Farming For Metrics

I promised a post on the metrics of the One Acre Fund, and I always make good.

Brief background: The One Acre Fund provides a holistic approach to the hunger-crisis in East Africa. They provide farmers with materials and tools to increase their farm-yield. The inputs are provided on credit in a similar fashion to micro-lending. Farmers also receive education and training from field officers. Finally, local field officers prepare farmers to access commercial markets.

After reading through the information available on their website, I found that the organization is really, really proud of their measurements: “One Acre Fund strongly believes in measuring our exact impact per client served. Although scalability is a key focus for us – ‘reach a lot of people’ – equally important is the depth of our impact per client. We believe that all non-profit organizations should be measuring this carefully.” When I read this, I was very excited to find out exactly how the Fund measured its “impact per client served.” I was also thrilled when I read the first pages of their two most recent biannual Performance Reports, which briefly describe how clients served by the Fund have been impacted by the organization’s work.

However, I found that the only metric the Fund considered to report the quality of its “impact” was the growth of farm incomes. The Fund makes a definitive distinction between its scalability and its impact, but I was disappointed to see how it defined and measured impact. I want to know more about how its client Christine’s life improved now that she is able to own her own land, and not simply farm her husband’s land. What does that mean for Christine and how has it impacted her life?

There is already a healthy debate going on in many different circles about how to define social impact. Do we need to define it before we can measure it? If I work backgrounds from the One Acre Fund’s Performance Report, social impact would be defined as how much wealth its clients acquired after working with the organization.

I want to know so much more about the social impact of the One Acre Fund. Their measurements of scale (people served and wealth acquired) and their brief discussions in the Performance Reports show that the One Acre Fun is doing incredible work. In fact, I’m about to donate to their cause right now. But even though I want to support their programs, I have to disagree with how they are measuring their impact. I want to see even more about how the Fund is affecting the people it serves – not just in acres and dollars, but in long-term impact on quality of life and development.

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