Yellow Seed: The Collaborative Project

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Yellow Seed: The Collaborative Project

San Francisco, PeruSan Francisco, United States
Year Founded:
2013
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Start-Up
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our online, mobile-enhanced tool connects small-scale farmers directly to buyers and philanthropic donors. Our mission is to alleviate global poverty and environmental degradation by providing farmers direct access to markets as well as a feedback mechanism for farmers to communicate with donors.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if farmers could send feedback directly to donors in real-time and solicit funding requests as challenges arise?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The 2.6 billion small-scale farmers globally account for 40% of the population and 86% of the rural poor. Millions of philanthropic dollars are spent on agricultural initiatives that aim to upgrade these farmers into modern supply chains. However, the majority of these farmers continue to live in a cycle of poverty and hunger. Why is this? We currently lack sufficient feedback tools to hear farmers voices on how funds could be better allocated.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Yellow Seed is building an online, mobile-enhanced tool where 1) Farmers can receive market information and purchase offers for their products, as well as send donors feedback on how donations can have the greatest impact, 2) Buyers can engage directly with small-scale farmers who are often invisible in current market databases, and 3) Philanthropic Donors can access farmer feedback and close the loop by allocating resources more effectively. The focus of this grant is the Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM). The DFM will be co-designed with farmers, donors and supporting organizations. Where there is voice, there is choice.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Rosa is an award-winning native cacao farmer in Peru struggling to feed her family. Due to the small production capacity and the location of her farm, transportation costs are too high to reach commercial buyers, forcing her to sell her cacao under-value at the farm gate. A buyer discovers Rosa’s farm on the Yellow Seed tool and offers a fair price for Rosa’s prized cacao beans, so long as certain quality standards are met. Meeting conditions requires purchasing quality control equipment, which can be shared within the cooperative. Using Yellow Seed’s DFM, Rosa makes donors aware of the equipment her cooperative needs to reach commercial markets. Donors can then comment, fill the request or ask for more information from Rosa.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Yellow Seed has interviewed 20 farms representing 600 farmers in Peru in order to understand the existing market system, including opportunities and constraints to coordinated distribution networks, identifying conditions for successful trade partnerships, and outlining the basic elements of a Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM). Yellow Seed took initial steps to aid APROCCI, a Peruvian cooperative, to acquire $20,000 for a central processing facility, aimed to serve as a community model. As we move forward, continued similar engagement with farmers, buyers and donors will be used in the development of Yellow Seed’s online prototype, including the DFM.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The project will use lessons learned from our prototype in order to scale up to include more farmers, other products (coffee, herbs and other agricultural products) and other regions (within South America and eventually globally). Studies show that growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. Increasing market participation of small-scale farmers, thereby addresses poverty alleviation, increases food access, and reduces rates of environmental degradation caused by modern agricultural methods.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

With foundation seed funding already secured, we are seeking aligned grant funds for proof of concept. While establishing, testing and refining the prototype, revenue streams from innovative cacao products are being developed.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Several mobile-based enterprises are seeking feedback from funding recipients via SMS text (notably Text to Change, Geopoll and VOTO, another “Closing the Loop” applicant). Our initial research revealed that disadvantaged populations need incentive and trust to provide useful feedback to donors. By linking donor feedback to farmers’ success, our innovation turns obstacles into catalysts by understanding needs and goals, exponentially increasing small-scale farmer’s access to markets and recognizing donors as key partners in achieving sustainable development.
Team

Founding Story

While learning a new skill, I noticed I became steadily reliant on my mentor’s recommendations for how to solve a problem, as challenges arose. My immediate community had little knowledge on the subject, so I searched for a way to access additional information and validate my own assumptions. I realized small-scale farmers experience a similar need. They seek direct feedback from buyers to ensure standards are met and when challenges arise, they need a way to quickly and efficiently solicit support from a wider network. Supporters and donors could offer ideas or resources uniquely tailored to the situation. Co-generation of solutions promotes a shared sense of responsibility, farmer agency and collaborative learning.

