Man staring into camera
Impressed by the breadth of NIRAS’s work in sustainable rural development, Maxi is excited about the role he can play.
Meet our employees

Maxi Stephen Opwonya: Making markets work more effectively for the poor

A specialist in market system programming, NIRAS’s Country Director for Uganda shares what he hopes to achieve in his role heading up our newly established Kampala office

Growing up in the northern Ugandan district of Gulu, Maxi Opwonya has witnessed first-hand the ephemeral impact of emergency interventions. The infamous Lord’s Resistance Army had committed many atrocities in the area, resulting in the internal displacement of about 150,000 people. Over a period of several years in the 1990s, humanitarian aid groups operated in his small town but delivered little long-term results for the local community.

Maxi knew there had to be a better way.

“The dependency syndrome grew extensively as people became accustomed to others doing for them what they believed they could not do for themselves. Once the aid was gone, people were left with nothing. This really pushed me to become passionate about improving food security and ensuring sustainable rural development, supported by strong and inclusive markets.

“You could say I became an ambassador of the approach. Pro-poor market system programming helps to build the capacity and resilience of local systems by leveraging the incentives and resources of the private sector to ensure the inclusion of those who previously have not reaped any benefits.”

A rich experience working with NGOs and global aid agencies

Maxi’s passion for stimulating change and innovation that continues to grow beyond the life of an intervention or project led him to Gulu University where he earned a Bachelors in Development Studies. He volunteered with the UN and global NGOs to supplement his studies. This led him to the International Committee of the Red Cross where he worked as Economic Security Officer for three years, spearheading the development of emergency preparedness plans to ensure readiness to respond to crises.

Moving away from emergency response to development and resilience programming, the next years were filled with stints on various international donor projects working with the likes of World Vision and Action Against Hunger and five years with the global humanitarian response agency, GOAL International. Over this period, Maxi mostly focussed on food security and rural livelihoods and specialised in agricultural market system programming. He also had the opportunity to support work on gender-based violence, micro-financing, vocational skills development, and WASH.

​I hope to share my experience on using the market system programming approach with colleagues at NIRAS and likewise learn from others how to become an even better international consultant on sustainable development in the fight against poverty. So far, I’m inspired by the level of expertise in the company and love the teamwork approach. My dream is that Uganda becomes a leader in winning bids under our operations in Africa and running the most cost-effective operations. 

Prior to joining NIRAS in March of this year, Maxi was Head of Programme for Self Help Africa, an international charity that promotes and implements long-term rural development projects. In addition to day-to-day management of staff and stakeholder engagement, the 37-year-old directed programme strategy, oversaw business development and provided technical oversight to multiple country projects.

“The last years really laid the groundwork for my current role at NIRAS. I juggled my leadership and business development responsibilities with programme and staff management and support to a large number of project portfolios … agricultural livelihoods, natural resource management, youth-led agribusiness and micro-enterprises, gender and nutrition … a little bit everything, you could say.”

And in the midst of all that, Maxi got an MBA.

Maxi together with his former colleague, Fiona Mitchel, Country Director for GOAL Uganda

Love what you do, and the rest will be easy

While at university all those years ago, Maxi supported his studies by working as a security guard on campus where he learned important life lessons not taught in the classroom and which he carries with him today.

“Working long hours, I realised the only way to be satisfied was to love what I did, give it my best always and respect others. This principle has taken me this far. Everybody has an in-born worth and can contribute to the community. We can treat one another with dignity and respect, provide opportunities to grow toward our fullest lives, and help each other discover and develop our unique gifts.”

Max brings that empathy and passion for a strong work ethic to NIRAS where, in his new position as Country Office Director of NIRAS International Consulting Uganda Limited, he leads the day-to-day management of operations – including staff and client management – oversees project quality, and is responsible for local business development opportunities.

Although he has only been with NIRAS for a few months, in that short time Maxi established the International Consulting office in Uganda, where we previously only had a representative, and signed off on internal administrative agreements for two of our biggest projects in the country – the DFID-funded Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) and GIZ-funded Civil Society Support programmes).

Impressed by the breadth of NIRAS’s work in sustainable rural development, Maxi is excited about the role he can play.

“​I hope to share my experience on using the market system programming approach with colleagues at NIRAS and likewise learn from others how to become an even better international consultant on sustainable development in the fight against poverty. So far, I’m inspired by the level of expertise in the company and love the teamwork approach. My dream is that Uganda becomes a leader in winning bids under our operations in Africa and running the most cost-effective operations.” 

Challenge received and accepted. Welcome Maxi to NIRAS International Consulting!