Partnership with Vital Voices

by Matthew Pietras

In Managua, we have seen the temperature climb over 100° the past few days, but I am very happy to report that Agora has withstood the sweltering heat and made significant progress on our partnership with Vital Voices.

Vital Voices is a global organization whose mission aims to train, empower and enhance emerging female leaders throughout the globe. Recently, the Nicaragua division of Vital Voices launched their “Living in Democracy” initiative that will span the next two years with the goal of identifying, mentoring and educating female entrepreneurs. Agora, who also echoes these sentiments and believes that female entrepreneurs play an essential role in the developing world, will be using our past experiences to help structure key elements of the project.

First, the content for the Vital Voices: Living in Democracy website will be created and maintained by Agora over the next two years. The initial launch with occur within Q2 of 2010 and will highlight key information for female entrepreneurs, including financial models, entrepreneur guides and common FAQs. The website will also host a forum where current participants can ask questions to Agora staff and receive regular responses to their entrepreneurial queries. Two-way communication is an essential aspect of this project.

In addition, Agora will be working with Vital Voices to construct four manual-esque books for the female entrepreneurs participating in the Living in Democracy program. The four books will be as follows: 1) Finance and Accounting for Small Companies, 2) Personal Accounting, 3) Leadership based on Value, 4) Persuasion and Incidence. Agora and Vital Voices hope to have the books ready for dissemination in the early part of Q4 2010.

All of us at Agora are very excited for this opportunity as it directly correlates to our expanding women’s initiative, and future partnerships with Vital Voices.

Now, all of the above will be published primarily in Spanish, but for those interested, non-Spanish speaking parties, I am working on making both entities as globally friendly as possible! Many more updates to come on this endeavor!

I hope everyone is enjoying the Fellow’s blog, and I invite all of you to send comments and questions to each post. I look forward to hearing from my readers!

Until next time, recuerde, la innovación es clave para una economía mundial fuerte.

Always, your Fellow

An Extended Stay in London

by Ben Powell

Like millions of others across the globe, I am stranded far from home due to the volcanic ash cloud hanging over most of the UK. I’m here because I attended the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs first year anniversary event and the Skoll World Forum. Both took place a little over a week ago in what seems now like a completely different trip. Now that the skies over London are filled with planes again, and my travel plans back home seem to have stabilized (no freedom bus/car/train to Madrid for me, I took a different strategy – read on) it seems like a good time to jot down a few notes about what I learned these last two weeks.

– At the ANDE event, I learned that some London based former VCs have concluded that a major way they can contribute to the growth of the impact entrepreneurship industry is to mentor fund managers operating impact investment funds in the developing world – in their case, in Africa. They mentor, sit on the investment committee, and provide some grant capital and investment capital. This is quite simply a fantastic idea and an extraordinary way for successful investment professionals to give back. We ask a lot of new fund managers operating in the extremely difficult markets and we need them to learn quickly and grow professionally as fast as possible. Let’s have more retired VCs mentoring impact investment fund managers.

– At Skoll, from Paul Hawkins to the head of JP Morgan’s impact investment group to many conversations in the hallways, two critically important themes emerged. The first is that while we need growth in the developing world to fight poverty, we can’t do it at the expense of future generations. Meaning: we need ways to support a new generation of impact entrepreneurs who are not generating negative externalities but who have incorporated sustainability into their business DNA.  Second, there seems to be a growing realization that we need to support more networks, have more collaboration, and generally work closer together than many of the organizations – many of which compete for the same dollars – are used to. This is a very positive sign.

Continue reading An Extended Stay in London

New Fellow in Nicaragua

by Sarah Hiller

Hello from Managua! I am a new Agora Fellow in Nicaragua alongside Matthew Pietras. With just one week of work under my belt, I already know Agora is a great fit for me. Agora first caught my eye a couple months ago, when I checked out its website and did an informational interview with current Agora Fellow, Emma Taylor.

