Jatin Yadav has worked with as many as 20 innovators in developing markets. He has a not-too-secret weapon that helps guide his successes. He helps them “look into the mirror so they can help themselves.” He has diagnosed and advised on such varied innovation projects as a unique gardening model in South Africa, a hydroponics entrepreneur in Kenya, and a circular economy NGO effort in India, among others.
“Show them the mirror,” said Yadav, meaning to basically lift entrepreneurs out of their day-to-day routine and have them take an objective look at their business. Generally, their customers are struggling farmers.
Yadav is one of a handful of expert consultants and firms brought on to advise innovators in a program funded by several governments, Securing Water for Food (SWFF), now winding down after six years. “Normally, the innovators have small teams,” said Yadav, who has been working as an independent consultant since 2018. “Everything is being done by them, and as a result, they sometimes don’t step back and take a top-down view of their business.
“So, they are always putting out fires. What I have done is show them how to step back and divide their roles among their employees,” he added.
Working with innovators helps keep the ideas flowing, and these are the people who are actually reaching the communities.
The SWFF program was launched with the realization that the world’s population is growing exponentially and will top nine billion people by the year 2050—with only sufficient year-around usable water to meet the needs of a third of its citizens. For each innovation funded by SWFF, securing better crop yields with less water is a primary goal. Every innovator in the SWFF program had to compete in a rigorous process before being selected for funding and technical assistance and had to meet specific goals to stay in the program from year to year.
“A key step with all innovators with whom I have worked is to show them that being fixated on one aspect of the business at a time will not make the product any better, nor will they be able to sell,” said Yadav, from Bangalore, India. “They become out of touch with the bigger picture—hence, help them look in the mirror.”
One project Yadav has been involved with almost from Day One is an innovation in India focused on creating a circular economy where animal and human waste are collected in holding ponds and turned into co-compost. The innovator is an NGO in the Netherlands called WASTE. The goals of an NGO and a for-profit enterprise can be similar, though the emphasis is generally more on sustainability than on scalability.
“My first assignment was to design their business model such that they could be sustainable while being valuable to that region of India,” he said. “A year later, I carried out a sales assignment for their main product, co-compost. I worked on pricing, sales strategy, and marketing ideas.
“Finally, in the third year, the challenge was designing their business model for integration into a farmer producer group, and establishing a sustainable model of the actual Farmer Producer Organization (FPO),” he said.
Yadav’s last assignment was to actually design the FPO and to train the farmers on how to run it in a sustainable and scalable manner while catering to the community side as well as the market side. The development expert’s advice—along with that of his colleagues at his previous company, Sattva—was crucial for an innovation called Reel Gardening in South Africa. Reel Gardening had a unique product consisting of strips of seeds with self-contained nutrients for small gardens.
At the time, Reel Gardening had, in essence, put all its eggs in one basket with the bulk of its revenues coming from a single grant from the company Unilever. “So you can imagine with only one client if suddenly that client goes, the whole company is facing bankruptcy,” said Yadav. “I worked with them to diversify their client base, as well as recommended a marketing strategy.
“Today Reel Gardening is surviving and scaling and raising investment,” he added.
Helping innovators in developing markets is fulfilling Yadav’s career dream. “Farmers form the biggest chunk of people in poverty in any emerging market, and I have always been interested in this work. It’s my calling, and I am passionate about it,” he said. “It never feels like work.
“Working with innovators helps keep the ideas flowing, and these are the people who are actually reaching the communities. These are people who say ‘even if we have to lower our price or give some units away’ we will serve,” Yadav continued.
There is also an added benefit working on the ground with multiple innovators.
“I find that ideas from one country—with some adjustments—can be exported to another project that comes my way,” he said.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.
This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water