Team

Yellow Seed staff is comprised of Sustainable MBA and Master’s in Natural Resource Management graduates, professionals who have been working in conservation and humanitarian initiatives in South America for the past six years. Our field team includes staff from Peruvian NGO’s, agronomists, quality assurance specialists, community leaders and volunteers. All team members are skilled and motivated to create the change they want to see in the world.
About You
Organization:
Yellow Seed: The Collaborative Project
About You
First Name

Amanda

Last Name

Thomas

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Yellow Seed: The Collaborative Project

Organization Country

, CA, San Francisco

Country where this project is creating social impact

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Impact
Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

The project will use lessons learned from our prototype in order to scale up to include more farmers, other products (coffee, herbs and other agricultural products) and other regions (within South America and eventually globally).

Studies show that growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. Increasing market participation of small-scale farmers, thereby addresses poverty alleviation, increases food access, and reduces rates of environmental degradation caused by modern agricultural methods.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Translation and language compatibility for our online tool is a potential impediment, however, we are working on techniques to augment words with visuals. Through our interviews we are also discovering methods of using SMS technology effectively in a local context. Also, as one of the missions of our project is to support sustainable farming initiatives our next challenge will be to increase the education and awareness around the advantages of supporting small-scale farmers and buying directly from the source.

Sustainability
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

In Peru, our partners include NGO’s, most prominently Caritas, supporting local Peruvian farmers. Our work with them has included the acquisition of a processing center for a farmer cooperative and Human Centered Design (HCD) research. Other partners include The Bainbridge Graduate Institute, developing business solutions for the world’s most pressing challenges, and Cropster, providing quality management software helping cacao professionals.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Help funders, governments, and other organizations to listen to and act on feedback.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

Yellow Seed delivers feedback to donors online in real-time. Moreover, the Yellow Seed design is interactive, responsive and accessible for all user groups. By tracking current states as well as goals and outcomes, communication between stakeholders is transparent. Furthermore, Yellow Seed creates track records and markers of success and failure and thus curates relationships based on trust, delivering efficient, lasting results.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English, Spanish.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

Yellow Seed’s Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM) provides direct access to the voices of small-scale farmers to ensure that donor funding for global agricultural initiatives is allocated effectively and generates the desired impact.

The Situation:
Currently, approximately $11 billion USD is spent yearly on global agricultural initiatives or 6% of all international aid (OECD, 2013). This funding is focused particularly on small-scale farmers, because studies show that small-scale farmers account for 86% of the global rural poor and growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. (Bage, 2008)

The problem is that decisions on how to allocate this funding are generally made with a top-down approach and sometimes don’t reflect the real needs of the farmers. This is because farmers are often widely dispersed and it is difficult as well as time-consuming to hear directly from farmers. As as result, funding initiatives often fall short when it comes to fully addressing the issues facing farmers.

For example, today’s funding initiatives are generally focused on improving crop yields by providing access to drought and disease resistant seeds, information on productive farming techniques and weather forecasts via SMS text. The majority of farmers however, still face huge barriers when it comes to marketing and transporting their products to market and negotiating fair trade conditions, including price, for the sale of their products. As a result, many farmers end up selling their products undervalue at the farm gate or in the local markets.

The Solution:
The purpose of Yellow Seed’s Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM) is to hear directly from the voices of farmers to understand how donor funding can be best allocated. Yellow Seed will already be working closely with farmers in association with Yellow Seed’s online platform enabling trade between small-scale farmers and buyers. Yellow Seed synthesizes information collected from farmers as well as market preferences from buyers in order to build farm profiles and connect with farmers regarding new trading opportunities and buyer feedback. Donors have the option to request and/or pay for additional information or assessments to be facilitated by YS. Yellow Seed facilitators will be able to speak with farmers via phone, farm visits, SMS text and community meetings to hear what resources farmers need and analyze the effectiveness of past funding.

The information will be made available to donors through graphs, visuals and reports on our website. Donors have the option to work in conjunction with Yellow Seed and contribute directly to specific farms or farming communities, or to use the information we provide to enhance their own funding programs. Reports and visuals are updated in real-time so that donors can track their funding, as well as recognize new challenges and opportunities.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Improve quality of programs

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

SMS, Paper, Phone or voice, Website, Physical gathering.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

Yellow Seed will be collecting feedback from farmers on an individual level as well as a community level. These two feedback modes will use different methods.

