A lot of startups often begin the same way WeFarm started, with its founders designing it around a kitchen table, knowing what they wanted to see, but not what they could expect. Granted that businesses are founded to fill a gap in a market, and yes they aim to make a profit, but making a positive social impact CAN go hand-in-hand with being a success story, and WeFarm is living proof of that! Now, only 18 months after being launched, WeFarm has about 100,000 people signed up to their platform around the world, and that’s not the only milestone they’ve reached! Read more about the others here.
What WeFarm offers, is a platform where farmers can help each other, rather than wait for other people to take the time to help them. Farmers send a message with a question through the platform, and WeFarm’s snappy algorithm system analyzes it (taking into account the theme, keywords, location) and picks out 10-20 people capable of answering the question. 10-15% of these will answer it, meaning the farmer will get 2 or 3 answers back each time. These questions can vary from how to better care for crops, to why livestock are showing certain symptoms, and with the answers comes the ability to remedy potential issues and increase the farmer’s output, improving his revenue, and his livelihood.
Because of how well WeFarm have been doing, and the impact their platform has made, I figured it would be a good idea to tell its story, by interviewing its founder, Kenny Ewan. I wanted to know how WeFarm came about and what inspired him. The first time I approached Kenny, I could see right away that he was a laid-back friendly guy, though rather quiet, so I was excited to unravel his character! I caught him on one of his trips back to Kenya, I had to make sure the timing was just right!
Not wanting to waste any time, as soon as we sat at the lounge I went straight to the questions, and asked him to give me an introduction of himself. “Well for starters I can tell you I was born and raised in the West Highlands, in Scotland. The whole time I was there I basically wanted to go away so badly. Now funny enough, each time I’m away I’m desperate to go back.” Moving on to his time in university, “I went off to Dundee to study architecture, but then figured that architecture wasn’t for me, I didn’t see a future in it since it seemed like only 1% of architecture get to do all the cool stuff. I’ve personally always had a really big desire to see the world, trying new things. I’ve always been pretty competitive, and wanted to be successful in whatever I did, that’s why I left.” That’s when Kenny saw his chance to launch himself onto a new path, that he felt he was built for, and that brought him to where he is today.
“I got the opportunity to go work for an NGO in Peru specialized in building organic farms in indigenous communities, I helped with engineering and product design.” During his time in South America, Kenny got to see some of the most breathtaking natural sites the world has to offer, including the Amazon rainforest and the Andes mountains, in my head I figured that it’s the sights he had seen that kept him from going back to his hometown that he missed so dearly. Kenny wanted to see more, and keep doing meaningful work in the process. After having stayed in South America for 7 years, he moved back to the UK to work for a startup NGO that worked with small-scale farmers. This is where WeFarm comes in the picture, a two-person team went ahead and, under this same NGO, piloted WeFarm in Kenya, Tanzania, and Peru.
And the rest is history! Well, not quite. There’s still more to tell. I wanted to know the grand idea behind WeFarm, so I dug deeper. Kenny went on, clearly made proud and jovial by the fact that he was talking about what must now be his baby! “When it comes to the gap that WeFarm was founded to fill, it was the fact that 500 million small-scale farmers around the world are without access to the internet, leading to an obvious information gap. All the other organizations that were addressing this gap were doing so in a way didn’t seem very organic or sustainable, and I wanted WeFarm to be the first to change that.” WeFarm was therefore built in a way that made it possible for small-scale farmers to access information without an internet connection, in fact, 96% of all its users worldwide use it through sms. One more fact: on average a WeFarm user uses the platform twice as much as a Twitter user uses Twitter! That’s evidence that the farmers appreciate the good the platform does for them.
Think we’re done? Not quite. There’s one more thing to mention, the bigger perspective that WeFarm offers on the world of agriculture. “We’re processing millions of pieces of information, enabling us to see upcoming diseases, supply chain issues, crop issues… We look at agricultural trends. If there is an outbreak somewhere in rural Kenya, our algorithm can see the keywords and a pattern, and we can alert the government or an NGO within an hour, that’s some serious good that we can do.” I was very impressed at the larger implication, then wondered whether it’s this data that kept WeFarm going, whether they were monetizing it, and when I asked he simply answered “I was brought up with a kind of social responsibility, impact over financial gain was important in our family. My mum was a nurse and my dad was a librarian, it was never about me going to Wall Street with them, but rather about me doing something impactful.” He made it clear, this venture, to Kenny Ewan, was not about profit, but about making a change, and boy has he made one!
With 18 months under their belt and many more to go, there’s no doubt that everyone should be keeping an eye on WeFarm, and we’re super proud that they chose our very own serviced office space on Ngong Rd to host their Kenyan team from the very beginning. Keep rocking it, Kenny and WeFarm, you are stars.
Stay tuned to see who our #ZoomIn candidate will be! And check out these others, to see all the other awesome and innovative people that the Nairobi Garage houses.