I help lead NEI, a social enterprise pioneering the sustainable production of natural flavours in Tanzania, starting with vanilla, cacao and orange.
What is the best part about your job/project?
In my role, I get to build an amazing team and directly impact the lives of over 1000 smallholder farmers. And the best part about our project is that it is making a real and tangible difference to these farmers, and to our team. NEI's team is truly a mish mash of diamonds in the rough. I am very proud of them, and hope to continue coaching and mentoring each one in the years to come.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Facing a room of 50 disenchanted farmer champions, demanding why they should believe in NEI after they had been abandoned by vanilla buyers for nearly a decade before we arrived. Since then, we have injected tremendous energy and generated such momentum to completely turn around the vanilla cultivation industry here.
How have you overcome these challenges? / What has been the secret of your success?
Invest in people first and foremost, and conversely, remove poor team players as quickly as humanely possible. I cannot stress this enough. The rest will sound cliche: never give up, never surrender. Stay true and honest to your mission and the rest will follow.
If someone wants to do what you do – where do they start?
I have one of the most convoluted professional career paths that I know of. I started as a computer graphics R&D engineer, followed by a management consulting career in health systems and health technology, then moving on to lease financing for micro and small enterprises, and now natural and sustainable food flavours. I set myself 3-5 year objectives that followed my passion and interests at the time. My life goal is to positively impact as many people as I can, with as best a team as I can muster. And NEI has a real chance at turning around the lives of thousands.
Finally, What do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
Some people wish you luck, others talk about serendipity. I think of it as always taking the opportunity to network and to tell your own (or another's) story. I hope the BFP community can join NEI on its mission, and in particular, to help get us sales leads so we can further increase the benefit to our farmers.
Thank you to Juan Guardado for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.