Ravina and Rushika Pattni: The Powerhouse Sister Duo in Tanzania

April 1, 2024

Ravina and Rushika Pattni

Ravina and Rushika Pattni are two exceptional women making a difference in Tanzania and beyond on the African continent. Ravina earned her bachelor’s degree at UC Berkeley as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, majoring in Development Studies and Economics. Although she then obtained a Master of Public Administration in Development Practice from Columbia University, she credits her experience as a research assistant to Berkeley economics professors working on projects in Africa for inspiring in her the desire to return to the continent and make a difference.

“It opened my eyes to a whole other side of economics. When I first started taking the intro classes, I thought that the only things I could possibly go into would be investment banking or consulting—the sorts of things people usually would do. But when I began taking the upper-division courses and met these professors, I thought it was a lot more interesting and applicable toward returning and making an impact,” says Ravina.

She also credits the experience she gained in student government at Berkeley for instilling in her a professional work ethic. Her sister Rushika earned her bachelor’s degree in Economics and the History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health at Yale before acquiring an executive Master of Business Administration from the Hult International Business School. Together, the two sisters are examples of transformative leadership.

At Columbia, Ravina received a fellowship from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society; mitigating the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable practices have grown to become some of her central interests. She seized the opportunity to meet with the founder of Laterite when he visited Columbia to give a presentation on the use of satellite data to inform the Rwandan government’s intervention strategies for improving informal settlements. Laterite is a research, data, and analytics consulting firm with the mission of impactful response to local contexts. Meeting with Laterite’s founder helped solidify Ravina’s interest in working on data research for informing public policy. She applied to Laterite twice for a position as a research analyst and was hired after the second application. Now she is a senior research associate managing Laterite’s office in Tanzania.

Cover of Laterite's evaluation report for the TechnoServe Coffee Farm Training Program.

Among Ravina’s first assignments with Laterite was the monitoring and evaluation of TechnoServe’s Coffee Farm training program in East Africa for the purpose of increasing productivity and sustainability. TechnoServe runs one of the largest coffee training programs in East Africa; their Coffee Farm College Program that ran from 2018 to 2020 offered training services to approximately 6,161 farming households in all East Africa. As a result of the monitoring and evaluation that Ravina and her team worked on in Uganda, Laterite’s report demonstrated an increase in the adoption of best farming practices among the 600 households participating in the TechnoServe Coffee Farm College training workshops in Uganda, with 48% of households adopting two or more best practices when compared to the baseline at the survey’s beginning.[1] Such best practices include shade management, weeding, erosion control, pest and disease management, intercropping, and pruning. The percentage of households adopting at least 5 of the best practices increased by 34%. Ravina has also written an article for Laterite to explain and promote coffee stumping, the “practice of rejuvenating older coffee trees by cutting all their main stems, to encourage vigorous new growth”; the practice is often dismissed because yield remains low for over a year after stumping, but Ravina’s work at Laterite teaches farmers how to manage a stumping schedule among different trees at different times, maintaining a long-term vision of harvesting in mind that would ultimately produce a greater yield. Advocating for regenerative agricultural practices also forms some of Ravina’s work to help farmers in the face of climate change—practices such as soil turning and the abandonment of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. With climate data, she has educated farmers about efficient planting times for seeds given the recent changes in seasonal rhythms.

Another project Ravina worked on aimed to help farmers achieve a sustainable income, especially women. The project was a collaboration between Laterite and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an institution committed to increasing income and food security for smallholder households, as well as Tanager, an international non-profit working with supply chains to create economic and social opportunities. Laterite evaluated AGRA’s village-based advisor program, which sets up self-employed farmers in Tanzania to share their knowledge of good agronomic practices with their local communities to improve revenue. Laterite analyzed the cultural constraints that impact women and prevent them from engaging in as much income-generating activity as men. The report also demonstrates the limitations of the village-based advisor program and offers recommendations for improving entrepreneurship and supporting engagement in different forms of income-generating activity depending on a farmer’s living situation.

While Ravina’s work has greatly supported those in the agricultural sector, Rushika has had no less of an impact on Africa through her work. One of her first jobs was in the education sector with the African Leadership University in Mauritius and Rwanda, where the ethos of creating positive impact on the continent is fully embraced and promoted by making tertiary education accessible to all and focusing on a skills-based curriculum for workforce readiness. Following this, she moved to the payments industry and worked as Chief Strategy Officer for Selcom, a payment services provider in Tanzania aimed at helping businesses to scale up by representing and promoting Mastercard’s payment products as one of their first fintech enablers in East Africa. At Selcom, Rushika expanded their team from 3 to 85 people and created four departments to drive the progress. In 2023, she began her first company, Recroot Africa, while pursuing her MBA at Hult International Business School in London and Dubai. Through her work in human resources and talent management at Recroot alone, Rushika has prioritized the placement of over 100 executives in employed positions, with a focus now on bridging the gap between recent graduates and the job market through active skills development programs—beginning from the stage of apprenticeship programs. She is particularly motivated to help more women obtain jobs, especially in the tech industry, and ensure that the complete Tanzanian workforce is equally viewed as being globally competitive

“Unfortunately, when I see my pipeline, we have fewer women who apply within the positions, or even apply to be part of our database, so I’ve had to do a lot of work to change that. I’ve had to organize sessions to create their support ecosystem and personalized sessions to prepare women to speak more confidently in interviews, but we have very few women in general who are able to remain through the programs sustainably due to various societal circumstances in the long-run,” she explains.

Due to the nature of her niche executive search work, she’s had to be an active player still in the ecosystem by contributing positively to at an institutional and systemic level. Therefore, Rushika regularly participates in panels and training programs on the side to help others learn to begin their own startups in Africa with the right talent. Since 2022 she has served as a startup executive coach at the International Trade Center, and now she has also extended her services from just providing guidance on human capital to helping bridge the gap between access to working capital and financial institutions through her second company, Switch Africa. She wanted to find a bridge between her passion for skills development at African Leadership University and her expertise in payments from working at Selcom. Her aim is to be able to consolidate the people and capital problem through one platform so that thriving small- and medium-sized enterprises and family businesses can overcome these challenges for more scale.

 Rushika facilitating for the Tanzanian government working with the National Council  for Technical and Vocational Education Tanzania (NACTVET).

(Shown above: Rushika facilitating for the Tanzanian government with the National Council for Technical and Vocational Education Tanzania.)

Photos generously provided by Ravina and Rushika Pattni.

[1] Best practice endline survey report: Uganda coffee farm college cohort 2018, February 2021, page 12.

A coffee farm in Ethiopia.

A coffee farm in Ethiopia.

A coffee processing mill in Ethiopia.

A coffee processing mill in Ethiopia.

Farmers on a coffee farm in Ethiopia.

Farmers working on the coffee farm in Ethiopia.

Workers on a coffee farm in Ethiopia.

Tending to the crop on an Ethiopian coffee farm.

Rushika leading a workshop on technical skills and placement rates with a panel of three people.

Rushika Pattni leading a workshop on technical skills and placement rates.

Rushika Pattni leading a workshop.

Rushika presents to a room full of young talent.