Interview with Kenny Ewan, WeFarm’s Founder and CEO
The Escape 100 announcement saw companies from a huge array of different sectors celebrated as some of the ‘Best Companies to Escape to’ in the UK and abroad! The campaign found the year’s most forward-thinking, exciting and socially conscious companies.
One of these, WeFarm, happens to be the world’s largest agricultural knowledge-sharing network, with over 1.8 million farmers connected to date. We sat down with Kenny Ewan, WeFarm’s Founder and CEO, to learn more about what drives them.
Congratulations on being selected as an Escape 100 company! In one sentence, what does Wefarm do?
“Wefarm is the world’s biggest peer-to-peer knowledge network and marketplace for small-scale farmers, and works even where they don’t have access to the internet.”
What inspired you to set-up Wefarm?
“Wefarm was the result of many people’s hard work and experiences, but for me as founder and CEO the driving force was to build a more community driven approach to information sharing. I lived and worked for 7 years in South America, mostly building water systems in indigeounous communities, and had seen a lot of international development projects take a very paternalistic approach to their work, even if well intentioned.
With Wefarm we wanted to prove that the community of millions of small-scale farmers globally had very useful knowledge, experiences and innovation to share, even when they are isolated and don’t have access to the internet.”
Have your ambitions changed since you founded the company? Are you still trying to solve the same problem?
“I think our vision has stayed incredibly close to how we originally envisaged it. While our platform has grown incredibly, with more than 1.8 million farmers now using it, and the technology has become much more sophisticated, the core information network we built is still solving the same problem in the same way.
I would say, however, that our ambitions for what can be achieved with Wefarm have grown as we’ve become more successful. Our goal is to take Wefarm to 100 million farmers, and our thesis is that if we can get those 100 million small-scale farmers working together, on one platform, we can fundamentally change the global supply chain and give farmers a much more powerful voice.”
What’s the biggest challenge about working in the AgTech sector?
“Wefarm is building a technology platform driven by machine-learning that is mostly used, at this stage, by farmers who don’t have access to the internet. Everyday, Wefarm deals with tens of thousands of questions and answers, and marketplace trades, between farmers… and most of them over SMS.
Building machine learning that can help farmers receive useful content and products, using only SMS, and in languages that almost no one else is building NLP in, is a massive but very rewarding challenge!”
What does being a ‘progressive company’ mean to you?
“I think it starts with building a company that invests in their employees, both their professional and personal interests: empowering them to steer their career and pursue their passions.
Creating a work environment where you are assuming best intent – giving the people with whom you work the tools they need to do their job, and allowing them to do it in the way that works best for them. By doing this, and having a team of diverse individuals, that all feel included, we can come up with ideas, and build things that few other groups can.
A progressive company embraces its employees for their minds, not their warm seats.”
Wefarm attained the highest score possible in the Innovation category – an amazing achievement! What makes Wefarm stand out so much?
“While the problem of lack of access to information for small-scale farmers has been widely recognised for decades, almost everyone had tried to solve the problem top-down. Rural small-scale farmers in developing countries had only been viewed as passive receivers of information and training.
Wefarm’s biggest innovation has been to see these farmers as a source of knowledge, experience, ideas and innovation and to build a platform that uses cutting edge tech to let them share it, even through SMS.”
What are Wefarm’s ambitions for 2020?
“We’re currently in the final process of closing our Series A funding drive (look out for an announcement on that soon!), and we’ll use that as a springboard to take Wefarm to the next level.
In January of this year we launched our first marketplace for farmers, and we are really excited about the amazing growth it’s experiencing and how our farmers are responding to the service. We’ll also be looking at expanding to new markets, and into new commercial services for our users in 2020.”
Tell us one little-known fact about Wefarm
“When we were choosing a name for the company, we asked some farmers in Peru and some in Kenya to vote for their favourite from a list of possible names. Both groups, independently, chose Wefarm!”