I learned that although Agora is a nonprofit, it seems to be run like a for-profit start-up. I also gathered that it is a no-nonsense, results-driven, social-impact focused organization that targets an underserved community. Judging by Agora’s relationship with the Clinton Global Initiative among others and recognition including the Social Venture Network’s Innovation Awards, Agora appeared to be a legitimate mover and shaker, while still a relatively young organization. Finally, and important in my decision to accept Agora’s offer, my experience talking with Emma and Paul Davidson throughout the interview process was a very good one, and I got good, smart vibes all round. I thought I could contribute the skill set that Agora was looking for, and in turn I could gain very valuable experience.

I dove in to the Agora Fellowship at the ANDE Latin American Conference in Granada, where I learned a ton and also met my colleagues in person for the first time—what would we do without Skype and email?? After that, I spent Semana Santa in San Pedro La Laguna and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where for the previous seven months I had lived, studied Spanish, and worked. I gained field experience as a consultant on a USAID-funded project with Counterpart International, where I prepared community groups to apply for loans to jumpstart their new businesses. I guided the development of businesses plans, financial statements, loan terms, and everything banks require for a credit application. I really enjoyed that work and knew I wanted to stay in the field. Separately, I led a workshop for loan officers and branch managers of Banco Industrial, one of the largest banks in Guatemala, on how to increase their sales of financial products.

For four years prior to that, I worked at a public relations agency in Washington, D.C, called Widmeyer Communications, with clients that include The Coca-Cola Company, Shell Chemicals, and nonprofits. Earlier, I was founder and president of Net Impact at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, where I earned a B.S. in Commerce. When I’m not working, you can find me salsa dancing, cooking, running, and exploring Nicaraguan culture.

In my first week at Agora, I’ve visited five businesses that have received consulting and/or capital from Agora: Oscarito´s, VegyFrut, Panadería Corazón de Oro, Clínica del Pie, and Fábrica Pochi. Not only was it inspiring, but for me, talking with the entrepreneurs is a critical first step that will enable me to really do my job; if I want to support people, I need to understand who they are, how they work, their challenges and opportunities. Surely I’ll have more contact with these and other entrepreneurs in the future, but for now I look forward to putting that base of knowledge to work!

New Team Member in DC

by Roger Teran

Greetings everybody! I wanted to take this opportunity to formally (and virtually) introduce myself: my name is Roger E. Teran, and I am a new Associate with Agora Partnerships.

As I introduced myself to a plethora of development professionals, fund managers and impact entrepreneurs throughout the last month, I would get the following two questions every single time: What is my job as an Associate with Agora? And, more sharply, am I Ricardo’s brother? It’s time to address these questions once and for all.

What is my job as an Associate with Agora?
Simply put, as an Associate I will be in charge of Agora’s day-to-day affairs, from making sure our finances are in order to maximizing our use of the lovely platform. And as we all try to make an impact in the world, I will make sure we continue to run as efficiently and smoothly as possible, just like those lean and mean, small and growing businesses. After all, if we can’t run like a business, who are we to provide advice and capital to one, eh?

Am I Ricardo’s brother?
The answer is no. That would be Eduardo Teran, who is way cooler than I am. But I can see how that’s puzzling given that we have the same last name and, more confusingly, the “E” in my middle initial stands for Eduardo. So, to recap, I am not Ricardo’s brother.

I am, however, his second cousin. You see, I have a theory that every other person in Nicaragua is genealogically related to a Teran. That explains why I meet at least a hundred new cousins every time I visit Nicaragua. And that might also explain why everybody in Nicaragua is so nice—the nation is just one big family! Only a theory folks.