Individual: Interviews, both in person and over the phone, will be used to fill out ‘farmer profiles’ for our online website. These will include farmer’s personal stories, product profiles, current production status, processing methods, and distribution challenges as well as donor feedback. The donor feedback will cover the effectiveness of past funding, current challenges and any lack of resources that they have to fulfill market demands (for example, farming supplies or better local roads for distribution), as well as assets that could be enhanced. This feedback will be posted online on the farmer profile page where donors have the option of contributing directly to that farmer. Similar challenges are tagged and grouped on the website so that both donors and farmer networks can see how effective resources were utilized, informing their future funding.

Community: As some donors prefer to contribute at a community rather than individual level, Yellow Seed will also use participatory budgeting so that farmers can decide as a group how donor funds intended for the community should be allocated. This process will use community consultation to ask farmers for ideas on how the funding could be most impactful as well as tap into their community knowledge. The top ideas will then be anonymously voted on by farmers using SMS text and this information will be published on our website through graphs and visuals. In Peru, although internet is still not easily accessible, mobile penetration rates are 118% and cell reception is widespread.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?

Confirmation of use of feedback

If other, please specify
How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Other

If other, please specify

Access to new markets, higher wages, resources and support networks.

What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

Other

If other, please specify

Donor’s are under increasing pressure to provide transparency and accountability, and have an inherent desire to make an impact.

How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?

Other

If other, please specify

Farmers will benefit by receiving resources to support their farms and their communities.

How is feedback published/transparent?

On a website

If other, please specify
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

MindMixer is a "virtual town hall" that is designed to help organizations communicate more effectively with their communities. An organization is able to post a challenge let the community help find solutions. Then MindMixer gathers valuable feedback by utilizing polls and surveys to gauge community sentiment. The organization is then able to gain valuable insights and make policies or programs that have community support. For example in Park City, Utah, one resident’s idea to implement a community composting program became a reality when Park City’s Environmental Sustainability Manager approved the concept, which is similar to an ordinance passed by the city of San Francisco. Mindmixer is working with 400 different communities across the US and has engaged 800,000 participants thus far. www.mindmixer.com

Akvo FLOW is a software tool that collects, manages, analyses and displays geographically referenced monitoring and evaluation data using mobile phones. It is a tool built specially for international development teams to monitor and evaluate initiatives while working in diverse locations that are often remote or lacking reliable basic infrastructure. It is designed for people who want to understand what is happening now, so they can make informed decisions that lead to secure, sustainable development aid investments. Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) is using Akvo FLOW to assess the functionality of 1,500 wells in West Africa and to develop long-term sustainability guidelines for current and future projects. People living in areas affected by water management are motivated and rewarded for reporting any problems or giving feedback regarding their dedicated water point through the TTC SMS-service. When problems are reported to the TTC system, different organisations are notified in real-time and interventions can be planned or executed immediately. www.akvo.org

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

Yellow Seed’s biggest challenge will be in creating awareness of our Donor Feedback Mechanism and building donor trust in the process. We will be working closely with a small set of donors to create the tool, after which, we will be looking for ways to get the word out to a larger set of donor organizations.

Ultimately we would like to open up Yellow Seed’s ‘donor feedback directed’ funding model to other individuals and companies interested in supporting the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and subsequently environmentally sustainable farming methods and the move away from highly globalized, mass processed food. This is the mission of Yellow Seed’s online tool which connects small-scale farmers directly to buyers, enabling farmers to access a fair price for their products. By incorporating more donors into the model, more farmers will receive the resources they need and the project can scale faster. The long-term vision is to expand into different countries and agricultural products, positively impacting as many small-scale farmers as possible.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

An “expert paradigm” where the perspectives on “non-experts” is not valued

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

Yes, I am already on it

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

Yes, I am not yet on it, but I can see myself using it as a resource in the future. Learning from similar tools to improve effectiveness and use of Yellow Seed’s DFM as well as sharing or publishing our beta version on the site to solicit feedback from the community.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

Multi-user capacity and log-in, in order to access forum and post individual responses via a team submission.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

Studies show that improved trade relationships and trust result in better coordination, efficiency and effectiveness in the market system. Yellow Seed believes that once farmers see action happening as a result of their feedback, such as improved wages, access to new markets and access to funding which helps them acquire needed tools and resources to meet buyer needs, farmers will feel empowered and understand the true purpose of the information they are providing.