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Northwestern University

Paths: Matt Forti ’00

Matt Forti in a suit smiling professionally When Matt Forti graduated from Northwestern in 2000, he knew he wanted to do some good in the world.

What Forti did not know, however, was just how fortuitous his double major in economics and sociology would prove to be. Economics had provided Forti with a grounding in markets and resources, while sociology had exposed him to the human side of those concerns. Today, the Philadelphia native combines his dual degrees into a single role as the managing director of One Acre Fund, a 10-year-old organization that finances and trains smallholder farmers in Africa.

“It’s a balance of the head and the heart, of understanding human beings and how they relate to one another, [combined with] a sound business acumen,” Forti says of his role at One Acre.

But when he graduated from Northwestern in 2000, Forti wasn’t so sure he’d ever find such an inspired opportunity. He tackled “a few pro bono [nonprofit] cases each year” as a management consultant with the New York-based firm Marakon Associates, but yearned to make a deeper impact. “I really wanted to make a more substantial difference in people’s lives,” he says.

In 2004, Forti returned to Northwestern to pursue his MBA, focused on bringing business expertise to the nonprofit world. Kellogg School classmate Andrew Youn soon approached Forti with the idea of addressing poverty in Africa by providing farmers with higher-quality seed and fertilizer and basic business training. Though Forti says he knew “nothing about Africa or agriculture” at the time, he was attracted to the entrepreneurial idea, as well as the magnitude of the problem.

“Seventy percent of the world’s poor are farmers,” Forti notes. 

One Acre quickly became Forti’s mission. For seven years, he voluntarily filled his nights and weekends with board meetings, overseeing a group of fellow volunteers as they built the organization’s website and oversaw its finances. Meanwhile, Forti maintained a full-time role at the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisory firm that quite serendipitously provided access to skills and connections that helped One Acre grow.

Forti joined One Acre full time in 2013 as the organization’s work in Africa took off. With Youn overseas, Forti became One Acre’s domestic presence, overseeing areas such as fundraising, communications and corporate finance, as well as evaluating the organization’s impact on areas such as nutrition and women’s empowerment.

One Acre, which began with 40 Kenyan farmers, now works with some 400,000 families in six African nations. By 2020, Forti and his team hope to reach at least 4 million people. “And if we can work with 4 million people, then you have to believe the next Nelson Mandela is in that group and will be the next agent for change in Africa,” Forti says. 

And that would most certainly be good for the world.

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