Born and raised in rural Kenya, Kelvin Owino, wears many hats. A husband and father, he also provides for his younger siblings — he's currently paying for his brother's education and is planning to pay for his sister to attend college starting this year. As a One Acre Fund staffer, Kelvin gets access to discounted planting supplies each season. And like a good son, he always sends these to his mother, to use on her farm.
Kelvin's responsibilities don't stop with his family. Initially hired to an entry-level communications role, his hard work and dedication have allowed him to rise to the manager level in just two years. Managing staff on our Kenya team, collecting footage and stories from our trial operation in Uganda, and supporting communications staffers based in Tanzania and Rwanda are just a few of his main duties.
Here, Kelvin shares how his career at One Acre Fund has enabled him to achieve his personal and professional goals, and why the thing he loves the most about his current role is something that he never expected to do.
In University I studied community development, but before that, I taught at a secondary school. I taught mathematics and physics for two years.
After university, I worked with AVSI, which helps needy children in the slums in Nairobi. I was Assistant Communications and Database Officer. I left and began working for One Acre Fund in April 2013. Within 6 months, I was promoted to communications associate, then senior associate in August of last year. In January 2015, I was promoted to manager.
Why did you apply to work at One Acre Fund?
First of all, I applied because they work with the community. I always wanted to work at the community level. And they were also working with farmers. My family also does farming — I felt if I could do something related to farming and working in the community, then that would be the perfect job for me.
I was also intrigued by the job description, which mentioned taking photos. I had been taking some photos with a point-and-shoot camera on a limited scale, and I was interested to learn more, so that also made me apply for the job.
I think one my of my largest responsibilities is maintaining relationships between our department and the farmers we serve. I do field visits with them to talk to them and to take photos. Maintaining those relationships takes time. I also collect photos and stories from the field to share with our staff in Kenya, outside of Kenya, and then also with our audiences around the world.
Since becoming a manager, one of my responsibilities has been managing staff on our Kenya team, and playing a bigger role helping support communications staffers in our other countries, like in Tanzania and Rwanda. I have also been assigned a lead role sourcing content and materials from Uganda, one of our trial countries.
I don’t think you’d go into any One Acre Fund district in Kenya where they don’t know me! I can call anyone from our staff and say, “Hi it’s Kelvin,” and they already know who I am. They know I’m the communications guy. When I joined, we had about 60,000 farmers. Now we have about over 350,000 in Kenya, and I work to hear all their stories. I’ve learned a lot from having to build and manage all those relationships.
In terms of professional growth, my work reaches across many departments and even many countries. I’ve been able to work with so many people and build relationships with them, so I feel I’ve grown as a person. I think I’ve built strong bonds with our field staff, our farmers, our staff at headquarters and our international staff as well.
How has your career evolved over time? What new skills have you gained?
So when I started, I was an officer. I’ve been able to move up to manager, and that’s in just two years, so that’s rapid career growth. When I came in, I took photos, did interviews, and wrote reports. That’s still part of what I do, but now I spend more time doing videos, managing other people, and doing trainings.
In my time at One Acre Fund, I’ve definitely developed my photography skills. I’ve learned about videography and how to use InDesign, both new skills which I didn’t have before. Of course, I’ve also undergone interview trainings and story-writing trainings in order to improve my writing and storytelling, and have done a typing course to improve the speed of my typing.
Traveling for Work
I think I might be the most traveled at our office for work travel! When you’re in school, you always have a dream, and my dream was to work somewhere I could travel a lot. I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day. So traveling was my fairy tale dream and that happened to me with this job. I think 70 percent of my job involves going to the field and being out of the office.
I’ve traveled to all the districts we work in in Kenya, and also traveled to our operations in Uganda. When you’re traveling, you get to meet new people from other tribes, so you need to know how to relate to them. Traveling to Uganda has been very impactful to me and to the farmers too. Being in another country, I think the farmers there heard about the experiences of our Kenyan farmers from me and felt encouraged. Also the team in Uganda is making good use of the photos and stories I collected while I was there. My photos are up in the office, they’re in the field materials and all over, and that feels good.
What part of your job makes you the most proud?
I usually feel I have the best job here because when people talk about impact, I am the person who gets to see the impact at the grassroots level. I get to interview farmers and hear about how their experiences have been and then write about that. If I talk to a farmer and she tells me that she bought a cow, I get to see that cow. I get to experience the impact first-hand, and I feel lucky about that. Sometimes going to field, you even get to harvest with them, and that makes me very happy!
Are you doing anything now that you never expected you would be doing?
Doing video wasn’t something I expected to do when I came in. Just as I went on, I started now doing videos. Another thing is media relations work. Right now I am happy because I have learned how to build a media database, and I know how to interact, which I didn’t expect. So, I’m getting to learn more about how media works and that’s something new and exciting.
Videos have turned into some of my favorite projects. We recently made a video about solar lights, and I loved seeing the end- product because I can see how my energy has been going into creating something beautiful.
Family and the Future
How has your job at One Acre Fund impacted your family ?
My job has been great for my family! I’ve been able to educate my brother. He’s completing his college this year. I’m also planning to educate my sister this year. I get discounted planting supplies for working here, and I send those to my mom and she plants those each year, so I’ve helped to establish food security at home.
What do you see for your future at One Acre Fund?
For One Acre Fund, I see a communications department that is still growing. I can see the department having more people than we do now. I can also see One Acre Fund expanding to other countries, and when we grow to other countries, I see the communications department growing there too.
For myself personally, I see myself being a leader, making decisions that will shape the future of the department. Maybe I’ll also be coming up with new ideas that will help tell new stories about our farmers and help the outside world understand and know the experience of our farmers.