The Passion of a Social Entrepreneur

By Michael Willard

Nothing would suggest Gideon Nyamessen would become an agricultural entrepreneur. But when just a child, he planted a seed in his yard in urban Kumasi, Ghana, and saw fruit emerge. He was hooked.

After that, there was no turning back. Creating healthy crops and training Ghanians in environmentally sound farming became his obsession.

Gideon set out on this path despite his parents’ strong objections. They were sure an agriculture career would lead to continued poverty for the family of eight and eventual heartbreak for their oldest son. They were city dwellers. His father drove a taxi.

They certainly didn’t see Gideon’s decision as climbing the ladder of upward mobility. Unless in large conglomerates, Ghana farming tended to be forever at the bottom of life’s pyramid, with farmers struggling for a subsistence living.

However, Gideon had a dream, and he wanted to leave a legacy for the nation’s youth that agriculture — if done right — can be an excellent career.

Today, the 30-year-old agriculture specialist doesn’t boast of great success, only small victories. Having formed his own company, AgriCentric Ventures, he believes he is making progress on his journey to self-reliance.

Gideon is one of many social entrepreneurs who have chosen to risk the hazards of drought, pestilence, and raw deals from middle-men in the agro-industry. He desires to feed Ghana with crops free from fertilizers and pesticides laced with chemicals.

His business model is simple: He buys farm waste and turns it into eco-friendly and low-cost bio-fertilizers, organic pesticides, soil inputs, and feed, and then sells it back to smallholder farmers at less cost than chemical-based products on the shelf.

For two years, my wife, Olga, and I have roamed the world from our Orlando, Fl. home office, parachuting into Africa, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Peru, and numerous other locales through video conferencing with social entrepreneurs.

They all had one thing in common: While profit was a motive, it wasn’t the only goal. They wanted to create better-living conditions for their communities. We set about chronicling their stories for the world to see.

In careers that have taken us physically worldwide, we have now found satisfaction on a small plot of subdivision terra firma near a monument to a rodent called Mickey Mouse, Disney World.

It has been a rewarding venture and adventure.

If it were not for the current pandemic, we would much prefer, however, hopping on a plane to these far-flung places where our wanderlust beckons. Previously, we spent years working in Eastern Europe’s risky markets, building businesses in Moscow, Kyiv, and Istanbul.

Without a doubt, this experience with social entrepreneurs has reinforced our optimism and our resolve. We had returned to the United States following two revolutions in Ukraine, which we supported.

It was, as the saying goes, time to come in from the cold with university-age children. So, in essence, we started over from scratch. Like Gideon, we are entrepreneurs and take inspiration from our assignments.

For example, we worked with a determined fellow in Bangladesh who had the bright idea that a nourishing crop, pumpkins, could be grown on the barren sandbars left after monsoon rains. He helped feed multitudes.

We chronicled a Kenyan entrepreneur who pioneered the ancient cultivation of plants through hydroponics, and we wrote about an entrepreneur in South Africa who pin-pointed weather patterns for farmers using indigenous knowledge, along with sophisticated tracking.

There were dozens of stories. In Gideon’s case, working with USAID, we also utilize our experience as marketers to help give the Ghanian a leg up working with the agency’s New Partnership Initiative incubator.

Social entrepreneurship — where it is not just about profits — is a difficult concept for some to swallow. We understand that. However, as our friend Gideon says, he wants to leave a legacy for good.

That’s an honorable objective for all of us.

(Photo: Gideon leading a discussion on environmentally sound agriculture in Ghana.)

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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