Q&A: Sharon Againe

Sharon Againe volunteered with TechnoServe Mozambique in 2008.  After her project, she founded AgaSha Group Limited, a market and financial linkage agency for agribusinesses in East Africa.  She is currently an agronomist, consultant, social entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of AgaSha.   

 

Volunteer assignment: Analyzing productivity of honey in Gorongosa, Mozambique, 2008

Current organization: Agasha Group Limited

Her experience: Hands-on, Entrepreneurial, Foundation for my Success

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Why did you apply to the Volunteer Consultant Program?

I was looking for an experience to utilize the skills I obtained during my Student Entrepreneurship Project at EARTH University. My desire was to volunteer in sub-Saharan Africa to share my knowledge, learn more about the industry and influence my decision on what to do after my studies. I connected with two EARTH alumni who had volunteered with TechnoServe Mozambique and they shared their experiences with me. I was motivated by how much they were able to help and learn from the Mozambican farmers in just three months. After speaking with the Country Director to learn more, I decided to apply to the program. Luckily enough, I was accepted to volunteer in Mozambique.

What was your experience like on the ground?

It was a learning, sharing and life-changing experience right from the start. I joined a very interesting team in Gorongosa that easily accepted me in their networks. My supervisor, Alexandre Negrao, was such a great, if tough, teacher. He prepared me to learn and develop relationships with the smallholder farmers so that I could better understand their lifestyle and communicate with them more effectively. It was my first time living in a community where they depended on what they could forage from the wild in order to eat.

How has the program impacted you and your career?

I’m thankful for my supervisor who insisted that I take field trips. It was during my field work that I met Verinijo Simajani, a honeybee farmer who kept pots of honey around his hut. With few buyers nearby, he lost close to 5,000 liters of honey annually. He shared with me the difficulties of selling and marketing his produce. Verinijo traveled to nearby towns and spent two to three days looking for customers all while spending money on transport, accommodation and meals. He would leave his honey with customers but they would occasionally take some and top off the cans with water, lowering the quality of his product and hurting his customer base. One solution was to find reliable customer contacts to reduce the cost of finding clients while in town and to save time. This was the basis for the establishment of AgaSha Group which has developed different Agribusiness Directories with contacts of key stakeholders along the agricultural value chain to strengthen networks and boost sales.

Where are you now?

I am the founder and CEO of AgaSha Group, which works in six East African countries - Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi and will soon expand to South Sudan. I decided to become a social entrepreneur with a business that has a direct, positive impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

What advice would you give someone applying to the program?

Have a positive attitude - logistics such as program activities and location can change and should be considered learning opportunities that may bring greater impact to the community. While I was initially brought on for a banana project, the timing did not work so my supervisor recommended I do the honey study. Of course, I was concerned about the change but later it became the golden opportunity for me to meet Verinijo and, with help, led to the creation of AgaSha.

Additionally, understand and accept the fact that you are in a developing country. Managing project schedules that depend on input from local partners can be challenging and environmental conditions may not always be favorable. Finally, respect and interact with the locals as they are the best teachers for you to obtain a meaningful experience.