Seeds for Change

As violence broke out in his home country of Kenya, amid the results of a disputed presidential election, Agostine Ndung’u ’12 sat in an internet café, trying to submit his Amherst application before the looming deadline.

This was in December 2007, and as Ndung’u typed his information into the Common Application, the owner of the café yelled derogatory phrases about the people from Ndung’u’s community. To keep from revealing his family background to the owner, the young man positioned his browser so that his name was hidden.

Agostine Ndung'u
"Working with entrepreneurs gives me a great sense of purpose." Agostine Ndung'u '12

“There was sporadic violence,” Ndung’u recalls, “and it was a very scary time, but I really, really wanted to submit my application.” Ngung’u became one of only a few students from his Kikuyu settlement, located in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, to attend a U.S. college or university. “I selected Amherst based mainly on the Five College system,” he says. “I wanted to have access to that, and I got a scholarship.”

Knowing that youth unemployment was a chief cause of interethnic conflict in his country, Ndung’u returned to Kenya as a Dalai Lama Fellow during his junior year at Amherst. There he founded the Amani Seed Project in partnership with Baraka Agricultural College and the Center for African Development and Security. This project uses agribusiness initiatives to forge multiethnic cooperatives among the youth of rural Kenya.

The Amani Seed Project
The Amani Seed Project uses agribusiness initiatives to forge multiethnic cooperatives in Kenya.

In the first phase of the project, two youth groups merged to establish a potato seed production enterprise. Today, Amani Seed has expanded to include a microlending business.

Since graduation, Ndung’u has worked for two organizations that help people establish themselves as entrepreneurs around the globe. At Ashoka, he first worked in Washington, D.C., to revamp the organization’s global internship program. He moved to Nairobi and became venture program manager at Ashoka East Africa, where he managed the search and selection process for Ashoka Fellows in that region. This allowed him to work directly with entrepreneurs. In April he joined Impact Hub as the regional incubation lead for Africa. In this role, he helps to set up programs that support entrepreneurs.

“Working with entrepreneurs gives me a great sense of purpose,” he says. He recalls one woman who had a promising idea related to mental health and trauma in high-conflflict areas across East Africa. This woman went on to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with an international development agency.

Ndung’u, whose parents teach primary school in Kenya, is now applying to business school. Wherever his career takes him, he says, “I never really imagine myself living in one place for a long time.”