Tag Archives: central america

Promesa teaches students to value the environment

“My relationship with the consultant was the best part of the program; I felt comfortable enough to share every detail with him and he helped us to both restructure our program and strengthen our team.”

Julio Alvarez believes in the promise of an educational program to raise the environmental consciousness of a nation. While still a university student, Julio traveled often to Mexico’s beautiful Acapulco beach on family vacations. However, he was appalled by the apathy people had toward the environment. Visitors littered all over the sands, and the evening tide brought in plastic bags, diapers, and empty bottles. His frustration moved him to action; he started an organization that prompted beachfront restaurants to pay for the installation of trash bins, yet, 200 bins later, people still did not seem to care.

Julio was driven to do more. Over the next few years, he created environmental initiatives, green reports, reforestation programs, ecological holiday agendas, and environmental workshops for 26 companies. Again, however, the same stubborn apathy reared its ugly head. Realizing how difficult it was to change an adult’s mind about living a more sustainable life, Julio knew he had to craft a quality environmental education program targeted at youth. Thus was born the concept for Promesa.

Julio gathered a group of psychologists, biologists, and environmental engineers, who together formulated a K-12 program that not only involves every student, but also includes important milestones to measure progress. As an additional bonus, he structured the model so that it is completely self-sustainable by collecting and selling the recycling from the enrolled schools. Schools can therefore enroll in the program free of charge. Moreover, the ripple effect of this environmental initiative reaches beyond the students, touching their teachers, families, and administrators.

The results were stunning. Post-program surveys revealed steadily increasing numbers of students who recycle, and a partnered school has already developed a compost zone, vertical gardens, and pluvial water collection, with plans to install solar panels.

Julio was ready to scale. He applied to Agora’s Accelerator, looking to gain valuable consulting on how best to expand his company. With access to a network of successful social entrepreneurs, a consultant whose hands-on approach showed him his full potential for growth, and an experience at SOCAP where he was confident enough to ask for larger investments than ever before, Julio’s ambition was fully unleashed. He emerged from the Accelerator program with a stronger financial model that could be pitched to international investors, a clearer idea of the team he needed to scale his company, and a more solid communication strategy that allowed him to successfully secure investments six months later.

Promesa is now on the fast track. With an astonishing 100% retention rate of enrolled schools and a rapidly expanding team, Julio hopes to reach 250 schools in the next two months, 1000 schools by 2018, and 7000 schools by 2022. He is building connections across Mexico and the U.S., joining with foundations and associations to champion his environmental cause.

Julio wants to share his passion with everyone, believing that the program is the key to awakening the environmental consciousness of its many students. Promesa is fueled by the passion of its incredible team, and it is changing the world, one school at a time.

Learn more about Promesa at www.grupopromesa.com.

Estación Vital fights chronic diseases in Nicaragua

“Being an entrepreneur is almost a spiritual experience; you have to know clearly what you want so your inner demons will not counter you at any stage of your project.”

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Is Philanthropy Ready For System Change?

On July 26th, 2013 Peter Buffett wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that caused a little brouhaha in the philanthropy and social entrepreneurship worlds. The piece drew praise and criticism, notably from Matthew Bishop, and some buzz for a time, and then faded away.  For me, the criticism missed the point, which I thought was right on.  I decided to write about the topic when one of our young team members from Nicaragua forwarded the op-ed to our whole team. The piece did for him what every good piece will do: it made him feel and it made him think. Even better, it energized him and made him realize that he was not alone.

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Valores Fundamentales – lo que buscamos cuando se seleccionan emprendedores

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)La Aceleradora Agora está diseñada para emprendedores con potencial real para hacer una contribución importante y positiva al mundo. Cuando se seleccionan nuestras clases, nos fijamos en una serie de factores que incluyen que tan innovador es el modelo de negocio, la escalabilidad y el impacto social; pero el factor más importante es la calidad del emprendedor. Averiguar quienes son los emprendedores más prometedores para la Aceleradora es una de nuestras tareas más difíciles, sobre todo en vista de la enorme energía y la innovación que estamos viendo entre emprendedores que trabajan en América Latina. No pretendemos tener todas las respuestas, pero hemos encontrado que el uso de una serie de valores fundamentales como marco puede ser increíblemente útil para comprender la motivación de un emprendedor, para impulsar su empresa al éxito.

