JESSICA POTHERING is business
journalist focusing on social
innovation, finance and economic
development. Her reporting and
research topics range from social
impact bonds in the United States
to social entrepreneurs in Southern
Africa. She started her journalism
career covering finance and now
serves as Demand's managing editor.
SARA GOUDARZI is a Brooklyn
writer and holds a master’s in
journalism from New York University
and in bioresource engineering from
Rutgers University. Her non-fiction
has appeared in National Geographic
News, The American Scholar and CNN.
com, as well as Scholastic’s Science
World Magazine, among others.
Armed with a $500,000 grant from USAID’s Securing Water for Food Program, Gilliam and his
local colleagues launched a start-up venture called Greenhouses Revolutionizing Output, or
GRO, which would market and sell the greenhouses to individual farmers and cooperatives in
Sierra Leone’s northern Bombali district. The project was going full speed until, three months
in, Gilliam’s work came to a grinding halt.
INTRODUCING THE ART
OF INDOOR FARMING
A team from Penn State University wanted to give farmers
in Africa more control over their livelihoods in the face of
increasingly unpredictable growing conditions. They found
that even established technologies face tough obstacles
when introduced to new people and places.
J errel Gilliam landed in Sierra Leone in May 2014 ready to start a one-year fellowship with World Hope International ( WHI) selling low-cost green- houses to subsistence farmers whose livelihoods were being jeopardized by unpredictable growing seasons and weather. Gilliam knew the product well: he had spent most of his undergraduate career at Pennsylvania State
University working with the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Enterprise
(HESE) program to design the very greenhouses he would soon be selling. His
task with WHI was to create a market for them in Sierra Leone—the fifth country
in sub-Saharan Africa where the greenhouses would be introduced.