Friday, July 1, 2016

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Sare Millers Ltd, where high quality, low cost animal feed is guaranteed! Dave Okech, who has made chickens and animal feed his business, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to gain additional business experience at the University of Iowa and represent his home country, Kenya, in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

Dave Okech, from Kisumu, Kenya, founded and directs Sare Millers Ltd, an animal feed manufacturing company. He says his business focuses on quality and affordability in order to overcome “three major concerns in Kenya: the high cost of feeds, the low quality of feeds, and women and youth dis-empowerment.”

Okech, a data analyst with a background in actuarial science and systems management, was not always involved in the agricultural industry. He worked for United Millers, which has a large division in Western Kenya, during their switch to the Oracle system. He was tasked with implementing the manufacturing module of the Oracle ERP system. In the process, he learned about the industry and its prospects for growth firsthand.

“I became inspired to start my business when the agricultural feed difficulties in my country started to affect my family. My mother and sister suffered from the high cost of feed. They borrowed money from a bank to feed their chickens and ended up losing all of the money. They could not pay back their loan to the bank. So that’s when I decided to shift to animal feed.”

While Okech could have stopped there, he decided to address another advancement opportunity he saw in his country.

In order to ease farmers’ burden in purchasing feed, he created a mobile app that allows farmers to buy directly from him, significantly lowering the transaction costs. Okech continued to think about the troubles of agricultural workers and found another way in which he could improve the system.

“Apart from milling, I started a project to introduce other markets to low cost, high quality feed. I decided to narrow my audience to focus on dis-empowered women and girls, specifically between the ages of 10 and 19. This project is based on human-centered design, which focuses on a particular group of society and makes them your customers or suppliers. The girls buy feed from me to feed their chickens and the chickens lay eggs. The girls give the eggs to me, and I sell them. Then, I return the profits to the girls. This way, they can generate their own income and do not have to rely on parents, males, or anyone else for survival. I have helped 50 girls so far, and I foresee this project continuing to be very successful.”

Okech is a natural fit for the program, which he joined because he “liked that it gives you a chance to emerge as a leader in business and society.”

Okech was also interested because the program “brings Fellows to a university to learn. American universities know business, so I felt like it was the best opportunity I would have to learn to be successful.” Okech says he was also tempted to apply because he wanted to experience a new place. “Africa and America are very black and white. The exploration the Mandela Washington program provides has changed me.”

Now that Okech is here, he’s enjoying every bit of the experience. “My favorite part about the program has been the training classes and how they are conducted. The instructors are really motivating and the lesson are practical and hands-on. I have a much deeper understanding of business operations now. My classmates are also wonderful. I think we learn just as much from each other as we learn from the instructors.”

When Okech and the other Fellows are not in the classroom, they get to explore Iowa, which Okech says has been a huge plus of the program.

“Iowa is beautiful. I love Iowa City and its people. People here are a lot more social than they are back home. In Kenya, we don’t smile and say hi to each other as we walk to work or school in the mornings. In Iowa, you can see and feel the people’s hospitality everywhere.”