edit, publish newsletters or bulletins in hard-copy, on-line and maintain websites with the relevant content as per the editorial policy of that organisation, school or entity.
Nyakaza Media Solutions has a vision to promote and bring dialogue to communities, businesses and schools about issues that affect them.
Nyakaza Media Solutions is on a mission to develop and encourage communities, businesses and learners to celebrate the good, applaud excellence, welcome growth, strive to be better individuals, businesses and communities, want more knowledge, discourage bad and counter-productive behaviour as well as communities, businesses and learners that want to be great SOUTH AFRICANS.
Nyakaza Media Solutions is making use of Yo School Magazine as a platform that learners in all schools to make use of to write their stories.