Movement Foundation will invest more than $1 million to purchase farmland in Uganda, East Africa and develop a commercial farming enterprise that will grow food and create jobs for people living in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Within the next year, Movement expects to hire 50 people — farmers, supervisors, technicians and other workers — at Elhanan, a 1,100-acre swath of land and fertile soil the nonprofit foundation is acquiring to spur employment and dispel poverty.
With a mission to bring life, light and hope to communities in the U.S. and abroad, the Movement Foundation will also pay for startup costs such as equipment, infrastructure and employee wages.
The project comes after members of Movement’s executive team traveled to the East African nation to observe the work piloted by Aloysius Kyazze, a former Ugandan national soccer player turned pastor. Kyazze connected with Movement through an acquaintance, Movement Mortgage Chief Talent Officer Chris Allen.
Company leaders spent 10 days in Uganda, where they helped make bricks, spent time among villagers and visited youth living in slums. At one point, the group was asked to address a crowd of over 100 on the topics of business and entrepreneurship.
“It became apparent to us pretty quickly that we weren’t speaking to a lot of entrepreneurs,” Movement CEO Casey Crawford says. “We were speaking to a lot of unemployed people, and they were forced into entrepreneurial endeavors because there were no jobs. Period.”
Although it has made significant progress in reducing poverty and providing access to education, Uganda still has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Africa. Unemployment among young people is estimated at 83 percent. That’s problematic since the country also has one of the largest youth populations in the world.
And while programs that encourage small business ownership among Uganda’s young adults are plentiful, Movement wants to take a different tack, one that gives people a reliable means of feeding and caring for their families.
“These people would be so blessed by a job,” Crawford says. “They just need a job.”
How will it work?
What’s in a name?
Elhanan owes its name to Chief Operating Officer John Third, whose affinity for the Biblical term began when he was just a boy in Scotland.
When Third was 16, his father, a deep sea fisherman, bought a boat. His mother called it “Elhanan” and explained its Hebrew meaning.
“My parents were a little overwhelmed when I told them. ‘Elhanan’ has always been in the back of my mind. Now seeing it on a farm in Uganda, it’s very, very humbling.”
Just 4 kilometers east of a tributary to the Nile River, Elhanan — which, in Hebrew, means either “whom God gave” or “the grace of God” — will grow soybeans, groundnuts, corn and other crops capable of thriving in the region’s rich soil. Those crops will be processed for other uses, such as flour and food, and allow Movement to create its own self-sustaining agricultural operation and distribution channel.
“The hope is, within two years’ time, we’ll really have a sustainable farming project that’s generating its own income and fully supporting its own operations and making a profit,” said Brett McDonough, Movement’s chief investment officer.
Leaders hope to sell the farm’s produce at competitive market prices and position Elhanan as a major agricultural player in two of the region’s commercial centers — Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and Juba, capital of the neighboring South Sudan.
‘We’re all one’
The farm is also intended to fill a skills gap created in the aftermath of northern Uganda’s bloody civil war. The conflict between the government and rebel forces — which spanned two decades until peace talks in 2006 — wiped out an entire generation of laborers unable to pass knowledge of their trades, such as farming, to their children.
To fill the void, Movement will partner with Kyazze to oversee Elhanan’s operations. Kyazze has most recently helped lead the efforts of New Foundation Community Ministries, a ministry that runs a 30-acre commercial farm, church, orphanage and school in the northern Uganda city of Gulu.
“We think of ourselves as the Body of Christ; that’s much broader than just the United States,” McDonough said of Movement forging relationships in Africa. “We’re all one.”
In that same vein, Movement Foundation may use some of the farm’s profits to fund other initiatives that help the underserved and spread the Gospel. That may include outreach to Uganda’s besieged neighbor South Sudan. In July, South Sudan erupted in renewed civil conflict, prompting hundreds of refugees to seek sanctuary at the Ugandan border.
“How interesting that God may be placing us in such a strategic location to hopefully provide and care for some folks who are in deep suffering at the moment,” Crawford says.
The bigger vision
During his recent trip to Uganda, Crawford says the people welcomed their guests with a level of gratitude he had never experienced.
“Their graciousness to extend hospitality, even with meager means, was convicting to me as an American,” he says. “There was never a sense of rush over there. You were more important than the activity. Your story was more important than whatever was going to happen next.”
That attitude inspired Movement’s leaders to get involved in Uganda and join forces with people already doing good work there.
“Our heart is to take the gifts, the talents and the resources (God) has provided in our community…and bring them to marry up with the amazing gifts, talents and resources He has blessed the community of Uganda with,” Crawford said. “We want to see that this farm is going to significantly impact people’s lives. They’re going to be loved. They’re going to be cared for.”