A conversation with ACA’s Reine Dehode

  1. Could you please introduce yourself to ours readers?
    My full name is Reine Nonhouegnon Dehode and I work with African Cashew Alliance as the Finance and Organization Development Manager.

    What have been the big steps in your career within the African Cashew Alliance?
    I started with ACA in February 2013 and my ten years long career with the organization has been full of learning and especially learning by doing. I started as a receptionist on internship for a few months, after graduating from the University, and moved to being an Assistant, from there I have been in the Monitoring and Evaluation, assisting in projects reporting and growing to where I am today. It has been a lot of learning on the job and it’s been great, full of challenges and storms but we are here.

    How did you join ACA and why did choose to start a career in the cashew industry?
    The first time I heard about ACA was in 2012 from one of my lecturers who used to work with the ACA then. I had completed school and was back home in Benin, so he got in touch with me and asked me if I was interested in assisting with the conference because they wanted people who speak French, I accepted gladly to join the team. After sometime around December 2012, while I was still volunteering at some places before securing a more stable job, the same lecturer wrote back to me again and offered a paidposition with ACA. Even though it was really a starting position, I accepted. That’s how I relocated to Accra and started working with the African Cashew Alliance as a Receptionist/Intern. My background training are in Bachelor in Business Administration (BBA), with specialization in Banking and Finance as well as a Master of Arts (M.A.)in Organizations Development.

    Can you tell us more about the African Cashew Alliance and its activities?
    The African Cashew Alliance is the voice of the private sector in the cashew industry. We work in value addition through four key pillars: communication and learning events, sector organization, Business support and the ACA seal.

    For the communication and learning event pillar, we organize annually the ACA Annual Cashew Conference and Expo in a different country each year, with the 2022 edition happening in Abuja, Nigeria and 2023 announced to take place in Senegal. We are also involved in other forums, we do FOCAS for the Sahel countries to support them in harmonizing local efforts and policies.

    With sector organization we seek to harmonize existing national policies and actors in various countries. The conference we organize is also a tool to assist those countries. For example, after the conference that took place last year, we are still working with local actors in Nigeria and providing them our support to enable them develop the sector.

    Regarding Business support, we usually partner with donors to support processors in the sector. We have the ACA Seal that is a certification scheme that we give to processors, and as you know, certification is very expensive, so the African Cashew Alliance together with the buyers identified a need for food safety certification in the industry. Processors who don’t yet have the funds to pay for certifications like BRC can start with the ACA seal to enable them to reassure buyers that their products are of acceptable quality.

    What are your key responsibilities in your current position?
    In addition to being ACA’s the Finance and Organization Development Manager, I am the Secretary for the Board of Directors, and I also work on project management and sector organization.

    With Project Management I draft proposals and raise funds for the organization to support our activities. As you know, the African Cashew Alliance is a member-based organization that also executes projects to support some of our activities like our conferences and the business support we provide processors. So we do write proposals and issue request for funds to donors, on the sector organization front we also identify existing policies and execute strategies to harmonize the policies in the fourteen African countries where we work.

    As far as business support, when we have funding my role is to collaborate with the consultants so that they can deliver their work effectively. Currently ACA secretariat is composed of seven core team members but we work with multiple consultants in diverse fields. So, I coordinate the activities to make sure the missions are completed properly all the stakeholders are satisfied with the quality of work.

    When it comes to sector organization I play much of a supporting role to ACA’s Managing Director. My role here is to supervise and support any activity that the MD is executing. Currently we have a few projects, one with ProCashew (CNFA) where we are working together to support the organization of the sector and development of policies in various countries.

    What challenges have you faced as a woman in the cashew industry and how do you deal with them on a daily basis?
    I will speak more about women in the cashew industry. It is currently stated that 80% of the work force in the cashew industry is made up of women but that is generally in the factories at lower paying positions, but when it comes to the management roles there a very few women. So whenever you encounter a woman in the sector you should know that it has not been easy for her and that everyday is a struggle because even until now, in some places a woman will not be allowed to talk at all, or to contribute. It’s kind of frustrating for women when you know that your contribution would have been of benefit to the discussions but just did not have the opportunity to share or were shut down from sharing your opinion.

    Personally it has been a journey and sometimes it’s even more difficult in some countries where for cultural reasons it is very challenging to make your voice heard as a woman, especially as a young lady. In sector organization for example you find a majority of men including government people and strong profiles from the profile from the private sector, it is not easy sometimes to even share your opinion. It has been tough, but the kind of training I have had with the ACA also helped me to build my voice and also gradually, with time, people have come to be more trusting and understanding, so things have become more flexible over the years.

    For new people coming in, it is a sector where you have to be strong, and to be patient because it is also a fast-paced environment. Things are changing, new people are getting into leadership roles and into the sector. My advice to women joining the cashew industry would be to be patient, be focused, know what you want, work for it and you will succeed.

    What do you think of the current contribution of women in the cashew industry and how could the sector benefit from increased participation of women in the long run?
    I think these days we are doing very well in promoting the women in the sector and we will continue to do that so that people don’t feel frustrated in the sector when it comes to women. I think that now in the sector people are accepting that promoting women is also going to help the cashew sector be it in production or processing. Also we see an increase in women participation in industry events and some space dedicated to women in the sector, so I think we are moving in the right direction and provided we continue with these efforts, women will really be involved and more open and comfortable to share their experiences and successes.

    What is a typical work day like for you?
    My day usually starts around 4.30 am with a prayer and then I prepare to go to work. On a normal day I am in the office around 7 am and starts by reading the list of activities for the day, because I multitask a lot so I love writing things to make sure I track my progress, as well as pending issues and priorities. I also have discussions with those directly under my supervisionand monitor their progression towards weekly priorities.

    What is one moment you’re most proud of in your career?
    I am proud of the kind of person I have become today in the sector. I can see people looking up to me and considering me as a role model. For me this kind of support is overwhelming and it makes me particularly happy and proud to have random people coming to me and asking “How have you done this?”. It thrills me to serve as a positive example especially for younger people.

    Have you been positively impacted by a woman in the cashew industry? If so, can you share that experience?
    There have been many women who had a positive impact on me in the sector, I pick lessons from different types of people like Madam Rita Weidinger, Madam Minata Koné in Burkina Faso, Madame Georgette Taraf also in Benin, so there are several people that I keep learning from to this day.

    What are your views of Prosper Cashew project and our contribution to the sector?
    We are working with all USDA projects including Prosper Cashew that sponsored our conference last year in Abuja and the upcoming one in Senegal. We are currently discussing possible collaboration areas including a master-training program, other events or activities on certification and will hopefully develop something together in the coming months.

    Thank you for reading!

      This interview was realized with the financial support of USDA Food for Progress program.