Volunteer Stories

Erin Mies


Farmer-to-Farmer in Middle East and North Africa

This article was originally written by Erin Mies and published by Land O'Lakes International Development here

Name: Erin Mies

Current title/profession: Senior Human Resources Manager with Purina Sales and Customer Operations

Current hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Areas of expertise: Human resources, management, recruiting, strategic planning


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Egypt

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


I am a Human Resources business partner with the Purina Sales and Customer Operations teams based out of Land O’Lakes, Inc. headquarters in Shoreview. I recently had the opportunity to experience a two-week volunteer assignment with Land O’Lakes International Development’s Farmer-to-Farmer program in Egypt. Here are seven things I’d love for you to know about my experience:


  1. My assignment was with an awesome host company. Sekem is a sustainable farming company in the Egyptian desert. Located about an hour north of Cairo, Sekem has been growing and selling organic spices, cotton, textiles (from the organic cotton) and other organic produce since its start in the 1970’s. With over 1,000 employees, this group has built a unique company that puts community and family at its center. In fact, they even have childcare, education, a small hospital, and many other progressive services for their employees and their community in Belbeis.  
  2. I was able to provide practical HR support. Originally, my scope of work outlined that Sekem needed support with identifying high potential talent and succession planning. But, on day one I realized these weren’t topics they seemed to need most. So, I threw my deck out the window and started a conversation to understand, “What are the pain points here?” The biggest one identified was recruiting. Together, we mapped out their existing process. I realized they lacked consistency in interviewing and a standard competency measurement guide. So, I gave a practical training on behavior-based interviewing and we practiced with role playing. I also shared interview guides inspired by what we use at Land O’Lakes, and we used them as a guide to develop custom guides for their own organization. We also covered compensation issues, new leader integration tips and how to leverage talent more effectively.
  3. The Farmer-to-Farmer team is amazing. Having not traveled outside of the U.S. in quite a long time, I have to admit that I was culture shocked when I first arrived in Egypt. Cairo is larger than New York City! But every piece of my travel was very well organized by the Farmer-to-Farmer staff, and my safety was their top priority. They took great care of me and I never felt unsafe. They helped me feel confident even when I was far outside of my comfort zone. 
  4. I’m a mother of three! Saying yes to this opportunity wasn’t easy, but I’ve been hoping for a work experience abroad for years. When it came up, I talked to my boss – she was supportive. Talked to my husband – he was supportive. At the time of my assignment, my kids were 5 and 3 years old and 15 months old, so it was going to be a lot to ask of my husband and kids. I used it as an opportunity to engage with my kids about other cultures and parts of the world. We pulled out a map and taped it to our dining room wall for the weeks leading up to my trip. It sparked many questions and discussions about where they want to travel as a family. They loved it.
  5. I’m using this experience in my role back in the U.S. Most of the Sekem employees I worked with on this assignment didn’t speak English so we used a translator. It helped me practice thinking through my messaging ahead of time, and being clear in my delivery. The experience helped force me to think about how to most succinctly communicate from Point A to Point B without a lot of jargon that confuses the intended message. I never became very good at communicating in Arabic while I was there, but if I learned any word fluently it was “shukraan” – thank you.
  6. Land O’Lakes Inc.’s support of international development makes me proud to work here. I love that we can use our experience and knowledge – in my case my HR background – to help other organizations, regardless of where they are located. Our culture may be different from Sekem’s, but people are people, and most HR challenges are universal. This experience gave me the confidence to know my skills translate.
  7. More volunteer opportunities are available! Check out volunteer opportunities here: https://lol.avature.net/Careers/SearchJobs/volunteer
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