Since joining One Acre Fund in 2016, Alinafe Tengatenga has worn several hats within our People Operations and HR team. We chatted with her about how versatility has been pivotal to her career and to the development of her team, especially during the pandemic. We also talk fun virtual games, kombucha, and a lot more!
Let’s take it back to 2016. How did you land a role at One Acre Fund?
A family member came across a link to a role at One Acre Fund and sent it to me. It seemed like a really cool organization doing great work, and it was also one of the few employers who were doing online job ads in Malawi at the time (at least as far as I could find). So I applied, and also reached out to a recruiter on LinkedIn to inquire more about the role.
As it turned out, my skillset was a good fit as they were on the lookout for someone who could work in HR and Corporate Operations, and I’d done some similar work to pay for my schooling. A couple of interviews later, I landed the gig!
And how would you say your role has evolved since you joined?
It's changed a lot. I've been exposed to different functions in People Operations (the One Acre Fund name for our HR department) over time. I started out doing HR and Corporate Operations in Malawi, and setting up the systems for those two departments. I then switched to Global HR, where I work on payroll and projects that look to improve HR service delivery for all our employees.
One of the reasons I like working here is that it's quite rare for one person to experience different aspects of HR, such as going from onboarding and offboarding to payroll, to HR data management and policy development; but at One Acre Fund I get the full experience.
Interesting. So how do you adjust to every new hat that you wear?
A superpower I have is the ability to adapt to different situations. You can drop me anywhere and I’ll figure out how to thrive. Not just survive, but thrive. For me, it's the excitement that comes with a new role. I wasn't driven into ‘people’ work because of an innate drive to set up HR systems, I got into this because of a desire to learn how people make decisions and how those decisions impact their lives. I haven’t specialized in any particular aspect of HR, meaning that I'm along for the ride as long as I'm learning, and I feel challenged.
What’s a favourite project that you've worked on recently?
It’s actually what we’re working on now! We’re rolling out an upgraded HR Information System which will automate more of our processes, decrease our workload and leave room for HR staff to be more innovative in their roles. We can spend more time thinking about staff welfare initiatives, for instance.
One word we love here is ‘scale.’ We currently serve more than 1.3 million farmers. What does it mean to you to work at this kind of scale?
I think it's both amazing and humbling. It’s like, “Wow, this conversation we’re having today, or this email I’m writing potentially impacts more than 1 million farmers and their dependents.” Where it humbles me a bit is that it’s a constant reminder for me to shape up and be at the top of my game. Like, “In this hour, on this day, have I actually done enough to contribute to our impact?”
What makes One Acre Fund a great place to work is that there are thousands of colleagues who have that same level of responsibility, and are working to ensure that our impact translates in the lives of the farmers we serve.
Staff in our Rwanda program do a cheer during the Staff Appreciation day in 2019.
And what has it been like working in a global, multicultural organization like ours? Has it influenced your management style?
I have lived in many places and moved around quite a bit, so for me, I felt at home when I came to One Acre Fund. There’s such a blend of multiple cultures and experiences here.
In your time here, you’ve relocated from Malawi to Rwanda. How have you coped with relocation? Any tips for people who are even moving to a different country or region?
I've lived a nomadic life of sorts, that’s for sure. One tip I’d give is that when you land in a new place, the first thing to do is find a community. This can be based on hobby or faith, but find a community and the rest works itself out.
The other thing is that I'm not in Rwanda only because of One Acre Fund. I've got other connections to the community that keep me here, and interests which make me want to build a life here. Having a community also helps in case you’re facing any challenges or need someone to talk to.
What would you say came as the biggest surprise for you once you joined?
I was given a lot of responsibility from the get-go. I was surprised by the level of trust I was given, but also the level of support that followed. It was like, “Hey, you're in charge. But we're going to help you succeed.” It was a bit intimidating at first, but I took it all onboard and was given the help I needed to make things work.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about One Acre Fund?
I think for me, it’s that we're as invested in people's professional growth and their development as we are in farmers.
Let's talk about working from home. How have you found the remote working experience?
It wasn't a huge adjustment for me because to be honest, I actually prefer working from home because I’m quite introverted, so being around a lot of people is very draining for me. I know I’m in HR, but I’m more of a back-end person, so interaction isn’t exactly my area of expertise. If anything, if people don’t know I exist then I’ve done my job correctly!
That being said, I discovered that I do miss the random water cooler conversations with people. We still get to interact virtually, but some things just can’t be replaced.
How did your team, and how did you personally, adapt during lockdown? Are there any support mechanisms that you guys introduced to stay connected with each other?
Yeah, we started having more regular touchpoints, at least weekly, and we’d set up calls just to check on each other. It was more about “How are you really doing?” and less about the work.
We also tried more fun activities like playing games, like spending 15 minutes catching up and asking each other fun questions. Other than that, we kept very active on WhatsApp. I would find different corners of my house to work from and just take a picture of what I was doing, and send others would do the same, or share pictures of their kids and so on.
What’s your favourite game from your team calls?
We recently played one that was like a scavenger hunt, where you'd get a list and have to go find certain objects around your house. For instance, someone could ask you to go find an elephant, so you’d have to go find something that could represent an elephant, and convince everyone else that you’re right!
What’s your favourite thing to do outside of work?Mostly things related to food and drink! I love cooking, and I like making interesting drinks. I'm an avid brewer of kombucha, which is like a fermented tea, and my secret superpower is keeping my SCOBY alive. It has survived three international moves and is still thriving!
A sample SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), which is used in brewing kombucha tea. [Pic: Courtesy]
Amazing! And what was your favourite thing to do to keep you sane during lockdown? Brewing kombucha perhaps?
Actually, I picked up gardening during lockdown. I prefer growing food and herbs, basically anything that will either make it into my food or tea. I’m allergic to pollen so flowers aren’t for me. I can't tell you how many plants I have, but I talk to them every day!
Okay, last question - if there's one thing you want somebody reading this piece to take away from it, what would it be?
This is a great place to work. It will push you and stretch you in ways that you did not imagine, but not without support and care. Who wouldn't want to work for an organization that impacts the lives of 7 million people today, or 30 million lives by 2030? If service excites you, then this is where you should be.