Feature Image

Team Philippines: Understanding the problem; Moving towards solutions

The last couple of days the team remained divided between northern and southern Philippines. Team A visited cooperative societies and clusters of farmers organized by CRS and their local NGO partners, and logged lots of hours on the road.

Team B interviewed a private rice trader and consolidator, a cooperative bank that provides microfinancing for farmers, Nestle’s coffee purchasing department, a group of farmers from the greater Cagayan de Oro area, and an organization that organizes farmers to connect vegetable farmers to institutional buyers.

Rice harvesting.

Rice harvesting.

The teams have been hearing near consensus on what some of the problems are for small farmers in the Philippines. When farmers do not have access to formal financial institutions, they are forced to borrow at astronomical interest rates from local, informal lenders, trapping farmers in a cycle of poverty. We’ve seen and heard many examples of farmers organizing themselves, with the assistance of NGO and government programs, and in doing so, circumventing the trader by connecting directly with the market. The coming days will involve more meetings and interviews and the team will start putting together our information to work on our recommendations.

Tomorrow the team is taking a day off and we’ll be exploring a volcano outside of Manila and enjoying some much needed relaxation.

Yes, we're still eating lots of good fruit.

Yes, we’re still eating lots of good fruit.

Team Rwanda: Day 6

We spend the early part of the morning visiting one of the church memorials of the genocide and talking to survivors. One of the questions the team asked was how the survivors had been able to forgive the perpetrators to which they responded that it was difficult but aided by the perpetrators coming to them to seek forgiveness. It was a powerful moment being at this site (http://www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/old/centre/other/ntarama.html). For the team it only puts the work we are doing in perspective. Both Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier in their books End of Poverty and The Bottom Billion respectively make a a casual link between poverty and conflict. Perhaps in our own small way we are contributing towards reducing the chances of this happening again.

We spent the rest of the day meeting company officials of the Rwanda Trading Company  and Karisimbi Business Partners to get their perspectives on where opportunities lie for the rural youth. Many of the ideas suggested involved trade, and increasing agricultural  productivity supported by education.

The team gets to spend some rest and recreation for the weekend. Some members are headed to do the Gorilla Trek, and will join the rest of the team for a visit to the Akagera National park. We will post some photos.

Day 6 photo 2

Ntarama Church where more than 5,000 people were killed in the 1994 genocide while they sought refuge inside.

Day 6 photo

Talking to some of the survivors who live next to the church.


Team Rwanda: Day 3, 4, 5.

We are finally back! Over the last eventful three days we have been deep in the rural section of Rwanda with no internet access, gaining more information and insights on agribusiness opportunities for the youth. At the beginning of the class, Professor Emily Block had told us that the only constant would change-we would need to change schedule and mindsets on a regular basis. This has been our reality for the last last 3 days.

We split into two groups (Kurt, Shubi, Erin, and Emily for the Ruhango district, Anne, Josel and Ben for the Kamonyi district). Each group performed research with youth focus groups, government officials, farmers, and market observations & visits.

At one time we had a three-way translation happening: French to Kinyarwanda, Kinyarwanda to English, English back to French.

We debriefed at the end of each day over drinks and dinner ending with the question, what new information would we be seeking the next day. Following are the last 3 days in pictures.


Counting Money

This looks like a scene from ‘Oceans Eleven’!, it’s actually ‘Team Rwanda Seven’ counting money after changing a large amount of US dollars into the local currency.

Meeting District

In one of the meetings with the local government officials.


Debriefing after a long day.


About to set off for the rural areas.

Annie 2

Low tech data mining. Anne and Erin (from CRS) get down to gathering insights after a youth focus group session.

Anne 3

Anne telling a story with her photos.

erin photo

After one of the youth focus group sessions





A picture worth a thousand words.


Market 4

Baskets ready for sale at the weekly market.



Shubi sharing.



Off to observe, ask, and learn.

Market 6

In one of the meetings with the local cooperatives.

Erin Today

Another picture worth a thousand words.

Ben n Josel

Josel and Ben..

Debrief 2

Debriefing back in Kigali on day 5.




Team Philippines: A day of cacao

Half of the team continued to explore Mindanao today, traveling from Kidapawan in central Mindanao to Malaybalay in central northern Mindanao.  The team had three interviews today, all of which centered on cacao production.

We met with Puentespina Farms, where they are growing 24 hectares (~59 acres) of cacao trees. In addition to their own farming, the farm has collaborated with a development project of Mars to provide technical training to new cacao farmers or for farmers seeking to rehabilitate their existing cacao trees. The area surrounding Puentespina used to be a major cacao region for several multinational corporations but political changes in the 1980s caused many corporations to cease operations; however, many of the trees remained and some farmers have sought improved productivity for their cacao trees. At Puentespina we saw cacao trees, stations for breaking open cacao pods, fermenting boxes, and drying beds; in other words, all of the stages necessary to prepare dry cacao beans.

