Yale Alumnus Sets Sights on Feeding Africa’s Hungry

Youn’s brainchild, the One-Acre Fund has already brought new farming techniques to more than 8,000 families in Kenya and Rwanda.

Yale’s undergraduate program prepares students who go on to make incredible contributions to the world. Andrew Youn ’00 is no exception. Today, he is the founder and CEO of the One-Acre Fund, a non-profit organization with a goal to alleviate chronic hunger in Africa by helping farmers learn to increase their crop yield and grow their way out of poverty.

“People often don’t realize that 80 percent of the world’s hungry are farmers,” Youn explains. “They are very capable of growing their own food.”

Many African farmers, however, are using equipment and techniques that are long outdated, and, as a result, can only grow enough food to last for eight months. This leaves a period of time, referred to as the “hungry season,” when families subsist on little more than flour and water. “Hunger is the number one contributor to childhood death in Africa,” Youn says. “We work with populations in which 15 percent of children die before reaching adulthood and of the ones who survive, many are physically stunted from a lifetime of severe hunger.”

The One Acre Fund’s philosophy quickly calls to mind the proverb about teaching a man to fish. Youn and his team educate farmers about modern techniques and provide planting material and fertilizer. These services have a huge impact on yield, increasing the harvest by as much as 400 percent. Once the harvest is in, the Fund acts as a bulk seller, allowing farmers to achieve higher profits than if they took the produce to market on their own. “The services we provide help our families change their own lives and bring a permanent end to their hunger,” Youn says.

The Fund is now serving more than 8,000 Kenyan and Rwandan families, which include more than 16,000 children. These numbers predict a promising future for a non-profit still in its infancy—Youn launched the One Acre Fund in January 2006 with support from the Yale Entrepreneurial Society’s Y50K annual business plan competition—but his goal is to help millions. The seeds of this ambitious plan were planted during his time at Yale.

Youn earned his B.A. from Yale College, majoring in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, a rigorous interdisciplinary program. He participated in the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, and as an undergraduate he also held a summer position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Distinguished accomplishments for any Yale student, these experiences turned out to be the ideal building blocks to one day help Africa’s hungry.

Below, Youn shares more about his time at Yale and how it helped shape his plans for the future.

Why did you decide to come to Yale?

Like many others, I loved having the resources of a major university combined with the small college setting I enjoyed in Calhoun.

During your time at Yale, you received support from the John M. Regan, Jr. Scholarship. What impact did this funding have on your education?

I was fortunate to come to Yale almost entirely on financial aid; without that aid, it would have been impossible for me to attend.

What Yale experiences cultivated your interest in helping to alleviate hunger?

Yale was a wonderful place for me to explore my interest in alleviating hunger. I had work-study posts for three different non-profits in hunger, advocacy, and housing that helped form my future career.

In 2006, you won Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Y50K annual business plan competition in the social entrepreneurship category. With that you received $10,000 and support to help put your ideas into practice. How did this award help you launch the One Acre Fund?

The funds were amazing, but even more, having the recognition from the competition has helped my organization raise millions more in subsequent years.

The One Acre Fund is still a young organization, but you have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. How will you measure success going forward?

Our target is to serve 25,000 farm families in two more years (five years from original inception). From there, we will continue to grow very ambitiously.

Yale is often referred to as a laboratory for leadership, preparing students with plans to make an impact on the world after they graduate. What advice would you give to these students?

We are constantly recruiting Yalies and have three working for us in Africa at the moment. We particularly favor students that have had a leadership post—for example led a sports team, organized a conference, or best of all, done leadership work in a developing nation.

People can learn more about our work or look into our open job postings at:

(April 8, 2009)

April 8, 2009