In this second of two installments on our interview with board member Suvasini Ramaswamy, we turn from her background to focus on her thoughts on Grow Further.
As we reported in the last issue, Ramaswamy was a project leader with Boston Consulting Group and now works at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A scientist by training, she holds an M.S. from the University of Delhi and a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science and worked in medical research before shifting to consulting.
Below, Ramaswamy recalls for us how she first became involved in our mission, what she thinks makes Grow Further’s model different, what she’s looking for during this transition period, and what the future holds for us and research and development into smallholder farm innovation.
Suvasini Ramaswamy, continued
Q: After Peter (Grow Further’s founder and president) reached out to you in 2019, what was your initial impression of Grow Further’s business plan?
A: A platform whereby non-specialists could contribute to and engage with projects in agricultural innovation was interesting. I also liked the focus on trying to test, validate, and scale traditional agricultural practices.
Q: How would you describe Grow Further to someone just learning about us?
A: For those who don’t know, Grow further connects individual donors interested in making a difference with early-stage ideas in scalable agricultural innovations that come from developing countries. I think it’s a very interesting model in a space where there is little existing opportunity for public engagement and/or social discussion.
Agricultural innovation, despite its essential role in the survival of any society, has often been relegated to a public sector pure plan with engagement and innovation from government-funded agencies or select private conglomerates. With the rise of ag-tech, we are seeing a little more venture capital flowing into the ag-tech world, but it is a small trickle given the magnitude of this industry and its potential for impact.
Q: What do you think of Grow Further’s operating model?
A: Research, development, and innovation in the agricultural sector have otherwise remained isolated from mass engagement outside of the farming community.
I think, with its model, Grow Further is trying to change that and is trying to democratize funding for innovation in agriculture. Conceptually, it’s a symbiotically beneficial model—greater capital flow into agricultural innovation, greater awareness, and grassroots engagement from private citizens on issues of farming and agricultural productivity, all working to help us ensure food security in an environmentally sustainable way.
Q: When did you join Grow Further’s Board of Directors?
A: In 2019, when [Peter] asked me to join the Board, I had to refuse as I was swamped with my existing personal and professional commitments. That said, I stayed in touch with Peter and [management consultant] Donald [Summers], and quarterly exchanges with them kept me abreast of changes at Grow Further. I liked learning about the organizational changes, and it was very hopeful to see the organizational growth.
Then in December 2021, as I had a little more predictability and control, I joined the Board. It’s been a little over a year now and this has been a very interesting and rewarding experience for me.
Q: What is your hope for Grow Further’s future?
A: As I mentioned earlier, the Grow Further model drew me to it initially and its conceptual appeal has only grown stronger with time. However, I will also admit that given its unique model, we haven’t seen it gain traction and scale just yet.
Over the past two years, Peter and the team at Grow Further have made steady progress in building their operational muscle despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Today, the team is gearing up to make their first few investments in the next few months. At the same time, they are actively spreading awareness about agricultural innovation and research and trying to broaden their community of private investors and donors. I see Grow Further to be poised at the cusp of a moment of transition.
Q: What are some things you would like to see happen for Grow Further in the next few months or years?
A: I think these early investments can help serve as exemplars for this “Grow Further” thesis—that small, individually driven investments can meaningfully inform innovation in the agricultural space. It also creates a platform for private individuals to engage in a community of practice, learn from the experts, and broaden their understanding of agriculture in developing countries. Grow Further aims to leverage small capital from developed nations to catalyze agricultural innovation in developing countries.
I am hopeful that by their early success, these grants will show that individual citizens can indeed move the needle on challenging issues like food security in the world. I also hope that in the next few months, Grow Further will be able to re-invigorate its efforts to find the right fit in this broad and somewhat antiquated ecosystem.
— Grow Further
Photo: Grow Further Board Member Suvasini Ramaswamy.