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Alumni Spotlight
Varun Baker ‘01


Where are you from, and what brought you to Rome?

That’s a good question. I think, like with many SSS students; it’s complicated. I was born in Brazil to a multicultural family. My mother is from India, and my father is from Jamaica. I got the opportunity to be in Rome because my father was doing some research in mathematics at La Sapienza.

Can you describe your experience at St. Stephen’s? What are some of your fondest memories of that time?

At St. Stephen’s, there was an intensely unique merging of cultures that I’m very grateful for experiencing. I have such fond memories of high school that to describe it in a few sentences is a challenge. I’d say I had many life-changing experiences. My fondest memories are best shared in conversation over a beer. There were endless opportunities to just enjoy life in a style only Rome can provide. I remember one day it started snowing–that was pretty magical. The top moment though, was when Roma won the Scudetto.

Before founding your current company, Farm Credibly, you were applying technology to solve agricultural issues as co-founder of the Slashroots Foundation, where you tackled issues such as the theft of crops and livestock from farms in Jamaica. To where do you trace the roots of your passion for agriculture?

I grew a deep appreciation of fresh food and ingredients thanks to my time in Italy, but my interest in agriculture is probably due to my upbringing in Jamaica, where there is a rich history of farming. Honestly, if you eat three times a day, thank a farmer. My passion really comes from a desire to solve interesting puzzles. Agriculture just happened to be the right rabbit hole for me to venture down.

Your company, Farm Credibly, leverages blockchain technology to provide access to loans for unbanked farmers in Jamaica. How did you come up with the idea of bringing blockchain to Jamaican farmers? Could you explain how Farm Credibly works and how it has impacted the lives of Jamaican farmers?

Yea, so the idea grew in part from my experience in working with farmers ten years prior, but really Farm Credibly came together as the winning project at a hackathon that was sponsored by IBM and a commercial bank in Jamaica. Two things happened: one, we were looking specifically for use cases related to blockchain technology, and two, we started looking at problems from the point of view of lenders and creditors. That was in 2018. Since then, we’ve moved beyond alternative credit scoring to looking more at getting our farm funding platform going. Most of our effort is focused on finding farm funders within the Caribbean diaspora who want to contribute to the region's food security through crowdfunding. The impact we want to have on farmers is to improve access to finance through the use of technology and to allow more people to have a stake in food production while they also earn.

Do you think the Farm Credibly model could be applied to other industries in Jamaica and/or to the agricultural sector in other countries?

Yes, to both. A lack of access to finance impacts more than just farmers, especially in developing countries where large amounts of SMEs are underserved.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I like pretty geeky stuff. Right now, we're playing with NFTs that change based on weather data. The idea that we have tools at our fingertips that can change the realm of what’s possible is crazy, right? Well, Farm Credibly gives me the opportunity to go beyond this by connecting this work to very tangible outcomes that matter to people and leave us all better off.

What do you consider your greatest achievement, professionally or personally?

I’m not sure if this counts as a personal achievement, but I’m a Dad, so I’m proud of my kids.

Would you say it has been a relatively straightforward path for you in terms of achieving the goals you set for yourself, or have there been some twists and turns along the way? If so, could you share what some of those challenges have been and how you’ve overcome them?

Hahaha, that’s a good one. Straight paths are all artificial. I’d say there is no failure, only feedback. Failure has become a part of my process, and this is very common. The biggest challenge to overcome is to understand that failure is not the end of the story unless you make it that way. BB King said it best when he said, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

What are some of the most important lessons from your professional experience that you would like to share with the class of 2022, our next generation of St. Stephen’s graduates?

Well, one I just mentioned: don’t fear failure, fear not trying. Here are some others:

  • Play nice.
  • Never look back in regret — move on to the next thing.
  • Be willing to change direction (role, industry, company) to find your happy place.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Identify your interests.
  • When you make a commitment, keep it.
  • Network.
  • Form relationships.
  • Create a schedule.
  • These next few years will be some of the most important in setting your future trajectory so work hard, but don't overthink college.

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