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EARTH students host the first YPARD conference in Costa Rica

Blogpost co-authored by Alexa Glo, John Awiel, Forget Shareka, Annet Mukamurenzi and Phenny Omondi. 

According to the 2017 World Food Prize laureate, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, "The future of African youth lies in agriculture.” This can be materialized by making agriculture both profitable and "cool" for young people. Therefore there is a great need to support youth with viable initiatives to transform the sector from being a subsistence to a wealth-creating industry.

Whereas many people think that the capital is the most important aspect when venturing into agribusiness, at EARTH University we learn that business only requires an innovative mind and ability to see opportunity gaps in daily challenges faced in our societies. Being MasterCard scholars have contributed to the development of the above skills through participating in different conferences such as Kigali Summit 2017 where, in partnership with YPARD, scholars were trained on important skills that young entrepreneurs need to develop and jump-start their business ideas. Some of those are: networking, pitching business ideas. From this training, scholars received preparations in regards to forming social ventures and as a result, we participated in the Social Venture Challenge sponsored by the Resolution Project in Johannesburg in July 2017 where one of our projects won the Resolution Project Award by applying techniques such as pitching.

As agents of change, we believe in having many young people benefit from the knowledge we gained from the Young Africa Works summit in Kigali. For this reason, we organized the conference that could bring together experts and young leaders in Costa Rica to share and train on the following topics: networking, pitching business ideas and business startups related to agriculture and agribusiness.

On August 22nd, the very first YPARD conference in Costa Rica was held at EARTH University. This was a particularly important day since the event brought together around 30 young people and got a chance to learn on how to build and present their ideas to investors and business partners. This was done through the sessions led by the invited panelists, pitching competitions and interactions on a platform created after the conference.

The panelists who were invited were specialists who have an immense experience in their profession:

Monica Castro one of the conference panelists, a dot connector, project manager and positive promoter of global-change events led an amazing and powerful networking session. In this networking session, we gained personal branding skills starting from social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook and tweeter) to personal connections and contacts follow-ups through trends such as QR codes. Defining and developing career goals also made the heart of the session.

Networking was followed by an entrepreneurship session facilitated by Dr. Edmundo Castro, director of EARTH’s Carbon Neutrality Unit. This activity unfolded ethical entrepreneurship principles in which business sustainability and environmental economics are related to each other. The topic captured the attention of almost everyone. Not surprisingly that in the first-round group pitching the participants started applying the concept learned from this session.

The conference opened opportunities such as coffee breaks for conversations among the participants that enabled sharing of experiences, coming from different colleges.

The pitching session was led by Phenny Omondi; a platform where the attendants got an opportunity to pitch their ideas before the panelist who evaluated creativity, scalability and social impact. Three winners we selected from the business idea pitching session. These were: Blessing Chukwuaja, senior at EARTH University; David Quirós from the University of Costa Rica and Ken Chow freshman at EARTH University.

Blessing Chukwuaja has created an ecological fun park using recycled materials through her Dirt to Power Initiative; David Quirós is developing an idea that he wants to present to Google on apps for sports and exercise routines; and Ken Chow is working on the project to help the indigenous people back at his home in Nicaragua through his breadfruit project.

Lessons and reflections

Upon completion of the conference, we talked to some of the participants who shared with us what their experience was like and the lessons they learned.

"It was a pleasure meeting and sharing with people from different cultural backgrounds and areas of specialization such as environmental economics and social entrepreneurship. Generally, all the sessions were very interesting and contributed towards our growth as young professionals. I hope we have more opportunities like this to share and network in the future. " Anthony Gamboa, Third  year Agricultural Economics student, University of Costa Rica

"From the networking session, I learnt that I need to work on my personal brand and be more proactive when it comes to starting conversations in new environments. I am hoping to work on presenting my ideas clearly, both in informal and professional settings; since it is indispensable for me as a young professional."  Diana Maroto, Second year Agricultural Economics student, University of Costa Rica

"As future young leaders, it is our responsibility to find solutions to problems and situation with the aim of benefiting people in need. I believe that as youth we can achieve this through collective action and collaboration; using our values as a guideline and a road map. Only until we come together as youth, shall we be able to disrupt the conventional way of how our economy and leadership structure is designed. We have limited resources at our disposal to produce food and energy, therefore we need to think of alternative production methods that do not exploit these resources and that optimize benefits from farming." Kimberling Reyes, Second  year Agricultural Economics student, University of Costa Rica

"I learnt a lot. Specifically, I liked the sessions about networking and pitching of business ideas; the art of capturing an idea in a few words while highlighting essential and important aspects of it." Precious Namutenzi, First  year Agronomy student, EARTH University

"New ideas, new perspectives and most importantly, sharing of knowledge. One thing that really stood out for me was the personal brand. A well-built personal brand is a fundamental component of networking. " David Quiroz, Fifth  year Business Management, University of Costa Rica

Evidently, the diversity of students that attended the conference formed a central pillar in enriching the experience of each one of us. From networking, personal brands, ethical entrepreneurship, leadership skills to social ventures,  each participant found a new element to add to their "toolbox" as future professionals and leaders.

The importance of multidisciplinary focus in leadership, networking and entrepreneurship can never be overestimated. As young leaders, it is our responsibility to integrate skills in an effort to creating a sustainable and prosperous society. Knowledge knows no borders. However, it is the harmonization of skills through networking that enables us to achieve a common goal of a better society. All the participants have very strong background in agriculture: farming business startups, crop production, farming business administration, food processing and commercialization all of which are integrated to achieve a more sustainable, productive and profitable farming business.

From all of us (the organizers): Alexa Glo, John Awiel, Forget Shareka, Annet Mukamurenzi and Phenny Omondi, we say: Thank you! ¡Muchas gracias! Merci beaucoup!

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