Claire (in orange t-shirt) out on a field visit with field officers in Tanzania.
We’re passionate about learning from our farmers and getting our boots muddy in the field. That also means there’s none better placed to draw inspiration from than Claire Brosnihan, our Global Field Operations Director, who has overseen the rapid scale of our program and the growth of our Rwandan field-based team from 200 to over 1,400 staff, who provide direct customer service to farmers. We sat down with her to talk about her motivation, why she loves being out in the field, wearing carrot costumes at staff events, and more!
Of all the possible careers, why agriculture?
I love working in agriculture because it's not just “working in agriculture.” It's also working on public health and nutrition. It's improving the rural economy, helping people earn more money, and creating employment through agriculture. It's also working on the environment. Agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change. People are often surprised when I say that you don’t need a degree in agriculture to work here.
How do you explain what you do when, say, at a dinner party, or to your mom?
Well, I usually say that my job is to help make Rwanda and its farmers more prosperous. I work with our field officers to help small-scale farmers overcome the barriers they face in getting bigger harvests. I make sure we have a well-equipped group of field officers who are trained and motivated to provide the best services possible to our clients.
You mentioned that every single work day looks different to you. So do you have your favourites?
Going on a field visit is definitely my favourite way to spend a day. It’s really powerful to meet our customers and hear how they've been able to get bigger harvests. This means more money and food security for their family, and that they're not one bad season away from really dire circumstances.
A close second is all of our staff appreciation days. I love just like being together with all the different teams and seeing how people contribute in their own way to the mission.
Team members cut the cake during the 2019 Staff Appreciation celebration in Rwanda.
You’ve been with us for over five years now. What skills would you say you've gained in that time?
Well, I think a lot more about project planning and how to run massive projects, whether that's expanding to five new districts over a two-month period, or hiring 200 field officers in a more efficient way.
I also learnt what it took to lead such a big team. My team currently has around 1,400 members, most of whom are field officers dispersed across the country. Learning how to manage such a team has been challenging but rewarding.
You’ve been able to marry your passion with your career. What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?
Find something that you're passionate about, because even when you're working super hard, it's for something you believe in.
‘Impact’ is probably the most-used word at One Acre Fund. Could you paint a picture of what impact looks to you?
Yeah! We want to see visible impact in every farmer's home. By 2030, we should be able to go to any farmer's home in Rwanda and see a solar lamp that their kids can use to study. We should see bigger harvests, healthier children, and that families have been able to invest in improving their quality of life, like building bigger homes.
During a recent company event, we invited a few farmers who have been with us for about ten years. They talked about how their lives had changed in those ten years, and the stories were honestly just flooring. I was tearing up because they talked about going from renting land to buying land, putting up a new roof, buying livestock, and sending their kids to university. There was one woman who actually took a three-hour bus ride with chickens that she had bought with some of the money from bigger harvests!
How does it make you feel knowing that it's not just her, but a million other farmers who we've been able to help and make an impact in their lives?
It's incredible. I remember the first year that I joined One Acre Fund, we literally threw a party when we got to 100,000 customers in Rwanda. We made a cake, we even had a little countdown! Now, we're at nearly 400,000 customers in Rwanda, and over 1 million across all our countries! I think it encourages us to keep dreaming bigger.
You’re also a believer in the One Acre Fund mission and values. What would you say is the most distinct part of our culture?
Our connection to the field and to the farmer, and how it’s emphasized across the organization. For example, our Finance office has a board showing how many field visits team members have done. In a lot of organizations, it's easy to be disconnected from your mission if you don't directly work with the customer, but not here. It keeps our farmers and our mission at the center of everything we do.
What came as the biggest surprise since you started?
Just how fun the work can be! From the outside I thought, “This is such a serious organization, they have these big goals about serving a million farmers and measuring impact so diligently; it's just going to be serious all the time.” But I think it's also a lot of fun and we have the space to be goofy. Whether that's someone turning up to events in a carrot or green beans costumes, or just being able to celebrate our biggest achievements.