Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, uses the word passion on almost every single page in his book. When I hear the word passion, I think of many different things. I imagine picking passion fruit from the vine in Kumasi. I picture my guide on safari as he spoke so passionately about the animals in front of us. I envision the passion between two people staring deeply into each other’s eyes and seeing more than just irises. Passion can mean different things, but how do you find the thing you are passionate about? Howard Schultz found his passion in the coffee business. I found mine buried deep in a spreadsheet.
The 2013 cashew season is over, which means all the data from the SAP pilot has been collected. I sat on my bed, my workstation, and downloaded the latest data from the project. I was excited to see hundreds more data points for one of the buying stations. I quickly went to work consolidating the previous data with the new set. I went through the new points and made sure they matched with the old information. I cleaned the spreadsheet up a bit, using simple formulas, and went to work making pivot tables. I compared the registered farmers data to the unregistered and ran some simple calculations. I did everything “by hand,” meaning I wrote all the formulas myself. During registration, I had the farmers provide their statistics from last season – yield and acres of cashew. Using this information I was able to compare the results of this year with last year. I could calculate their yield/acre and income/acre. Based on the average number of trees in an acre here in Ghana, I determined yield/tree as well. Using this information, I prepared reports for each of the registered farmers. I put the numbers into context and provided tips and advice on how to improve in the next season. I compiled each of the farmer’s data and also provided an overall report for the association.
I know that sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo. So let me sum it up. I had lots of data. I analyzed the data. I made awesome reports.
I always knew I loved numbers. I don’t necessarily love math, but I love numbers. Numbers are wonderful, but they mean so much more when put into context. 1 seems like a mighty small number, but what if it is 1 exploding volcano. That volcano isn’t just a singular number, it represents lots of things, including dangers. Numbers take on new meanings when you surround them with words. When you understand how a number can change a farmer’s livelihood or farm, you can provide better feedback to that farmer. And that’s what I love. I love digging through a pile of numbers and finding the hidden meaning. It’s like a great puzzle that I’m itching to answer. How can I sift through this data and make sense of it? How is this information going to impact the end user? How can they benefit from knowing this information?
After I finished my analysis for the association and SAP, I started crying. No shit, crying. Tears of happiness rolled down my face. I’ve never felt so fulfilled before in my entire life. I didn’t just sort through some numbers and come up with some averages, I discovered data that will truly impact a group of farmers. These farmers have never had access to this sort of information before. Information that can change the way they farm. How? If a farmer finds out that their yield per acre is only 140kg, they can take steps to improve their yield. They can prune or thin their orchards. Next year, they will be able to see how their yield has improved. Farmers are more likely to adopt practices that their fellow farmers find beneficial. They need to see it to believe it. In the future, people will be able to see how adoption of improved practices is changing yields. If farmers can see and understand the importance of these changes, they might be more likely to adapt quicker.
You see, to me this project has always been more than just collecting data. It’s about providing farmers with information that will empower them. Knowledge is power.
I smile every time I think about how my analysis is just a drop in a bucket.
All you need is one drop to create a ripple.