A Life Changing Journey: From Training to Practice

Robine Okello is an alumnus of Gulu University, Uganda with academic training in MSc. Agri-Enterprises Development and Bachelor of Business Administration and Management. Robine is advancing his career along the agricultural and applied economics and has obtained several certifications in Agriculture related courses and he is a recipient of the most outstanding MasterCard Foundation Scholarship through the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM).

Robine is the Founder/ CEO of a social enterprise-FAMILY STORE Produce Enterprises which is connecting small-scale holder grains farmers to the market in Northern Uganda. He is also volunteering with African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in capacity of Industrial Policy and Agro-Value Chain Analyst at the Division of Industry, Innovation and Mining of Trade and Industry Department.

However, to trace his journey with RUFORUM, Robine first got to hear about RUFORUM from his colleagues from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment when they were discussing about the impacts from CARP+ project in the communities around Gulu University in 2016. By then, the students were doing their internship which involved working with farmer groups on improving agronomic practices and enhancing their Agri-entrepreneurship skills. He got interested in participating into these community engagement opportunities which prompted him to approach Mr. Samuel Elolu whom he knew for good years and asked him how he could get involved. His response was quite positive and after two weeks, he called Robine to find out if he was willing to participate in the field survey which involved interviewing farmers around Gulu University. Robine did not hesitate to participate in the survey. Robine got interested in how questions were structured and how these questions should be asked and that was how he started gaining knowledge on agriculture related topics.

Nevertheless, keen to join RUFORUM network, in 2016 Robine subscribed to receive weekly newsletters. This is how he got the RUFORUM issued calls for competition for RUFORUM African Young Entrepreneurs (RUYAE). Being an enthusiastic young man who grew up with the mindset to compete, Robine took a step to apply for this opportunity in collaborations with other five colleagues from the Faculty of Business and Development Studies at Gulu University. It was not surprising that his business idea with the title: “Horti-Grid Africa” whose mission was to produce, process and market fruits targeting the rapidly expanding markets in Northern Uganda was among the top 138 African young entrepreneurs who reached the fourth round of selection from 756 applicants and top 19 from Uganda. Robine ultimately developed love for agricultural practices and he made a bold choice to change his career from an accountant to an agribusiness economist. Surprisingly, in November 2016, RUFORUM issued another call, this time, a study opportunity. Fortunately, his undergraduate course was among those who qualified to apply for the MSc. Agri-enterprises Development. He did apply and got selected in 1st cohort in 2017. This is where his professional journey of becoming an agribusiness expert began.

Robine has been able to gain much with the help of RUFORUM both professionally and personally. Since 2017, he has been practicing his leadership skills as he is a project lead for students’ project like Jufresh Enterprises that was recognized as the most successful project both at the University and by RUFORUM through its newsletter published stories at https://blog.ruforum.org/2019/01/14/gulu-univerity-student-enterprise-win-1000-from-the-agri-preneursip-alliance/. Since then, Robine has been trained and mentored in all aspects of entrepreneurship and personal development at RUFORUM. Additionally, through the RUFORUM network, he pledges to give back to the foundation through volunteering. Currently, he is working as an Alumni Secretary for TAGDev program, Steering Committee Member for RUFORUM alumni Launch week that is scheduled for the 27th September to 1st October 2021.

Talking about transitioning from academic life to work life has been challenging to most of the students including Robine. When he graduated in January 2020, because of the love for entrepreneurship, he decided not to look for a job but to start a business with his little savings worth USD 681 which he invested into produce business to keep him going. By this time, he shifted from Gulu City to stay in Lira City to explore other opportunities. He did run the business for 11 months and learnt few tactics from practical perspectives and in around December 2020, another opportunity came up.  RUOFRUM was seeking for graduates who were beneficiary of TAGDev program and are operating business. This opportunity came at a time when Robine was looking for funds. He did apply and got selected to receive funding worth USD 5,000 to formalize his business operational activities.

Robine is currently operating a social enterprise called FAMILY STORE Produce Enterprises. The enterprise is connecting small-scale holder grains farmers to the market in Northern Uganda  www.familystorepe.com. Robine is passionate about publishing articles with the aim of enhancing entrepreneurship development in the rural communities, livelihoods and agricultural development. His primary research interest is in the areas of Food security, Youth entrepreneurship and gender in Uganda.

My dream is to become one of the young employers in the continent who will inspire the younger generations that everything is possible through commitment and focus. He is demonstrating this with the current employment offers at FAMILY STORE employing two full-time staff, that is to say, a book keeper and a salesperson. Additionally, there is part-time winnower, an old lady who assists in sorting and cleaning grains, and two loaders who help in loading and off-loading of the produce. So far, I developed entrepreneurial skills which has improved on my business skills through the RUFORUM monthly knowledge management training webinars such as business grant proposal writing, social media usage as well as editing business website page that helped us in improving our webpage content and usage. The impact achieved so far is that FAMILY STORE is selected among five enterprises from Uganda by ImpactHER to participate in the first round of applications funding window. Such opportunities would not be possible without the help of RUFORUM support. Through this process, I learnt that “if you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell anything “. This is what youth should endeavor to learn in order to succeed in this 21st century.

I am happy to be a part of the RUFORUM network.

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