The following interview was taken from Focus On Diversity and was carried out by Alma Jordan and Barry Walsh
After one of the worst years on records for farm deaths in Ireland in 2015 Alma Jordan decided to create her own social enterprise – AgriKids. A company which teaches farm safety to school children. Now a multi-award winning company, providing training, educational app and school talks to thousands of students throughout Ireland, AgriKids is one of Ireland’s top social enterprises. We found out more about Alma’s journey:
- What’s your background? How did you get to starting AgriKids?
My name is Alma Jordan and I grew up on a beef and tillage farm in Kildare. Some years later (after a blind date, a long, but rather humorous story!) I ended up marrying Mark and living on a farm in Co. Meath. The enterprise here is very much a mixed bag of tillage, beef cattle and thoroughbred horses who are at various stages of training and development.
My professional career was in marketing and communications, I loved the idea of customer behavioural analysis, identifying market niches and bringing products to market.
But if I was to be honest, I wanted to have something of my own to market. To find a problem and try to solve it. But I also wanted to find something I could be passionate about, be inspired and innovative. It took becoming a mother and being home on the farm for this to happen.
- How did AgriKids come about? What is its mission?
AgriKids was formed from a personal perspective to grow farm safety awareness and practice within my own family. Moved to tears from the deaths of two young children on a farm in August 2014 I wanted farm safety conversations to happen in my home. I felt by doing so we were not only encouraging better practices on our farm but creating an instinctive culture and behaviour around farm safety. I set about looking to find resources to help educate myself and to be honest what I found seemed to be off mark with regards to the typical farm family structure. All resources were directed to farmers with the expectation that they and only they were responsible for safety on their farm, I did not agree with this. I believe the burden of safety must be shared and that we all have a voice and role to play to make our farms safer and to bury the culture that has dogged the issue of safety in the sector. This this led me to create a platform with child friendly resources that could be used by families and possibly schools.
What started as something I wanted for my own family now found its way into schools, communities, and homes. It hasn’t been easy but nothing worth having ever is. The reasons why safety was still such an issue for the sector came down to a culture and excuses.
‘Sure it’s always been done like this’. ‘Isn’t this how we all learned’ ‘I haven’t the time’. ‘It would never happen to me’.
My ethos with AgriKids was that through engagement and education, we can empower children to be farm safety ambassadors, creating more opportunities to grow the conversation with events and resources.
- Did you receive any support in terms of grants or mentorship starting out, if so how did it help you?
In the early days of AgriKids, I approached my local LEO and then Enterprise Ireland. With LEO I was offered mentoring and an online trading voucher. With EI I was extremely fortunate to be offered a placed on their New Frontiers programme (phase 1 and 2) and then a CSF grant of €50,000 which went towards the development of an app and additional resources such as books and school events.
- You set up a social enterprise, why did you choose this model and how has it helped you since?
I am an accidental social entrepreneur. To be honest I didn’t even know such a business type existed. My knowledge had been that a business is commercial as an LTD entity and that anything else is a charity / not for profit. I had no awareness of the existence of Social Enterprise and I would say that my journey might have been somewhat different if I had been. For quite a while I struggled wit the relationship of the impact I wanted to make and the income I needed this was also further confused by having to profit. I didn’t want to be received to be profiteering from farm safety but didn’t know how else to become viable.
Now know that I can be classified as a social enterprise I am far clear in my business definition and objectives.
- What’s your business model? How does AgriKids make money?
AgriKids acts as a farm safety educational service / vehicle for the Agri sector and those stakeholders and corporates who rely on the sector.
Many of these organisations have a CSR pillar aligned to safety so work with AgriKids as partners to drive the message, support the concept and at the same time fulfil their CSR obligations.
Agri organisations have access AgriKids to run events, create materials or licence the use of the materials. It saves them having to create their own and they know that the AgriKids message and approached is known, trusted and respected.
As a third angle local authorities (libraries, etc) employ AgriKids to run events and there are also sales from the online shop for books and accessories.
I’m kept going!
- What marketing have you done since launching, has this changed over the years and what do you find most effective now?
The first thing I did was create a logo. This logo was the front of house for my social media. My Facebook told me who my audience was very quickly and what tone worked the best. I have done very little paid for advertising and do more with PR for product launches and company news updates and developments. This approach has not changed.
- You’ve won several awards, what’s been some of the highlights?
Being a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland awardee in 2019 was incredible. I did not see it coming and it came at a time when I really needed direction and advice. The world of social enterprise was opening up in front of me and I had this amazing organisation putting so much faith in AgriKids and not only that faith and support in my own development as a social entrepreneur.
Have also been fortunate to be a two time national winner at the Network Ireland awards (representing Louth) where I have also been awarded recognition for my advocacy work. These kind of accolades mean a lot to me. They motivate me but they also put my message and cause to a wider audience.
- How did the pandemic affect your services. What have been some of the positives you’ve taken from this period?
When it first hit I was looking at an 80% drop in revenue and potentially having to close. No schools, no events, no money!
However after a library approached me to an online webinar a new world opened up which allowed me to pivot my own online and at the same time look a other ways and other relations I could form.
This happened late last year when Agri Aware and the IFA approached me and made me the co-Ordinator of a pilot programme, Farm Safe Schools. The first of its kind farm safety programme for primary schools. This had been my dream to set up, to take the work and insight of AgriKids and bring to a more scalable and viable platform. Over 22k children were singed up to it and we know that we can develop this into something ongoing for many more schools.
- What one piece of advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur in this sector?
I have three!!
- Be flexible and open to change – cause trust me things change, and you may need to pivot at a moment’s notice.
- Surround yourself with people you respect who you can go to – these are your tribe.
- Just because you are a social enterprise doesn’t mean you are free, value yourself, value what you do and value the impact you are making. You are doing no one any favours if you have to close down due to cash flow.
- Are there any other people, programs or companies involved in Diversity and Inclusion in Ireland today, that you are a fan of?
Oh my God so many, I don’t even like to say as I am leaving people out…. But here are some for you.
- Grow Remote
- Jump A Grade
- Helping Hands
- The Shona Project
- Food Cloud
Source : focusondiversity.ie