Clockwise from upper left: Cacao pods are covered in plastic to repel insects, a cacao technician shows us the wet beans inside a cacao pod, cacao solar-drying beds, Mike Kinsella (MBA) speaks with a rep. from Kennemer Foods in front of cacao seedlings.

Clockwise from upper left: Cacao pods are covered in plastic to repel insects, a cacao technician shows us the wet beans inside a cacao pod, cacao solar-drying beds, Mike Kinsella (MBA) speaks with a rep. from Kennemer Foods in front of cacao seedlings.

Later we met with Kennemer Foods, a consolidator of cacao. Kennemer purchases wet cacao beans from local farmers and then ferments and dries the beans.  In addition to the post-harvest production, Kennemer also provides farmers with cacao seedlings to encourage the proliferation of cacao. They send technicians out to new cacao farms and encourage farmers to sell their product back to Kennemer when the trees begin to bear fruit.

Finally, we visited a business venture associated with a coffee cooperative in Bukidnon province. Kaanib Foundation, a partner of CRS, has organized a group of 1,000 women to provide coffee for a storefront that is brewing a blend of Robusta and Arabica beans. Most of the domestic coffee market in the Philippines is comprised of instant coffee. However, this specific venture buys green coffee from their members, roasts the coffee in their storefront (with a roaster than was granted by the national government), and sells cups of brewed coffee as well as packages of ground coffee. The business is growing and adapting, trying to find a niche in the instant coffee-dominated market.

We also carved out some time to stop by a community where humans and monkeys live in harmony. No really, a bunch of monkeys live in the house of the community leader.

Mike Kinsella (MBA) poses beside the monkeys that have taken over the CRS vehicle.

Mike Kinsella (MBA) poses beside the monkeys that have taken over the CRS vehicle.

The rest of the team was in Luzon today and their adventures and learnings will be posted to the blog in the days to come.

Team Philippines: Cooperative info and lots o’ good fruit

We should start of with the good stuff, we ate some seriously good fruit today. Driving through central Mindanao, we stopped at a roadstand to buy Filipino mangoes and a local lychee-esque fruit called lanzones. The Filipino mangoes were literally as soft as butter, we scooped out spoonfuls of mango with ease. The lanzones were spectacular, but don’t eat the seed, it’s sort of bitter.

Lanzones. Great fruit.

Lanzones. Great fruit.

Team A met with Land Bank of the Philippines, a key agricultural lender, and a onion-growing cooperative in Nueva Ecija, in central Luzon. Team B met with a microfinance cooperative that provides funds for women-led enterprises, and an NGO that provides education and training for farmers to add value to their crops and to increase their yields.

And as you can see, we’re working hard, forcing our poor interviewees to stay into the evening:

Temporary power outage forced us to pull out the battery-powered lights.

Temporary power outage forced us to pull out the battery-powered lights.

Also, we ran across a sister school in central Mindanao:

The tricycle paused for long enough to provide a nice foreground for the sign.

A common form of transport, the tricycle, sits in the foreground. 

Team Philippines: Microfinancing from legal and governmental perspectives

Still recovering from jetlag, most of Team Philippines awoke in the wee hours of the morning and either stared at the ceiling for a few hours, sat down for a lengthy breakfast, or got in a workout. At 8am we split into two groups: one group, with Professor Alford (professor of law) and Mauri Miller (law student) went to meet with CRS’ lawyer to inquire about the legal situation for cooperatives in the Philippines. We learned that contracts are quite enforceable through legal mechanisms in the Philippines. Many institutional buyers that reach out to small farmers, such as Nestle and Jollibee (a national burger joint), enter into contracts with the suppliers of their goods, even if they are small cooperatives.  This requires that cooperatives themselves are recognized legal entities, as opposed to an informal, legally-unrecognized group of farmers.

While Team A (Professor Alford, Mauri, Robbie, Krissy) met with the CRS lawyer, Team B (Dana, Sam, Mike) met with a branch of the Department of Agriculture called the Bureau of Agrarian Reform Beneficiary Development.  This governmental bureau aims to provide services to the beneficiaries of land reform: those who have received land titles or are leasing new lands as a result of government (re)distribution of land.  The bureau is involved in various projects, the most exciting of which for the team was a de-centralized model of microfinancing for small farmers and cooperatives which has successfully overcome many of the barriers that inhibits lending to small farmers.

Team A and Team B joined forces again in the afternoon, creating Team Awesome (aka Team Philippines), and we met with the National Livelihood Development Council (NLDC). NLDC is a government-owned social lending corporation that provides funding to rurally-based microfinance institutions and specifically aims to provide services to the beneficiaries of agrarian reform.

Meeting with the National Livelihood Development Council

Meeting with the National Livelihood Development Council

After a full day of meetings, we killed some time at the Mall of Asia, a huge, huge mall, where we bought local SIM cards, played (super cheap!) arcades, and dreamed of getting massages. Team A then headed back to our home base in Manila, and Team B boarded a flight for Davao City. Team A will spend the rest of the week meeting with CRS’ NGO partners, cooperatives, government entities, and financing institutions in the northern island of Luzon. Team B will meet with a similar group of stakeholders in Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines.

