Case Detail

Case Summary

Innovation at One Acre Fund: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Case Number: 5-114-002, Year Published: 2014, Revision Date: October 15, 2014

HBS Number: KEL801

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Authors: Jamie Jones ; Grace Augustine

Key Concepts

Business Process Improvement, Decision Making, Distribution Channels, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Nonprofit Management, Organizational Design, Product Development, R&D, Strategic Planning, User-Centered Design


One Acre Fund (1AF) is a nonprofit organization in rural western Kenya that helps farmers lift themselves out of poverty by providing a bundle of products and services that support farmers with quality inputs, training on farming techniques, access to credit, and assistance in achieving optimal prices. Since the organization's founding nearly a decade ago, it has grown to serve over 180,000 farm families annually as of July 2014. This high level of penetration into rural Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania makes 1AF a potential distribution channel for rolling out new products and technologies that could benefit farmers and their families. The organization prides itself on its innovative culture, and always strives to offer new products and methods to its farmers. In 2011 1AF realized that it needed to formalize its innovation process to ensure it was confident in new products before rolling them out across its entire farmer network. It therefore created a robust, multistep evaluation framework to assess new innovations on four criteria: impact, adoptability, simplicity, and operability.

The case first introduces 1AF, the organization's operating model, and the innovation framework. Then it asks students to take the perspective of 1AF's innovations team and apply the phased innovation framework to design an evaluation for one of 1AF's latest ideas for innovation: encouraging its farmers to grow trees.

Learning Objectives

After reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to:

  • Articulate the importance of understanding the user’s needs and perspective throughout the innovation process
  • Identify key factors for a successful product launch into an existing channel
  • Employ an assessment framework to analyze the viability of a potential innovation
  • Design a test pilot for evaluating the launch of new innovations within an organization

Number of Pages: 14

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Non Profit, Entrepreneurship

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Kenya, Africa

Industry: Agriculture

Organization Name: One Acre Fund

Organization Size: Small

Year of Case: 2011