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My Journey into One Acre Fund: Peter Cunningham

Peter is an analyst working closely with our CEO, Andrew Youn. Here, he tells us about his journey into One Acre Fund — from learning about us in college to leaving his job at a mutual fund company to fulfill his dream of working somewhere where “I could create honest impact.”

Peter Cunningham - Edited

What do you do at One Acre Fund?

I’m an analyst in the Office of the CEO. My role is a subset of the Internal Consulting team, which means my work is project-based. At any one time, I could be researching crop commercialization for one of our programs to help design a pilot or supporting our Executive Director on Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. For example, I've been heavily involved in forming our new Leadership Council over the past year, supporting the committee leading the restructure with research, coordination, and logistics as it worked on this important deliverable. A typical day for me involves a lot of correspondence with different stakeholders across the organization. 

What were you doing before joining One Acre Fund?

I worked at an environmentally responsible mutual fund company, a niche subset of the impact investing world. It was a small organization in Boston, Massachusetts, and I did a little bit of everything, from operations to marketing and communications and strategy. I was there for about a year, starting April 2019, until I joined One Acre Fund in May 2020.

What made you choose One Acre Fund?

I started hearing about the organization’s work in 2014 in one of the social entrepreneurship courses I studied for my undergraduate degree. The organization’s impact-focused work made a lasting impression on me, so I always had a big interest in working at One Acre Fund. In my first couple of years after college, I stayed in Boston to be close with my family, but I was in jobs where I didn't feel very fulfilled, where I felt detached from any sort of impact that we were making. I had this constant nudge to go and pursue a career in international development. I remembered One Acre Fund and the strong impression the organization had left on me, so I looked for an open position and applied. 

Since joining, does your initial impression of us as an impact-led organization still hold? 

I have been inspired by how honestly and rigorously we evaluate the impact of our work. Back in college, the framing of the course I mentioned taught us how different organizations inflate impact figures using faulty measurement methodology, mostly to hoodwink funders. One Acre Fund’s rigorous measurement methodology stands on solid ground and is backed by verifiable data, so I know that we’re doing good, honest work.

Shamba Darasa Plots - Tanzania

A team member measures some of the harvest from a "shamba darasa" farm in Tanzania. The farms are run to train our field staff, as well as test and finetune planting recommendations like seed varieties in different regions of the country.

What has your experience at One Acre Fund been like so far? 

It has been fantastic. Entering the organization through the CEO’s Office enabled me to know so much about different parts of the business all at once. I understand the intricacies among different country programs because I have the benefit of a vantage point that allows me to see everything in summary and at a top level. Above everything, I work with a really lovely bunch of people in a work culture that nurtures sharing and dialogue.

What’s been the hardest part of starting a new job during a pandemic?

Between the time I did my interview and when I got the offer in mid-March 2020, it became very clear very quickly that the world as we knew it was going to change. So, working remotely for the first year, I didn't build up too many expectations on what it would be like. The hardest part about it is being away from the office and away from colleagues. Working remotely in Boston, as I did initially, meant that while I was close to family, I wasn’t on the ground working directly with the communities my work was impacting. One of my first projects involved researching and understanding land rights in Rwanda — something I would’ve struggled to work on from the US. Traveling around the country and seeing for myself all these really small plots of land revealed the scale of our work to me in very real terms and how much I had been missing by not being physically close to farmers.

Tell us more about how your role creates impact for farmers? 

As someone in more of a supportive role and less on the frontline in One Acre Fund, I create impact by giving the more direct stakeholders a lot more leverage to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. I think of myself as a supportive presence. For example, in our commercialization work, I support country teams with the research to help them develop a pilot that might bring bigger or better new impact to farmers. In the ongoing DEI work, I provide thought context and guidance to the initiatives to help ensure that we have a fair workplace that supports each of us to serve farmers.

How do you want to have shaped the organization’s work in the next two years?

I’ll narrow down on DEI, which is a big part of the work we’re doing at the moment. I’d love to see One Acre Fund become a place where we go beyond talking points — which are important and valid because they inform our actions — to speak the language of everyone. I feel very proud and glad to be working here, and I’ll have done my bit if I can help ensure that every staffer at One Acre Fund feels the same way about working at the organization.


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