Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Keyna Cisse Diop, the founder of Quali'Volaille, a poultry business in Senegal, West Africa. Passionate about engaging young women in agriculture, Keyna was selected for the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). After six weeks of courses at Purdue University, she is currently interning with USDA Rural Development in Columbia, South Carolina.
1. When did you become interested in the poultry business of Senegal?
My father has been raising poultry for more than twenty years and is very passionate about livestock production. With my degree in Business Administration, my desire to start my own business in Agriculture and his knowledge of poultry, I came up with the brand Quali'Volaille and we agreed to start producing on a larger scale.
2. Can you describe a typical day for you in Senegal as a young woman entrepreneur in Agriculture?
As a young woman entrepreneur, I always try to set different goals for myself, to either bring more ideas or more success to the table. So I would say there is not a typical day but rather a new day. With my background in Business Administration, I, with the help of our staff on site, follow up on their daily defined tasks while directing the marketing of our products. Sales and after-sales are key aspects of my business. With digital marketing and direct marketing, I reach out to the maximum number of potential customers (business to business, corporate kitchens, households) and stay connected with them to turn them into loyal customers of Quali'Volaille. I also spend enough time doing research, educating myself more about poultry production and agriculture in general.
3. What inspired you to apply for the YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship?
I have been a member of the Young African Leaders Initiative Network and have seen the change that Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni friends have brought to their businesses and communities. This fellowship gives us the right amount of exposure, learning and network we need to grow our startups back home. Being able to share and engage with Africans from 49 different countries and US business people in the same area of interest are exactly the reasons why I applied to this program.
4. What are you learning in your internship and what has been your favorite part?
Being an intern at USDA gives me a broader view of what's done in the U.S. in terms of agriculture. I work with the Rural Business Cooperative Service on the different programs they have for farmers in rural areas of South Carolina to see who can benefit from those programs and how to implement them.
My favorite part of the experience is one of the visits to a potential USDA program beneficiary, a small scale free range poultry farm. It was really interesting to see their operations, share issues and exchange solutions with them. My short term goal is to start free range poultry back in Senegal, and that visit gave me practical knowledge but also good contacts.
5. Who are your role models?
My role model is my mother. I grew up seeing her go to work and she still goes to work. She is supportive of my choices and empowers me because she believes in women as part of our country's economic development. I want to be exactly like her when I grow up.
6. What advice do you have for other young Women in Agriculture?
To all the young Women in Agriculture, we are the future. Keep being agents of change and keep empowering your peers. Educate yourselves and educate others. Sharing is caring, and caring is our nature.