For 16 years, Partners in Food Solutions has paired volunteers from U.S. companies with African businesses to improve the continent's food system.

Now the Minnesota-based nonprofit General Mills founded will have the expertise of an African business leader to dial up the impact and broaden its reach. Mandla Nkomo began as CEO on Monday with a mandate to "create more opportunities."

"It was really interesting to me to see the potential this organization still has," Nkomo said in a recent interview from South Africa, where he is based. "We've worked with over 2,000 African entrepreneurs and impacted millions of smallholders. And yet, truth be told, that's just a small subset of what is possible."

Raised in Zimbabwe, Nkomo has worked in food, agriculture and economic development for private companies and NGOs around Africa, Europe and the U.S. He most recently served as chief growth officer for the CGIAR Excellence in Agronomy Initiative.

Partners in Food Solutions, or PFS, brings food processing, business and supply chain expertise to entrepreneurs and companies so African communities can add value to crops and grow local economies.

"If every link in the value chain is working, Africa can not only feed itself but also help feed the world," the nonprofit said. Last year, PFS served 700 clients, which on average saw revenue, workforce and farmer supply chains grow meaningfully.

Co-founder and longtime CEO Jeff Dykstra will stick around as an adviser for the remainder of the year and said PFS' "best days are ahead."

Nkomo agreed.

"I think I joined the organization at the right time to start asking the question around what is possible and how can we organize ourselves around that?" he said.

The new leader shared more thoughts one the nonprofit in the following interview, edited for clarity and length.

Why did you join PFS?

My background academically is I studied biochemistry, and that really gave me a very good grounding for what then became the loves of my life: food and agriculture.

So I've always moved between working in the food space or in the agricultural space, both from an entrepreneurial perspective but also from a developmental perspective. How do we help people get to the best version of themselves, especially in places like Africa, where there's quite a few challenges that people need to overcome? But at the same time, how do we turn obvious opportunities into sustainable and thriving businesses?

So it's really been that journey of trying to feed a curiosity that I have. Curiosity around what are the possibilities of creating really awesome products that mean a lot to the people who spend their good money. But at the same time, trying to unlock human potential.

When PFS came knocking, a lot of those things aligned.

How are Africa's changing demographics driving its needs?

When you look at the continent, we're entering, I think, the most exciting phase of Africa's history. It's soon going to have the largest population of young people globally. And the second important thing is this rapid urbanization taking place on the African continent.

Providing food to large urban populations is a challenge Africa has not had to do at a large scale, as will be required in the near future. But secondly, you've got this mass pool of talent, the demographic dividend, as they call it, so how do you unlock the potential of that? Especially when many in Africa have long survived on subsistence farming?

You need to build these strong connections between the countryside where the food is going to be produced, creating the right amount of talent that is able to respond to this opportunity and ultimately, deliver to a kind of food consumer that the continent has not had to deal with before.

Currently, we are seeing increased African food imports, as opposed to locally produced food. So when you get the conflict in Ukraine, you start seeing a huge spike in African food prices.

How do you expand the philanthropic side of PFS?

Our secret sauce is our ability to bring global food companies like General Mills, Cargill and others and say: "Here's an opportunity for you to make a contribution by giving your employees this amazing chance to share their knowledge, to share their skills, in supporting a food-processing revolution on the African continent."

What we need to be able to do now is deepen that impact, to grow our base of corporate partners, and to really reach more countries on the African continent with the services and offerings that we can provide.

So our job is to start by acknowledging this great asset that these companies have and pointing it out to them that — without deviating from their core business mandate, which they have to their shareholders — there's an opportunity here.

What can PFS' impact look like?

Comaco, our first client, basically started with this notion to increase conservation in Zambia. Rural people were being asked to preserve flora and fauna, but there was no real benefit to them. What Comaco started to do was create incentives for people to preserve some of the biodiversity in their areas by creating value. So they set up beehives, for example, in areas where they didn't want deforestation: If you've got hives there you're getting income from, of course you don't want to destroy the trees.

But they became so successful that all of a sudden you have all this honey. Now what do you do with it? You need to create a commercial product out of it. So when PFS started working with them, it was to help them turn the different products that they were getting from their conservation work into food products that could sit on supermarket shelves, meeting all the required standards.

So we've contributed over the last 15 years to what started off as a tiny development project to become probably one of the largest consumer goods companies in Zambia.

Why is PFS' Minnesota connection so important?

Probably the most important message we want to send out, especially to the residents of Minneapolis, is that the giving tradition that Minnesota is known for continues at PFS. And my job as the incoming CEO is to create more opportunities for the residents of Minnesota to contribute, whether it's with their time, with their giving or through the entities they work for.

I was at the Mill City Museum recently when we were saying farewell to the outgoing CEO, and I got to meet a lot of some of these people. One said to me, "I've been giving to this organization for many years. I really want to see how much more impact we can achieve with you on board."

So I've already got my marching orders.