BFP: What do you do?
SRN: Malô is a Malian social enterprise committed to fighting farmer poverty and reducing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. We do this by 1) purchasing unprocessed rice from smallholder farmers at fair prices, 2) building modern processing facilities featuring technology that mills the rice efficiently and adds essential vitamins and minerals, and 3) selling high quality, branded fortified rice to consumers at affordable prices.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
SRN: Although I am from Mali, I spent most of my life in Ethiopia and the United States so being back in my country of origin, as a social entrepreneur surrounded by family is wonderful. Travelling and meeting amazing folks across the world, and working on such a challenging but exciting venture makes if even better.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
SRN: The biggest challenge to date was the politico-security crisis Mali went through since January 2012. The uncertainty and instability affected our ability to fundraise effectively, bring in equipment from abroad, and get the necessary government documents and permits to launch activities.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What advice, would you give to others?
SRN: On August 11, Mali elected a new president and marked an important step in the country’s recovery from the crisis so I am really looking forward to the rest of the year and 2014. While the crisis disrupted our initial model, plans and timeline, we remained optimistic but realistic. We adapted to the rapidly changing environment and kept moving forward. For example, we decided to put construction of our first facility on hold in 2012 but still managed to become the first organization in Africa to market locally grown, fortified rice by tweaking our model slightly. So my advice is to be keenly aware of the political and economic context and to think about and develop alternative plans and strategies in case something beyond your control disrupts Plan A.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
SRN: They can start by reaching out to me as well as others working on solutions. I am firm believer in building on the work of others and aligning interests. In the information era that we live in, it costs basically nothing to reach out to folks you want to learn from or to find the information necessary to build the knowledge base that is required to begin the process of starting a social enterprise such as Malô.
BFP: Finally; what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
SRN: I hope to make friends and learn about cool, provocative, ideas that effectively fight poverty.
Thank you to Salif Romano Niang for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.