Current global challenges require us to develop future leaders who can collaborate effectively to craft solutions to development challenges. One Acre Fund’s Young Professional Program offers internship opportunities to promising young professionals interested in impact and social development. Perhaps no one knows this better than Abah Otieno, now One Acre Fund’s Global Ombudsperson and Mediator, who joined the organization through the Young Professionals Program in 2018. In this piece, Abah talks about transitioning from an intern to holding a global position and how her passion for people has shaped her career.
Why did you join One Acre Fund and the Young Professionals Program?
I am a scientist by training; I studied Industrial and Applied Biotechnology. After graduating from university in 2017 and moving back to Kenya from South Africa, I didn’t find a ton of opportunities that’d allow me to link my training to my love for people-focused work.
My passion led me to the development space, and I started as an intern at the United Nations (UN) Habitat; still, I yearned for something more — I wanted to work with and create a real impact on individuals and communities. While consulting and searching for options, I learned about One Acre Fund. As luck would have it, the organization was advertising for the Young Professionals Program, so I applied and here I am.
Tell us about your experience with the selection process and the internship in general.
I was a little nervous when applying because I had no background in the fundraising space. The interview process was extensive, and I was tested on research, reporting, and presentation skills. With the benefit of hindsight, the thoroughness of the hiring process allowed me to get a feel of One Acre Fund’s work culture and helped me understand the dynamics of the role – for perspective, only five of us were selected out of about three thousand applicants. I officially joined the organization in 2018 as an intern in the Business Development team.
How has the program impacted your professional life?
I have lots of loyalty to the Young Professional Program because it gave me a chance in a space where I had no prior training or experience, something not many professionals get to experience. One Acre Fund has opened several doors for me, and this has challenged me to think differently and more broadly about my career.
Going through the program is no walk in the park—it challenges you to learn a lot within a short period—but it gave me exposure and was an excellent opportunity to learn and grow professionally. One thing I love about One Acre Fund is that you are nurtured, trusted to do your job and given the space to grow in your role and career.
Take us through your One Acre Fund journey since you joined.
When I came on board in January 2018, my role revolved around creative writing, report keeping, drafting proposals, and updating donors on our program work. I worked hard to build competency and was soon trusted with research and prospecting — I was in charge of scoping new geographies and donor visits, ensuring that our donors visited each country they supported, and were well-versed with our work in the field. The scope of my work morphed fast after that because the team trusted my ability to support our broader mandate. At one point, I recall wanting to learn more about research, and my manager got me someone to mentor me in that area. During my last year in the Business Development team, we slightly restructured, which morphed my role to support a sensitive portfolio of governments and public funders.
In 2019, the organization began conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I was picked to represent our team in these discussions. Being the youngest in that group, I did not consider myself qualified to take on this additional role, but I embraced it because it provided the space to grow and expand my mindset and skills. This was my bridge to the Global Ombuds role I now hold. The role has allowed me to work differently — working at a slightly higher level than before pushes you to grow into a space much faster and I appreciate the exposure I got.
As a trained scientist, what made you decide to work with an agricultural organization?
I love science, and the skills necessary to succeed in that field don’t differ much from anything I have done at One Acre Fund. As a scientist, one needs to be a good researcher, understand how to collect valuable information, and analyze data. These are all skills I have used in my fundraising and current role—the difference is in how I apply them.
Tell us about your role today and how your work impacts farmers.
My bottom line is in what I always sought in a career even before my time at One Acre Fund—to impact people’s lives. While in fundraising, impact meant connecting donors to the people who needed help the most. Today, as a mediator, I ensure teams are well-equipped and comfortable enough to perform their roles as best as they can. Our focus is always on the farmer, and we prioritize them by ensuring staff differences or grievances are properly handled so that we always give our best to our work.
What is the coolest thing about working at One Acre Fund?
There are always opportunities available if you put in the work. Just look at how much my career has morphed in four years! Witnessing people and teams come together to support farmers' prosperity is one of the coolest things I’ve experienced.
What did you love most about your upbringing, and how has it influenced who you are today?
My parents are very free-spirited and strong PanAfricanists; I believe this has influenced how I see the world. I have values that are very important to me, but the rest of my worldview is flexible. They often allowed me to navigate situations with little-to-no plan, which helped me gain strong problem-solving skills. I am yet to meet a challenge in life that I cannot find a solution for or find a way around.
What advice would you give to young professionals looking to make the most of their internship experience?
Put yourself out there! Go for any available opportunity, be intentional about working hard, and don't be afraid to fail. As humans, we have a misconception that we should only go for things that we will be successful at, but I believe failure can be a stepping stone to success.