All kidding aside, for a very long time Ricardo has been one of the few people I’ve genuinely looked up to as a role model. In many ways, I want to develop the same kind of social enterprise and ultimately deliver the same kind of impact in my home country of El Salvador. And it’s for this reason that I so ardently believe in the Agora model: Your entire outlook in life can change when you have authentic leaders paving the difficult road ahead. That’s the power of entrepreneurship

Though I have much to learn, I am extremely excited and blessed to be surrounded by a cadre of exceptional leaders at Agora. Most importantly, I am truly happy. It’s the sort of happiness that I could only find by doing what I am suppose to do.

With that, I leave you all with my favorite Confucian quote. It goes like this:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


Agora Partners with Arthur B. Schultz Foundation

by Alejandro Solis

Agora’s newest partner, Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people through the support of microenterprises, women’s empowerment, and mobility solutions for the disabled. Its flagship grant program is the Social Microenterprise Initiative (SMI), a truly innovative, ‘pay-it-forward’ small business loan program. Through it’s partnership with the Schultz Foundation, Agora will pilot their SMI program in Central America.

To date, SMI has been successfully implemented in five challenging locations around the world: Russia, Vietnam, Palestine, Tibet, and Kenya.

SMI is a unique program that makes interest-free small business loans strictly for machinery and equipment. Businesses repay the SMI loans not in cash, but by donating in-kind products, services, and vocational training to the poor in their communities. Agora Partnerships will pilot this program in Nicaragua in the fall of 2010.

I recently attended an SMI Conference in Berkeley, CA. The purpose of the SMI Conference was to evaluate the up-to-date results, as well as to analyze the program´s ability to expand further in the near future, both from a sustainability and impact-growth perspective.

For me and Agora Partnerships, the conference was a great opportunity to learn more about the structure of the SMI program and better understand the effects of implementing such a program in Nicaragua. The aim for Agora and the Schultz Foundation was to identify how both institutions can work as partners to bring the SMI program to Latin America. The Schultz Foundation’s board recently approved a pilot SMI project in Nicaragua to begin in the second half of 2010. Both institutions will begin to work diligently in the fall to make this endeavor a reality.

Updates from Nicaragua

By Matthew Pietras

After returning from an amazing week of sun in Costa Rica, it was back to the grind in Managua. Agora is moving full steam ahead as it approaches some important new endeavors.

On Monday, April 12th, Agora will launch its first every ‘Team Member Fundraising Challenge.’ Each team member has been assigned the task of raising $100 towards Agora’s mission. Now, this may not seem like a lot of money, and some of you may be asking where the challenge lies?! Well, no donation can be over $5 and each team member can only donate ONCE to the challenge. Therefore, it will require 19 separate donations to win the challenge. Please help our team members out by visiting their Firstgiving pages. Stay tuned for next week’s blog to see who is the closest to winning a very special Nica prize!

Outside of Managua, Agora continues to expand its footprint with the help of our amazing Young Professionals’ Board. April 14th marks the first ever ‘Noche de Colaboracion’ in New York City at Cuba Restaurant. If you are in the city and would like to meet members of the Agora community, please come by! For more details, see our website.

This week’s post is short and sweet as I am headed to a site visit in Masaya! Next week, look forward to information about our upcoming partnership with Vital Voices on their ‘Living in Democracy’ project.

Disfruta de su fin de semana!

Your Fellow

Reflections from Granada

By Ben Powell

The Granada conference in Nicaragua is over but its legacy is just beginning. Francisco Noguera gave a lot of the details in his great post on the conference. For those who attended, I hope we set a standard for what an Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) conference should be.  For those who couldn’t attend, I think the conference brought into relief some key opportunities and stress points currently facing the emerging industry of impact entrepreneurship/investing.

Here are just a few takeaways from the conference.

The front line members of the movement are young. The conference was about the next generation of leaders, and they were there in full force – extremely bright, educated, and committed to the enormous development challenges ahead. There was a sense of a generational shift. Even the older folks were young souls. We are lucky to be able to attract such a high caliber of person to the movement.

