Category Archives: Initiatives

ChurecaChic empowers women through fashion

“Agora has acted for us as a seal of approval to get other accelerators, organizations, and investors to be interested in us.”

Andrea Paltzer believes in the power of innovative fashion to drive hundreds of women into the formal economy. She spent much of her 20s working in various NGOs across Central and South America, dealing with children’s health, poverty, and education. Eventually, she arrived at a NGO focused on educational infrastructure in Nicaragua, and found herself enraptured with the question of how to help generations of adults without any formal education access stable careers.

It was around this time that she learned of La Chureca, a municipal and industrial landfill, more aptly described as the largest garbage dump in all of Central America, and home to a shockingly large, impoverished community. This community worked and played amongst the trash, making their living sorting through the scraps for bits of metal and plastic. Andrea’s heart was touched by the perseverance of these people, surviving in such terrible conditions, and she decided she had to help.

Andrea knew that their greatest challenge was not a lack of money, but a lack of the education required to make a living in the formal economy. Furthermore, as officially listed residents of La Chureca, these individuals carried a debilitating label, earning them only discrimination and scorn from potential employers. The solution, therefore, had to go beyond simple welfare payments. Andrea had to change the individuals. She thus launched the Earth Education Project (EEP), a job-skills education program specifically catered to La Chureca’s women, funded by a series of scholarships from its community recycling business.

The program enrolls women with neither formal education nor experience in the formal economy in a year of reading, writing, and computing classes. It extends beyond the cultivation of these hard skills, teaching self-esteem, conflict resolution, and household management to psychologically empower the women, allowing them to successfully hold onto employment once they enter the formal economy. Upon completion of the program, graduates are placed through organizational partners into steady jobs across the country.

Despite the EEP’s laudable mission and initial success, Andrea knew from experience that NGOs are hard to sustain. A steady source of income was necessary if she was to maintain the Project, and so she came up with an idea for how to generate profit. And, just like that, Chureca Chic was born.

Launched in 2013 as an independent fashion label and registered officially in 2015 as a social enterprise, Chureca Chic takes recycled materials from the dump and transforms them into beautiful pieces of unique jewelry. The company provides full-time employment to several EEP graduates, and its profits are funneled back into the Project to expand its scholarship program. Andrea’s greatest achievement, however, is that her company has empowered dozens of women, placing 150 graduates into formal jobs and employing seven women itself. Fany Guerrero, who used to work for $5 a month at a jewelry co-op, now makes $220 a month, running the production line at Chureca Chic and more confident in her abilities than ever before.

Hoping to expand her vision, Andrea applied to Agora’s Accelerator and was accepted to its 2016 class. Her company, just founded, was an exception, a couple years behind the rest of her social entrepreneurial peers. But with the help of a patient and committed consultant, Andrea bridged this divide. She reorganized her projects and financial statements and emerged from the Accelerator with a clear investor report, a strengthened growth strategy, and contacts for potential sources of funding and partnerships.

Today, Andrea is focused on increasing national sales and expanding throughout the region. She plans to incorporate recycled plastic and wood into Chureca Chic’s raw materials, diversifying her products and eventually reaching the European market. Andrea hopes to one day absorb all running costs of the Earth Education Project, and is well on her way to meeting that goal.

Andrea is inspired everyday by the women she sees transformed through the EEP and empowered by formal employment. She believes that persistence, resilience, and consistent innovation have transformed the idea of La Chureca from something detestable into something beautiful. Andrea runs her company on the values of commitment, responsibility, and honesty, and her team of women are changing the world, one recycled string of beads at a time.

Learn more about ChurecaChic at www.eartheducationproject.org.

Meso assists Mayan artisans in Guatemala

 “We had an objective but no idea how to get there. Agora taught us how to order our priorities, re-analyze our strategies, and achieve our goals.”

Marisa Umaña believes in the power of artisanal design to empower women and bring economic opportunities and development to rural communities. A student of international commerce and policy, Marisa moved her professional life quite naturally into the field of economic development. After acquiring a Masters in Belgium, she returned to Guatemala, deciding to take a job as the Director of the Handcrafts Division for the Exporters’ Association. As the leader of a USAID-funded project, she threw her energy into fostering economic development in rural areas and connecting the women to clients in international markets. It was there that she met Diego and Gonzalo, who, wanting to create contemporary handmade products with traditional techniques, had founded the Mayan Store in 2010.

With a fondness for art and design, extensive travel experience, and unmistakably strong Guatemalan roots, Diego Olivero had decided to create a diverse handcrafted collection to highlight his cultural tradition. Fascinated by the intersection between business and social impact, Gonzalo Pertile had worked in both the public and private sectors and was driven to create local development.

The two partners were impressed with Marisa’s experience with the handcraft sector in Guatemala and invited her to join their project in 2016. The first, a natural in topics of innovation design, the second, fluent in the language of international development, and the last, an expert on coordinating local handcraft artisans, the team steadily expanded their business.

