Cassie Hayward’s passion for food security and advocacy is taking her far—quite literally.
In October, the 21-year-old King’s student flew to Rome to attend an international conference of the Committee on World Food Security, where she was asked to give a speech on behalf of youth.
“I was so nervous. I got up there and I was shaking so badly,” says Hayward.
Despite nerves, however, her speech struck a chord with the audience.
“Afterwards, I had people come up to me in tears and say, ‘This is what we needed to hear.’ So, for me, to make myself vulnerable, to tell my own personal story, for that to influence and hopefully inspire people to actually make change… that’s pretty huge.”
Hayward is part of an international group of youth tackling food insecurity and gender inequality. After developing a concept that won the top prize at a youth summit in 2017, Hayward and her colleagues have been working hard to bring that concept to life. Their project is a digital platform designed to support young women considering agricultural careers. Currently preparing to pilot the platform in Kenya, the team have named their organization Agrikua—“kua” meaning “grow” in Swahili.
Their prototype website has a planned launch date of March 2019. The digital platform will host educational materials, mentoring and networking opportunities, and information about financial resources. While the initial website will be in English (widely spoken in Kenya), it may be translated into Swahili as well.
When it comes to her personal role in the project, Hayward describes herself as “a passionate watchdog.”
“My role in the organization is that I hype everybody up, but I also keep everybody in line,” says Hayward, laughing. “When you’re working internationally, you really have to stick to those deadlines, you really have to make sure that everybody is engaging in that project.”
Hayward says her experience at King’s has been invaluable to her work with Agrikua. As a full-time student who also works three jobs and is a member of the King’s women’s rugby team, developing strong organizational and time management skills has been vital.
These skills will only become more important. Three major parties have expressed interest in funding Agrikua’s future development, and the team is making plans to expand internationally.
“It’s a hard transition, and we need to gauge everyone’s commitment to it,” says Hayward. “I think that’ll be our biggest challenge going forward: figuring out what workload works for people.”
This transition is factoring into Hayward’s personal plans. As she completes her final year of studies at King’s, majoring in political science and sustainability, Hayward is considering a master’s degree in international policy or global governance—a personal interest which could become a powerful contribution to Agrikua.
“I think it’s really important for at least one of us to have that background knowledge in how to engage with governments, because—especially in developing countries—you get support from local communities, which is the most important, but you also need governmental support.”
Whatever happens next, Hayward is excited about the future.
“People said a year ago that it wouldn’t last this long, so we’re doing pretty well. We’ve all kind of come to the consensus that we’re going to do our absolute best, and if that’s not enough, at least we’ve gained so much from each other and from this experience.”