To outsiders, it looked like Jerry Kamau was living the dream.
After graduating from the University of Nairobi with a degree in survey engineering, Jerry landed a job with Google, the tech giant known for its employee perks and laid-back office culture. He spent almost nine years at the company, first building up Google Maps in Africa, then helping manage a large team in Hyderabad, India, that supported Google Maps in Western markets.
But in spite of his success, Jerry felt like something was missing. Partly, he wanted to come home to Kenya — but it was also more than that. He wanted to do something meaningful to support his own community and apply his skills where they were needed most.
“I’d be sitting in Nairobi or in India and working to support the U.S. or Europe,” Jerry said. “I wanted to connect back to my roots and contribute to Kenya and to Africa. I wanted to do something that added more value.”
Jerry was looking for purpose in his career — and more and more job seekers are increasingly like him. According to a recent survey, 93 percent of young people say it’s important that their career path aligns with their personal values. At the same time, many employees are feeling dissatisfied with their current jobs, with only 15 percent of workers worldwide reporting that they feel engaged at work, according to a Gallup poll.
Jerry began searching for a new career in nonprofits in Kenya and landed at One Acre Fund, an organization that’s working with more than 800,000 smallholder farmers to eliminate hunger and poverty. He’s now managing a team that handles the distribution of seeds, fertilizer, and other important supplies to farmers across Kenya. This year, they dispatched about 2,000 truck deliveries and managed thousands of tons of warehouse inventories.
The skills he learned at Google — including project planning, team management, and processing large sets of information — transferred easily to his new job. Most importantly, Jerry says he now feels value in his work, and proud to be giving back to his community.
For many people interested in making a career change to the development sector, agriculture may not immediately come to mind — but it’s one area with a vast amount of opportunity and the potential to create real, lasting impact.
Allison Kasozi, who earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering, never would have envisioned himself working in agriculture at the beginning of his career. After graduating from university in South Africa, he worked as an engineer for some of the world’s largest companies — first at the oil and gas conglomerate Total E&P, and later at the brewing giant SABMiller.
Like Jerry, he also felt a call to do something more meaningful with his career, and “contribute towards building a better Africa and a better Uganda,” his home country. He concluded that the best way for him to create an impact would be to get involved in agriculture.
“If you’re going to make a real, tangible difference in East Africa, you have to do something about the agricultural sector,” Allison said. “The development challenges in Africa are intricately linked to agriculture. You can’t really talk about Africa moving forward without doing something transformational in the agriculture sector, because that’s what employs the bulk of the population.”
Now, Allison is putting the analytical and problem-solving skills he learned from engineering to use on One Acre Fund’s innovations and regional expansion teams in Uganda, making important decisions about what new products to offer farmers and where the organization should grow.
Sometimes careers can progress in unexpected ways, so it’s important to step back from time to time and evaluate whether your goals align with the path you’re on. Finding purposeful work and better quality of life are especially important to millennials, who value these things even more than financial benefits when evaluating job offers, according to a recent study from Fidelity Investments.
For Caroline Kamau (no relation to Jerry), work-life balance was a big factor in changing careers. Before joining One Acre Fund’s people operations team in Kenya, Caroline worked in human capital consulting for Deloitte. For some projects, she’d spend as much as 70 percent of her time traveling, which was difficult for her young daughter and often left her exhausted. After three years of this relentless schedule, “I stopped finding joy in going to work,” she said.
Caroline began looking for jobs in nonprofits working in the education, health, and agricultural sectors, because she thought those areas would provide the best opportunity to make a difference. What sold her on One Acre Fund was the organizational culture: during the interview process, managers were easy to talk to. The atmosphere felt professional, but also relaxed.
"This is a place where you can make a difference and be happy about being at work,” said Caroline, who still uses the strategic thinking skills she honed while working in consulting — only now, she gets to implement the projects she recommends. “I’m really enjoying what I do.”