Anushka Ratnayake began her career in international development at Kiva.org where she learned about the power of microfinance to impact poverty. Working closely with the co-founders, she learned how to take smart risks, test new ideas, and design platforms to scale, but the more she learned, the more she wanted to be out of the office and on the ground. In 2008, she joined One Acre Fund and moved to Kenya where her job was to develop a repayment process for smallholder farmers on their microloans. In Kenya, Anushka spent her days talking to farmers – farmers who repaid their loans and those who struggled to repay. As she listened, she noticed farmers wanted to pre-pay their loan a few months or even a year in advance.
Though they used the language of credit, these farmers were actually describing their need for a savings model.
Driven by the concept of a savings-led program, Anushka spent several months traveling across East and West Africa and South Asia, researching alternatives to credit for smallholder farmers. Surprisingly, she could not find a single organization, company, or government that operated a savings program for farmers to invest in their farms.
Farmers around the world told her the same thing: “We like loans, but we also want a way to save.”
Seeds and fertilizer are two of the biggest costs in a smallholder farmer’s life, but they are sold differently than any other product. Whereas a farmer can go to their local store and buy $1 of sugar or 50 cents of oil, seeds are only sold in bulk – $100. Anushka wondered, “How can we make buying seeds more like buying oil or sugar? Can we create a system that allows farmers to pay slowly, over time?” One day, Anushka found herself working in an especially remote part of Kenya. Every day she trekked down the hill to buy phone credit from the local store. This problem of savings for farmers had been rolling around in her head, and suddenly she thought,
“What if seeds were sold like phone time? Buy a card; pay for a bit of seeds.”
In 2011, and with support from One Acre Fund, Anushka moved to Mali to test her savings-based payment model for seeds and fertilizer and training. Two months before myAgro’s first planting season, Mali underwent a military coup. Foreign governments stopped their funding. USAID, Peace Corps, and nearly every other NGO left the country, and the Mali government shut down. Even in the face of these enormous challenges, myAgro stayed while farmers continued to make savings payments through their mobile phones.
Today Anushka serves as Founder and CEO leading a team of 300 with headquarters in Bamako, Mali and a second office in Thiès, Senegal. In just a short 5-year period, Anushka’s unique idea to use mobile as a savings platform has evolved from reaching 240 farmers in trial in 2012 to an expected 30,000 farmers in 2017, proving that farmers can and want to save if they have the means to do so. myAgro is on track toward its North Star of reaching 1 million smallholder farmers and increasing their income by $1.50 per day by 2025 to move above the poverty line and into the middle class. This is an exciting period of growth for us, and we are happy to share this journey with you.