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Celebration of Service

Planting seeds for change in Uganda

IBM employee helps lift farmers from poverty

After hearing about the plight of Ugandan farmers at an international women's networking event in 2007, Alison Hall, an IBM marketing professional in the United Kingdom, decided to take action. With the support of two colleagues, she set up the charity Seeds for Development to lift Ugandan farmers out of poverty and support self–sustainability. She is a pioneer of a new model of supporting farmers by giving them risk free credit so they can purchase seeds and other agricultural needs. Seeds for Development works in partnership with a Ugandan seed producer and entrepreneur, Josephine Okot of Victoria Seeds Limited.

The model Hall created supports farmers in one of the poorest regions of the world and it's based on a simple process. Money for seeds is transferred to a farmers’ group bank account. The farmers purchase the seeds from Victoria Seeds. After the harvest, Victoria Seeds buys the seed crop from the farmers and deducts the value of the loan. The loan is recycled to support other farmers.

Hall runs all aspects of the charity from her home including fundraising, marketing, managing the finances, updating the website and keeping in touch with Uganda. She gives talks to groups and is constantly building awareness of the organization. She travelled to Uganda four times, at her own expense, to learn and understand the lives of the people she is helping.

IBM’s On Demand Community solutions, a strategic global online community that combines the skills of over 160,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to innovative IBM technology, resources, training, and support, provided valuable information as Hall’s project took shape. She noted that Becoming a volunteer and Becoming an effective not–for–profit board member were particularly useful assets from the On Demand Community to understand the responsibilities and requirements involved in non–governmental organization work. She shared another asset designed to help Small and Medium-sized Enterprises called the SME Toolkit with her Ugandan partner, Josephine Okot, and she continues to offer her marketing and business support.

What is remarkable about this innovative approach is the impact the charity has had in a relatively short time — less than three years. During the first season, Seeds for Development lent 2,800 kg of seed to 80 farmers, at a cost of £2,500 (about $4000 USD). The result was a 100% repayment of the loan and a crop yield of 34 tons. Living standards have improved and a sustainable model of seed lending has been created.

Seeds for Development has raised more than £20,000 and supported more than 400 farmers and their families — approximately 4,000 people.

Hall is thrilled with the positive, tangible results of the new organization. "Within 12 months of receiving support from Seeds for Development," she explained, "75 farmers and their families, approximately 750 people, have been able to leave the Parabongo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Northern Uganda and return home for the first time in 13 years. The farmers are able to support and feed their families and the children are going to school — also for the first time in 13 years."

Alison Hall's innovative approach to lending seeds and not money to help the farmers develop their livelihoods is unique. Based on this model, Hall is working on a pilot program with Send a Cow Uganda, an NGO that works with vulnerable people in Uganda to overcome poverty and malnutrition in a sustainable manner through the development of animal production, organic farming and local self-sustaining groups. This collaboration enables her to gather information on the ground, and enter it into a database via a web–based tool so that decisions and priorities can be made to ensure resources across the country are used in the most efficient way possible to bring the right aid to the right place at the right time.

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.