Nat Robinson was a Fellow with El Pomar Foundation in 2003-2005. A native of Evergreen, Colorado and graduate of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Nat received an MBA from Vanderbilt University in 2007. While at Vanderbilt, he also helped found and endow the $250,000 Project Pyramid initiative, designed to alleviate poverty by connecting MBAs with social entrepreneurs in the poorest countries of the world. Nat has studied and traveled in 33 countries across 6 continents. He currently resides in Kenya, where he is CEO of the company Juhudii Kilimo. Nat generously agreed to share some of his post-Fellowship experience for this article.
Q: How would you connect your experience with the Fellowship to your career path?
A: El Pomar showed me there was a real need to better engage the business community in philanthropy and community development. A long time ago, El Pomar was not as regionally focused as it is today and I worked on a project with Cathy Robbins to set up regional advisory councils made up of local leaders all over Colorado. This experience showed me how powerful it can be to get leaders from different professional backgrounds together and unite them around a common social goal. I have been trying to do the same thing ever since I left and have combined business with philanthropy at Juhudi Kilimo.
Q: Could you describe what you do with Juhudi Kilimo in Kenya?
A: Juhudi Kilimo is a for-profit Kenyan social enterprise and certified B-Corporation which provides rural, poor, smallholder (a term which refers to their limited resources compared to other farmers in the sector) farmers with innovative asset financing to purchase productive assets such as dairy cows, poultry and irrigation equipment. These assets generate income for the farmers which help them address food insecurity and poverty. I am the CEO of this $10 million company and manage a staff of 114 across 8 offices all over the country, which provide thousands of rural farmers with loans. I drive the general strategy and mange an executive leadership team from finance, HR, IT, Marketing and operations.
Q: How did you become involved with Juhudi Kilimo?
A: I was one of the founding members of the company in 2008 when I started working with a pilot agriculture finance program under the K-Rep Development Agency in Nairobi. Over the last five years, I have helped the pilot become a fully operational and profitable company by raising about $18 million and implementing business-focused operations. The company currently works with over 30,000 rural Kenyan farmers. It was a long hard journey and I worked my way up from a volunteer to General Manager to CFO and then finally to CEO in 2011. Juhudi Kilimo has been recognized at the World Economic Forum for the Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year, with the B-Corporation "Best for the World" awards and most recently the CIO Magazine's CIO 100 list, which recognizes companies all over the world for how they use technology to deliver business value.
Q: What brought you to Kenya?
A: I started as an MBA Enterprise Corps volunteer on an eight month assignment in Kenya helping an impact investment fund called the Grassroots Business Fund find investments in the country. At the time I was working as a consultant from Accenture in Washington, DC and took a leave of absence to work in Kenya and planned to return after the project. I loved working and living in Kenya and never went back.
Q: What's on your radar for 2014?
A: I am looking to take Juhudi Kilimo beyond 50,000 clients this year so that we move from a small financial institution to one of the larger companies providing financial services to farmers in Kenya.
Q: Is there any advice that you would share with young professionals?
A: Regardless of your career I think it is quite helpful to have some business experience before going for a master's degree. I would also always advise anyone just out of college not to be afraid to take lots of risks with their careers. If you do not know what you want then try our as many careers as possible before selecting the one you are most passionate about. There is plenty of time. When you finally find a job that does not feel like "work" everyday then you have won.