Doreen Ndishabandi: How my passion for People work spurred my career growth

In this piece, Doreen reflects on her career transition – from heading our Rwanda program’s Government Relations, Policy, and People teams to becoming our Global Chief of Staff – what she enjoys about her people-focused role, and how she creates impact.
Life at One Acre Fund

Although there is a ton of material on professional tips and advice on the best strategic moves to advance careers, every career story holds its unique charm. For Doreen Ndishabandi, her career growth is a testament to the power of passion and dedication. She attributes much of her career growth to her commitment to nurturing talent and fostering a positive team culture. In this piece, Doreen reflects on her career transition – from heading our Rwanda program’s Government Relations, Policy, and People teams to becoming our Global Chief of Staff – what she enjoys about her people-focused role, and how she creates impact.

Doreen Ndishabandi

Can you give us the behind-the-scenes scoop on your journey to joining One Acre Fund?

While attending university in the US, I longed to return to Africa to work in the social impact space. I was eager to use my knowledge and skills to improve economic opportunities.

After graduating, I joined the Peace Corps and it was during my time there that a friend who worked for One Acre Fund in Burundi shared her positive experience with the organization. I did a quick search and was inspired by the organization’s transparency and commitment to client experience, impact, sustainability, and scale. There was a section on the website detailing failures and key learnings, which is quite uncommon for most non-profits.

Interestingly, my program manager at the time asked me about my future plans during a career chat. I confidently told him I planned to work for One Acre Fund, even though I hadn't applied yet. I could tell he was very surprised. Fortunately, I applied and received a job offer.

We all have pivotal moments in our careers. Are there any key moments or instances that shaped your path to your current role?

There have been quite a few significant moments, even before I started working. Growing up in Uganda, I witnessed firsthand how a lack of access to opportunities led to disparities in basic services and future success. My family was fortunate enough to access opportunities that allowed me a great education and career. This privilege instilled in me a profound sense of responsibility to give back to those who haven’t had the same chances. 

In my role with One Acre Fund’s Government Relations and Policy team, I often found myself in meetings with government officials where I was the youngest and sometimes the only woman in the room. Being young, female, and African meant that I had to navigate imposter syndrome, manage different egos and personalities, and overcome both gender and age biases. My manager at the time gave me invaluable advice: while I couldn't make up for age or experience, I could rely on the collective wisdom of those around me to broaden my perspective, accelerate my growth, and expand my learning. Over the last few years, I have embraced this advice to build my confidence as a leader, own my voice, and leverage the wisdom of those around me to enhance my development.

What does a day in the life of the Global Chief of Staff look like?

Each day varies, but I always start with One Acre Fund's recommended ‘big picture time’ for deep thinking and reflection. I prioritize my tasks by asking myself: How am I advancing organizational goals? Am I focused on the right strategic priorities? What projects, if done well, will have the greatest impact today? I also reserve time for professional development and team support. Chunks of my day also involve strategic planning, team engagement, and crisis management. I spend time in listening sessions with staff and aligning priorities with the CEO. Given the unpredictable nature of my role, I am always ready for anything the organization throws at me, whether internal or external. Besides my main responsibilities, I am a One Acre Fund coach and, until recently, co-led One Acre Fund Rwanda’s women's leadership group

What sparked your interest in people-related work in addition to your Government Relations role? 

Initially, I doubted my fit for a people-oriented role due to my lack of traditional HR experience. However, I found great fulfilment in working with my direct reports on their growth and development and was passionate about nurturing talent. I did a lot of self-study on talent management to push my learning, developed new performance management tools, and proactively proposed improvements to our People team. Incidentally, this is where I discovered my passion for people-focused work. 

In my previous role, I reported to the Rwanda Country Director and started supporting other elements of people operations through the Head of People in Rwanda. Now, I support these efforts globally across our organization. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey, to say the least. People are our greatest asset, and our ability to achieve our ambitious goals depends on how we recruit, develop, and retain top talent.

You speak about impact so passionately. What does it mean to you and how do you measure it in your work?

Impact is our “north star” at One Acre Fund. Each season, we physically measure the harvests of our clients to ensure that the services we provide are delivering a strong long-term return on their investment. In recent years, we’ve refined our impact methodology to measure broader impact on their livelihoods – from food security and nutrition to resilience. What inspires me most about our work is seeing that impact reflected in people’s lives. When it isn’t, there’s a quick feedback loop that allows us to re-examine and improve our services in real-time. 

For my teams, it’s about empowering them with the resources they need to advance their learning, growth, and development. I’m constantly looking for ways to support this across the organization, particularly in nurturing women leaders. An inspiring example is a recent conversation I had with Isabel, one of our team members from Zambia. She joined as an intern and now leads our field and impact teams in Zambia. These conversations about career growth and what our work means to our team resonate deeply with me and help me develop strategy that continues to support our teams and the farmers we serve.

What’s something you’re passionate about outside of work?

I'm deeply passionate about education, especially girls' education. Since leaving the Peace Corps, I have continued to collaborate with a teacher from the village school in my community to support young Mayan girls to remain enrolled in school and avoid early childhood marriages. 

Tennis has become a recent interest, and I am loving it! I am also a “recovering” baking enthusiast; you’d often find me teaching young kids to make cookies or cupcakes over the weekend. Finally, reading is a big part of my life. Recently, I read "Stolen Focus," which explores why our generation struggles with concentration and how we can foster deep thinking again. Reading has always been my favourite pastime but working on balancing reading for fun and reading for work. 

Why do you believe more professionals need to consider roles in People? 

Recently, I was on a call with colleagues in the People team. Of the eight of us on the call, none had a background in People-related work. The group consisted of individuals from various backgrounds such as Finance and Consulting, all working to support One Acre Fund’s People's strategy. This diversity of backgrounds brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and innovation to our approach.

I am hopeful that over time, more individuals from other sectors can transition into people-focused roles. My involvement in people-related work has contributed significantly to my career growth at One Acre Fund. This work offers endless opportunities in impact delivery and career advancement. 


Staff profile