In the summer of 2011, Kellogg School of Management (http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/) student Bryan Lee embarked on a summer trip to India after being awarded a Fellowship by Kellogg’s Center for Research in Technology and Innovation – CRTI (http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/research/crti.aspx) . For ten weeks, Bryan worked at I-Farms Venture Advisors, an organization that partners with entrepreneurs to create scalable and socially responsible businesses in the food and agriculture space. The CRTI Fellowship served as a catalyst for Bryan’s post MBA goals and desire to work in international development. Today, Bryan is co-founder of Mumbai-based Krishi Star (http://krishistar.com), an enterprise that aims to alleviate poverty for Indian farmers by giving them ownership in the food chain and access to broader markets. We caught up with Bryan recently who spoke about his Fellowship experience, social enterprise and hopes for Krishi Star.
Q. What prompted you to apply to the CRTI Fellowship in 2011?
A. Bryan Lee: I really could not have designed a better internship opportunity for myself than what the CRTI Fellowship offered me – Social Entrepreneurship + International Development + myriad of opportunities the program offered to meet NGOs/Social Enterprises during the course of the fellowship + getting to travel with a batch of fellow classmates. I could go on and on. It was exactly what I had been looking for, but due to the nature of the social enterprise space (read: very few paid opportunities) I had been having a lot of trouble finding. In fact, you could even judge how perfect it was by the sheer number of my friends/classmates that forwarded the fellowship announcement over to me the day it was released. My inbox was full!
Q. What did you take away for the ten weeks spent in India in 2011?
A. Bryan Lee: I left India with exactly what I had gone there for – inspiration. I told myself before I went on the internship that I wanted to touch all of the spaces I was interested in (international development, impact investing, social enterprise) and come back knowing what I wanted to do post-graduation. That is exactly what happened. I came back to Kellogg the next year committed to moving out to India and starting up what is now Krishi Star.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish at/with Krishi Star?
A. Bryan: We want to build an enterprise that can end poverty at scale in India. There are almost 200 million farmers living in poverty here, which means there is a lot of scope for impact!
Q. Can you explain how Krishi Star is helping to end poverty for Indian farmers?
A. Bryan: We aim to lift small farmers out of poverty by providing them opportunities to become owners of a larger part of the food value chain. Finance and marketing are often key roadblocks to this for these farmers. However, what seems like a disadvantage can actually be turned into an advantage when you consider the possibilities that exist when you bring together large numbers of small farmers. We set up investments for farmers to become owners of food processing units and then market their products through a brand that represents them. By repeating this process through the injection of commercial capital, our vision is to create a system of farmer-owned processing units which will greatly increase and stabilize rural incomes.
Q. Does this play into your vision for bringing about social change?
A. Bryan: My experiences with CRTI and my subsequent work with Kellogg Corps in Ecuador led me to believe that one of the key starting points to ending poverty at scale in emerging/developing economies is to address rural poverty. I remember thinking back to my Microeconomics classes while I was in India and realizing that if you were to take all of the guidelines we were being taught about what is a favorable economic position to be in, small farmers were pretty much at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Small, inefficient producers, commodity markets, volatile production environment, no market power, the list goes on and on. We want to transform the economic conditions for these farmers.