Talent In Impact: From being a boss to working Under The Mango Tree with rural farmers

Formulating new strategies and implementing them in the field with rural farmers is the best part of my fellowship with Villgro.

Before I started the Villgro Fellowship and took up my role at Under The Mango Tree (UTMT), I was worried. I have always worked individually with minimum supervision. Till now, I have never had someone stand over me and ask questions about my work – in short, I’ve never worked under a manager or in a typical boss-employee environment. Having always worked as the owner of a family-run business, I was not used to taking orders. What would happen if the work culture of UTMT doesn’t suit me?.

To my pleasant surprise, my experience at UTMT has fared much better than my expectations. Top management doesn’t give you orders but they make you understand your job, will work with you, think with you, and you will never feel like there is a senior or a junior employee because everybody is treated equally. So, now, apart from working individually on different aspects of the value chain, I work with four different teams, including a production team which reports directly to me. It could have been a nasty experience for me had I stuck with my habit of working individually but I changed a little, and then a good work environment did the rest. Today, despite so many different responsibilities, I don’t feel overloaded.

I’ve helped UTMT too

When I first heard of Under The Mango Tree, I thought it was just a another start-up. After spending one month in Chennai as part of the induction and leadership development module, I left for Mumbai to join UTMT. My immediate task was to work with the UTMT society and set up a framework for the procurement of honey. I talked to farmers (trained by UTMT society in Bee-keeping) one-on-one and also addressed gatherings to understand their concerns.

Although I had previous experience of dealing with farmers and people from rural areas, it was still a good learning experience. My previous experience has helped me to connect with farmers and build a rapport with them. Thanks to my familiarity with people from rural India, I was able to convince them to sell their honey to UTMT for long-term benefits which local buyers will not be able to provide.

For-profit or not, the motive is what matters

Before starting my Villgro Fellowship, I was not aware of UTMT’s hybrid (an NGO arm and a for-profit arm) model. An NGO and a for-profit enterprise working under the same roof is a different experience. NGOs and for-profit entities are different when it comes to the model of functioning but what makes them support each other is a similar motive – which, in the case of UTMT, is to increase  the income of small, marginal farmers – whether by increasing yield through cross-pollination (NGO way) or by selling honey and providing different co-operatives a market (for-profit way).

Professionally, I have learnt a lot whether from field visits or handling warehouse operations or vendor management or follow-ups with team. Formulating new strategies and implementing them in the field is the best part of my job at UTMT. I am sure these learnings and experience gained here will definitely help me to excel in life at whatever I choose to pursue next.

Nitin Lahoti is a 2014 Villgro Fellow. He has been running a family-owned business in agricultural commodities with a distribution network in over 70 villages in Rajasthan. He is currently working at Under the Mango Tree, Mumbai.

Applications to the 2014-2015 Villgro Fellowship are now open. Details here: http://www.villgro.org/fellowship


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