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Mat Ayaga: Equity and Inclusion are beliefs I carry with me every day
Our Human Resources leader speaks about her roots, her career path and how she advances social inclusion on a global scale at Venture37
What is your role with Land O’Lakes Venture37?
My name is Mathlidah Ayaga. My friends call me Mat. I am the Human Resources Director for Land O’Lakes Venture37. Our 501(c)(3) nonprofit leads agricultural development projects all around the world, and I support our employees – people in the field in 13 countries and at our headquarters in the U.S.

What is your background and why did you choose a career in HR?

Human Resources (HR), to me, is all about the Human. When I help hire a new person or support an existing team member, I am benefitting that human, their family and their community. I am also enabling them to take on their dream job. This is why I love the work.

I have over 13 years of experience working for international development organizations and nonprofits, managing HR portfolios in Kenya and South Sudan and across East Africa. Before joining Venture37’s D.C. office last year, I worked with John Hopkins University in Maryland as a Global HR business partner. Prior to that, I was a Human Resources consultant at the International Rescue Committee in New York.

On the personal side, I grew up in a small village in western Kenya. I am the youngest of 7, with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. Sometimes I look back at pictures of my childhood, and I see a little girl who never would have imagined herself where I am today. And second, I see in myself the type of person who benefits from the work Venture37 and others are doing. Whether its food security, nutrition or water and sanitation, I saw these problems where I grew up. My HR role in international development is my way of giving back to the little human I see in those photographs.

How did you get where you are today?
I attribute my success to a variety of factors. I worked hard and had focus. Most importantly, I grew up in a family that valued education for every child. Despite opposing opinions in my village, my parents wanted their girls to get educated and to have equal opportunities to their boys. Many other girls in my village did not get the same opportunities and were often forced to drop out of school and marry young. This cycle restricts progress. One of those girls could have been me, but my parents saw equal value in boys and girls. Because of that, equity and inclusion are beliefs I carry with me every day.

How does Venture37 approach Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?
As an international organization, we believe in representation. If you bring all our field leaders into the same room, you see demographic diversity in age, color, gender, orientation, and religion. Programmatically, we design our projects with social inclusion as a key value because we know it leads to lasting progress. We know that when all ages, genders and ethnicities equally take part in society, it strengthens the whole.

Venture37 is also affiliated with Land O’Lakes, Inc., an organization that deeply values and respects different perspectives and experiences.  As an example, in 2019, Venture37 hosted a panel session with the Land O’Lakes, Inc. Women’s Leadership Network. The panel of women shared their experiences volunteering and working internationally with Venture37 and how it built their cultural competencies and their confidence and leadership skills.

As a Kenyan-American, what is your experience like working at Venture37?
As a Black woman living in the U.S., I am a minority. Of course, when I lived in Kenya, I was not. The life transition has opened my mind to the importance of Diversity & Inclusion.

Land O’Lakes hired me for my experience. I feel valued, respected, heard and have been offered leadership opportunities. It makes me proud to tell friends and family that Land O’Lakes isn’t just a butter company. It is a company that values and respects the perspectives, experiences, and talent of all individuals no matter what you look like.

What are ways V37 is working to improve in this area?
We are working to highlight diversity is several aspects of our work, like recruiting practices, trainings on unconscious bias, and encouraging employees to get involved in Land O’Lakes, Inc. Diversity & Inclusion efforts. And most recently, we have been participating in Land O’Lakes, Inc. listening sessions with the African Ancestry Employee Resource Group about current events happening in the U.S. around the death of George Floyd. In honor of George Floyd, Venture37 is also organizing a day of community service to support community inclusion where we work and live. It will be a day we can feel united and give back to our communities. 
By Ashley Peterson 06/29/2020