Sierra Leone: Freetown to Kenema

We were able to get some good rest last night (Monday night) so we were ready to go this morning! We had a delicious breakfast (and not Nescafé coffee, much to our delight!) with a beautiful view of a hillside in Freetown.


Sometimes photos just can’t do a view justice, but nevertheless, here is our view from breakfast.

After breakfast, we loaded up our stuff and drove – yes, drove – 20 meters (that’s ~60ft) to the CRS headquarters in Freetown. It was easily the shortest trip we’ll be making in these two weeks!

At the CRS HQ, we met with the CRS – Sierra Leone staff members to learn about the current projects CRS is operating in Sierra Leone, along with a overview of our project and a short Q&A.

Team Sierra Leone meeting with the CRS staff in Freetown.

Team Sierra Leone meeting with the CRS staff in Freetown.


CRS was also kind enough to have money exchanged for us!


The exchange rate for Leones and USD is about L4300 to $1, so this looks like a LOT more money than it actually is!

Once we finished at CRS, we stopped at a great grocery store (called St. Mary’s!) where we grabbed a quick lunch (falafel, shawarma, and fried chicken sandwiches – there is a huge Lebanese influence in Sierra Leone), drinks, and snacks for the road. Then we were off to the city of Kenema in southeast Sierra Leone. After a little more than 6 hours (on nicely paved roads, mind you) we made it to our destination!



Tomorrow, we’ll be meeting up with a group of CRS staff members involved in the Quality Circles program that facilitates communication and understanding between TBAs (informal healthcare) and PHUs (peripheral health units, part of the formal healthcare system). After a morning of interviews, we’ll head out to Kailahun (a village just a bit north of Kenema) to do field work for three days. (We may not have internet access there, so I may not get to blog again until we’re back in Kenema.)

As always, we’re so thankful to be a part of this assignment. The people in Sierra Leone have been so kind and welcoming and we’re looking forward to learning more over the next couple of weeks.

Team Nicaragua: Welcome to Managua

Team Nicaragua is ready to get to work! We’ve been in Managua for a few days now and have had a chance to check out a few local places, get to know the lay of the land, meet some local Nicaraguans, and get ready for our project these next two weeks.

At our Orientation on Sunday morning, it was great to finally put names to faces! We got to meet Kristin Rosenow, Head of Programs for CRS Nicaragua, as well as David, one of our interpreters, and Juan Carlos, Santos, and Jorge who spoke to us about their experiences working with Nicaraguan cooperatives and the microfinance opportunities here. Our conversation was incredibly informative, and we walked away with a new understanding of Nicaraguan cooperatives. When we finished our conversation, we went down to Puerto Salvador Allende for a delicious lunch.

Team Pic Lake




After our group lunch, we headed back to the hotel to talk about our findings from our first day of meetings. We were pretty excited about the information we discussed and were looking forward to our meetings set up for the next day.

Our second day with CRS was extremely insightful. We were able to talk with CRS and Root Capital about the current state of microfinance in Nicaragua, as well as available microfinance opportunities within agriculture. In addition, we spoke with several CRS partner organizations regarding cooperative structures, management, and best practices. The information was helpful in thinking about how to structure our future conversations with cooperative managers, farmer-members, and financial institutions. We’re very excited for the next few days as we head out into the fields. One team is heading northeast to Siuna while the other team is headed north to Matagalpa to meet with cooperatives and farmer-members. We’ll update you soon!!!

Sierra Leone: We’re here!

We had a long 28-hour trip from South Bend to Chicago to Brussels to Dakar, and finally to Freetown, but we made it! It’s definitely hot and humid compared to South Bend right now, but we won’t have much time to think (or talk) about the weather. We’re meeting with CRS-Sierra Leone staff in the morning, then heading straight out to Kenema — a 5-hour drive — for the rest of the day!

Team Sierra Leone at the Freetown Airport

Team Rwanda: Day 2


The team looking very fresh in the morning as they were being driven to the CRS offices – We decided not to show the after-photo on the way back to the hotel (after over 14 non-stop hours going through tools, strategies, objectives, etc)

Finally we were able to put faces to the various ‘names’ we had been communicating with over the last few weeks. Making a country visit and having face-to-face meetings makes all the difference in relationship building. We were able to meet the many talented and wonderful people working at CRS Rwanda. CRS Rwanda is accomplishing a lot of wonderful with programs ranging from Health, HIV/AIDS and Nutrition to Peace building, to Entrepreneurship and capacity building.

Over the course of the day, we were able to go through the Akazi Kanoze project that we have been working in more detail unlike in the past few weeks when we were limited by the teleconferences or emails. The session served to make further clarifications and ensure that all the teams involved were well aligned.

We received further information on the Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC), self run savings group run by members of the community. This will act as the source of funds for the income generating opportunities along the agriculture value chain that we will identify.

We refined a lot of the market research questions we will be asking during tomorrow’s visit to government officials and youth focus groups.

This is the moment when we discover new insights that lead to innovations.

Find out what we discover.