Over the years, they committed themselves to the preservation of Mayan cultural heritage. They partnered with wool weavers from the Momostenango municipality, women beaders in the Sololá department, and glassblowers in a recycling-based cooperative, providing artisans who had lived in conditions of extreme poverty with a sustainable income and access to the international market. They diversified their products beyond their renown woven rugs, expanding to chairs, glassware, and jewelry, and eventually changed their name to Meso, identifying their target market as Central America.

Despite knowing that they wanted to access investment, the Meso team had no idea how to become investment-ready. They struggled with creating a clear financial plan that would list their cost structures accurately, and did not know which direction to move in. So, in 2017, they applied to Agora’s Accelerator.

In the retreat and months of consulting that followed, they were shown how to achieve their objective. They emerged from the program with a re-analyzed growth strategy, invaluable investment contacts, and a stronger financial plan. With a company restructured in accordance with their goals, the team divided the work amongst themselves, relegating grants, design, and operative administration to the expert of each field.

The Meso team today continues moving steadily toward investment-readiness and expanding their network. Starting with three artisans in 2010, Meso now works with over 500 individuals, most of whom live in the northern highlands of Guatemala. They’ve focused their expansion on empowering women, moving female artisans into an agricultural group previously managed solely by men. In the process, they have brought an increased income and improved living conditions to all these families. Marisa has worked consistently to perfect effective communication with her artisans, many of whom have never been exposed to the need for quality control or deadlines nor understood finances. She happily reports that the process has become much smoother, and that she and her team have ambitious goals for growth. They plan to develop workshops where their artisans will be able to separate work from home in a space safe for dyeing and weaving, and thus reduce certain health risks.

Marisa believes that the diversity of her team has been the key to their success, each individual contributing a unique skill set to the company and inspiring the others to persevere. Despite the many challenges of working with rural Guatemalan artisans, Marisa is encouraged to continue driving social impact by her sense of responsibility to herself, her team, and society.

Marisa, Diego, and Gonzalo run their company on the values of teamwork, perseverance, and creativity, and they are changing the world, one beautiful wool-woven rug at a time.

Learn more about Meso at https://www.mesolifestyle.com

Agora Partnerships Joins with MovingWorlds to Empower Entrepreneurs and Drive Sustainable Solutions

In 2015, international leaders came together to discuss the myriad issues facing our global community and identify 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address these challenges by 2030. Achieving the Global Goals will take creativity, tenacity, and an unwavering dedication to creating a better world. At Agora Partnerships, we believe that entrepreneurs will lead the charge to realize the future envisioned by the SDGs.

In an effort to expand upon our core mission of supporting and empowering entrepreneurs, Agora Partnerships is thrilled to announce a new partnership with MovingWorlds.  Through the partnership, Agora entrepreneurs have access to the skills of talented professionals who will donate their time and expertise towards solving business and technical challenges.

It’s called Experteering, and it was designed by MovingWorlds to connect social impact organizations with highly-skilled professionals. Experteers have years of experience and go through a training and planning process to ensure that they start making a positive impact on your organization from day one.

As a fellow social enterprise, MovingWorlds believes that social impact organizations should not pay for help and, thus, will not charge your company for Experteer services. All MovingWorlds asks is that you provide an immersive experience and local benefits to your Experteer, which normally means providing the Experteer with free accommodation.

Already,  Agora entrepreneurs have reaped the benefits of working with Experteers. One such organization is Suyo, a Colombia-based company that uses technology and microfinance models to support displaced populations with affordable, reliable property formalization services. In order to establish trust in the unreliable formalization sector, Suyo needed to enhance their user interface to convey professionalism and dependability. MovingWorlds matched Suyo with an Experteer, Felicia, who moved to Medellin, spending months getting to know Suyo’s customers and developing an effective user interface.

Through the partnership with MovingWorlds, Agora entrepreneurs can access more human capital than ever before and overcome business and technical barriers, allowing them to take their organization to the next level of growth and impact.

To learn more about the partnership, or to sign up to be an Experteer for Agora entrepreneurs, visit our partner page.

How your company can benefit:

If you are a current or alumni Agora entrepreneur seeking support, sign up to be matched with an Experteer at MovingWorlds.org. Through your affiliation with Agora Partnerships, your organization will experience increased traffic on your MovingWorlds profile and receive additional matching support from the MovingWorlds team.

Get started today by signing up at MovingWorlds.org and indicating your Agora Partnerships affiliation on the organization setup page!

How you can support entrepreneurs:

If you want to increase support to Agora entrepreneurs, Experteering is a fantastic way to make a unique and lasting impact. By becoming an Experteer, encouraging your friends to sign up, or promoting Experteering projects on social media, you can help bridge the talent gap and provide invaluable support to high-potential social entrepreneurs.

Browse all Agora-affiliated projects or sign up on Movingworlds.org to get started!