It takes two to tango. There has been a lot of momentum lately on the investor side – lots of intellectual and financial capital has been amassed to summon increasingly large amounts of impact capital to entrepreneurs. This is fantastic. We need a similar commitment on the entrepreneur side to ensure there is the absorptive capacity to put that capital to work. The presence of a few select entrepreneurs at the conference was a great reality check. After all, the conference and the entire industry is ultimately about helping entrepreneurs reach their potential to create change.  What did we learn? Quite a lot, but I’ll just make two points:  1) entrepreneurs need to be at the table – they need to be invested in this movement as much as investors are – and they need to make it their own, like they are doing in the U.S. with B Corporations.  2) Even in a small country like Nicaragua that is overrun with development organizations – the entrepreneurial market is still  not clear – it’s fragmented, if not broken entirely. Entrepreneurs still do not know about key networks and opportunities for partnerships, much less what impact investors really want.  This continuing lack of information among entrepreneurs is a problem that does have a solution, but it not going to come entirely from the investor side. Entrepreneur-centered organizations like Agora need to do a better job training entrepreneurs before they get in the ring with investors.

It’s all about local staff. Period. For many delegates, this was the first ever conference of its type they have ever attended.  For nearly all of us, it was one of the first conferences that squarely drew a circle around an amorphous industry and defined the delegates as belonging to a movement. Probably the number one goal of the conference was to unleash the potential of local staff to do their jobs better – and through training, networking, building trust, learning a common vocabulary, speaking with thought leaders from outside the region – I think the conference helped do that. Working in this sector is an incredible privilege and responsibility – the local staff – those with the most knowledge and the most at stake understand that more than ever. They are the ones who will take ANDE and the impact investment movement in directions we can’t even imagine today.

This is a movement based on common values for the kind of world we want to live in. Join up. There is nothing like signing your name to something you believe in. In the middle of Lake Nicaragua delegates signed the Granada Declaration. Check it out, and if you agree with its precepts and want to support sustainable, impact entrepreneurs across the globe, sign it.

Greetings from Matthew, an Agora Fellow

By Matthew Pietras

Welcome to the new Agora Fellows’ Blog!

I’m Matthew, a new Agora Fellow.  My first month in Nicaragua is coming to a close, and I cannot believe all that I have experienced. Between adjusting to Nica life and engraining myself in the work of Agora…well, let’s just say that I have definitely packed a lot into those 720 hours! But, the most important event to date was the ANDE (Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs) Conference we had last week in Granada. Continue reading Greetings from Matthew, an Agora Fellow

ANDE Latin America Conference 2010

By Lissette Cuadra

This past week I spent most of my days at the ANDE Latin-American Conference in Granada, one of the most beautiful cities of my lovely Nicaragua. Agora had the honor of hosting it along with Root Capital and TechnoServe. Let me reiterate what and honor it was.

As part of the Agora Staff in Nicaragua, it was a great experience getting to know some of the organizations we are related to through the ANDE network and to strengthen the bonds for collaboration.

The whole week was very productive in terms of learning about what other partner organizations are doing, sharing experiences to develop entrepreneurship and SGBs in the region, and overcoming obstacles in the creation and improvement of best tools and networks for the growth of these businesses.

I felt like I needed to talk to so many people about so many things! I didn’t know where to start.

I will definitely begin by mentioning my first contact with Agora’s new additions.

New Associate in DC, Roger Teran, he seems to be a great addition to the team, and I’m glad to have a new link to the DC office. Roger seems very talented and eager to work with Agora’s Nicaragua office and I’m glad that he got to come to our country for this event.

Also, it was nice to meet Sarah Hiller, our upcoming 2010 Fellow. She will be joining us in Nicaragua early April. She will be an integral part of the exapnsion of our Women’s Initiative. I will need so much help with that, and I know that her experience in Guatemala, and her general background will be of great assistance to make this program successful. I will tell you more about it in my post next week. Continue reading ANDE Latin America Conference 2010

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