By Purnima Jha
A pretty serious non-conformist is how Kalie Gold, our newly appointed Chief Growth Officer describes herself. “Non-conformist, not in a disagreeable way, I just like to ask why a lot,” Kalie said in an interaction with us. She became a part of the leadership team in June. We spoke to Kalie to know more about her and her vision for Sistema.bio. Read the excerpts below:
How did you learn about Sistema.bio?
I was going about my normal life in Nairobi, and Alex reached out to me to discuss hiring for some leadership position at Sistema.bio in late February 2021. While I was not keen to leave my existing position, I had decided that I would certainly talk to anyone who came up with an interesting opportunity for me.
After Alex and I had an initial talk, I researched about Sistema.bio. I became really fascinated by the organic growth of the organization in such a short span of time. It seemed like the type of enterprise that I would love to work for, in terms of serving smallholder farmers and generating a lot of impact on ground. My career has revolved around the same aspects since 2010.
One element of Sistema.bio that struck a chord with me is how it is dedicated to building actual things. It is not about software necessarily or white collar services at corporate levels in the Fortune 500, it is actually a product that can serve millions of people around the world who are living, what I consider, a much more typical life. I think people forget that a majority of the world lives similarly to how smallholder farmers live in semi-urban environments, where there is a need for new types of infrastructure as well as innovations. And I just realised that it would be a great company to work at.
How did you begin your career?
My career started back in 2008 as I went on to be a Kiva fellow in the Caribbean, just when I had finished University. I had been in the Dominican Republic a little bit when I was a teenager and in my twenties, I went back for the fellowship. I spent over a year doing fellowship work, after which I was hired into the organization that I had been working for there.
Then in late 2009, I applied for a job at One Acre Fund in Kenya. I was looking for microfinance work that was majorly about impact and I sort of became a geek about impact in microfinance. Microfinance was quite young at that time, and the organization offered me a position as an associate and I went on to work with them for 7 years.
By 2017, One Acre Fund had grown quite large and we were serving thousands of farmers in and around the African continent. At that time, I felt like I had been able to develop a lot of systems and processes around client research and impact research and data collection. While I loved managing large teams and multiple companies, I also realized at that point that the organization did not need me at the forefront as much as it had in the past.
After that I reached out to one of our vendors, Rose Goslinga, who had been a pioneer of insurance for smallholder farmers in Africa for a very long time and was starting a new insurance company that will be an intermediary of sorts for smallholder farmers. I asked her if she was looking for a COO, then I could come in and work with her organization. They were at stage zero, wherein they were even bootstrapped for funds, exactly like a typical startup. Nobody knew what was going to happen the next day, the next week, the next month. So I joined them in 2017 and continued to help them grow for four years, until Sistema.bio happened.
What are your plans for Sistema.bio as Chief Growth Officer?
I have a lot of things in mind, which I can bring down to a few buckets which are still evolving. Our first bucket is enhancing the partnerships market or B2B, as we need to figure out how to scale partnerships faster. Currently, we are one of those companies that people come to, and say how they need our product. It is a beautiful position to be in.
So it is actually going to be really interesting to push ourselves to go out to organizations and say, ‘Hey, this is what we do. Can we think about how we can work together?,’ which can be an extension of what we already do. We currently work with a number of distributors and interesting partners such as Infosys, but I believe that there is a lot of room for us to come up with some new types of partnerships.
The partnership bucket is about letting out ideas while simultaneously building a pipeline of partners that we want to reach out to and start negotiations. If we want to build something over two years, there’s going to be short term, medium term and long term investments that we make in different types of partnership opportunities.
In direct sales or what we call the B2C space, there is scope for innovation and we plan to continue to push innovation in our existing hubs, Mexico, India, Colombia and Kenya with our leaders.
I believe that there doesn’t need to be a black and white line between something that is B2B and B2C that evolves into something bigger. In Kenya, we have a team that is big enough and a territory that is big enough, where we can run some types of experiments to see how we can do direct sales in a way that does not require the heavy lifting that it takes to start a whole new B2C in the country.
Another bucket is to see how we connect thoroughly with all of our internal stakeholders. We plan to connect the marketing activities with commercial objectives to ensure things are aligned. This process will definitely provide some new ideas, strategies and approaches, which will be quite exciting.
We also need to ensure that we prioritize what should come first. From a growth perspective, there is always going to be the question of what is going to get us 300% growth in the next 3-5 years. In some ways, it is easy to put that down on paper, however, a lot of investments that will induce growth have to be made a year or two in advance. If we say that we will be very successful in 2023 or 2024, we have to plant the seeds now because these things can take years to grow. So prioritizing moonshot ideas -that might work or not work, but we should try it versus a surefire idea that might not be as wildly huge now but will take a few years to boom and prioritize work based on it.
How does Sistema.bio align with your personal goals?
The carbon space currently helps to answer some of our major carbon issues around the world. I have wanted to get into that for a long time but wasn’t able to do it as directly as I wanted, so that’s quite pivotal for me.
Another thing is to be able to continue to extend my belief that I do not want to live in a bubble. I grew up in Washington DC, and realised at a very young age that the world is much much bigger than the bubble that I was growing up in. So I tried to orient my career around making sure that I engage with the real world so that on a day-to-day basis, I understand how the entire world perceives situations, not just what Washington DC or New York sees.
Nairobi is one of the many hubs around the world, and one of the most interesting hubs that I have ever been to, where you can see the pace of change and history being made; something that you would never see if you were in Rome or Boston. As Sistema.bio is letting me stay in Nairobi, that makes me feel more rooted in the world rather than behind the bubble.
We are very glad to welcome Kalie to the Sistema.bio team. We know that each of us can learn immensely from her. Kalie insists that people ask her as many questions as they would like to. “We’re here for each other. I would love it if people reached out to me with new ideas!,” she says.
Kalie has many passions, including animals and playing rugby! Below you can see a picture of her dogs Elsie and Ziggy whom she rescued in Nairobi!
She also loves horses. Kalie says that if she sees a horse, she is likely to get on.
Finally, in one of the pictures you can see Kalie coaching rugby to young women at a Girl’s School in Kenya.