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The Value of Community Along the Road Less Traveled

Vega is solving a major problem in the coffee industry: 80% of coffee farmers worldwide (20 million farmers) are trapped in a cycle of subsistence farming, earning around $1 per pound of coffee which is ultimately sold for upwards of $20 per pound. Typical coffee supply chains include around 20 middlemen and can take up to 6 months for the coffee bean to reach the consumer.

Vega empowers coffee farmers in Nicaragua to process their own premium beans, and connects them directly with coffee lovers on their online marketplace.

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Agora Accelerator Provides Birds-Eye View for Entrepreneurs in Latin America


Luciérnaga distributes small solar lighting technologies that affordably meet the
lighting and device charging needs for energy poor populations in Central America. Luciérnaga fights energy poverty, delivers clean energy, and strengthens markets. The company has sold 3,400 solar lights, providing 17,000 people with access to light and allowing them to save up to $220 per year.

Luciérnaga participated in the 2014 Agora Accelerator. We interviewed the Founder and Managing Director, Sebastian Africano, to learn more about why he decided to apply for the Accelerator and what value he gained.

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Retreat 2014: Accelerating the Shift Toward a New Economy

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John Kohler, Co-Founder of Toniic and leader in the field of impact investing, stated it bluntly: “I’d rather fund a medium business plan with excellent people, rather than a great plan with medium people.” When it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage, the founding team of entrepreneurs plays an absolutely indispensable role. They are the ones making the decisions, taking the risks, and creating businesses that have the potential to shift the way that business functions in society. They bring a unique energy that is truly indispensable, an energy that could be felt powerfully throughout the week of January 27 in Granada, Nicaragua during the Agora 2014 Entrepreneur Retreat.

IMG_6030 (1)The Entrepreneur Retreat serves as the launch event for the Agora Accelerator, an intensive, 3-stage program designed to give entrepreneurs access to the knowledge, networks, and capital they need to scale their business models and their impact. The 2014 Retreat was designed with the intent of strengthening three key components of the early stage ecosystem: the community, the business, the individual. The agenda challenged the entrepreneurs to dive deep into both their business models and their own decision-making as leaders. However, as the week came to a close, the development of the community became a top priority for many present

IMG_4441“Back home we are already feeling SAUDADES, a word in Portuguese that describes the feeling when you miss people who, for some period of time, were a part of your life, and for whom you will forever have wonderful memories,” Raquel Cruz, Co-Founder of Brasil Aromaticos, recalled. “I want to convey my gratitude for the opportunity to be with people so special. People who are ahead of the times with their businesses; who are creating both profit and impact…and above all, people who know that it is always possible to do more. I feel honored to have been in a group of people who believe, share their dreams, and are ready for action AGORA (Agora in Portuguese means NOW)”.

At Agora we believe that building this community is critical to accelerating the shift in business from business that focuses solely on profit creation to models that create value for all shareholders. Each of the entrepreneurs in our Accelerator is taking an enormous risk. They are challenging traditional models and building new approaches in some of the most difficult environments in the world. They are creating platforms for marginalized farmers to access and share invaluable data; they are employing prisoners to produce hammocks in high demand; they are bridging the gap between tourism, indigenous communities, and the exquisite natural beauty of Mexico; they are revolutionizing mobility in Brazil with the first ever electric car sharing program; and they are re-foresting Mexico by selling and re-planting carefully-extracted, live Christmas trees. These entrepreneurs are are doing it because they truly believe it is possible to build a dynamic, competitive, and inclusive economy that creates value for all and walks the often misunderstood line between purpose and profit. The Agora Retreat is just one step on the journey of these modern-day pioneers towards accelerating the full impact of that collective vision.

IMG_4382“I returned to Mexico with a complete paradigm change,” 2014 Entrepreneur Kitti Szabo, Co-Founder of La Mano del Mono, concluded. “Now I can dream big.”

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat

Agora's Accelerator Class of '13
Agora’s Accelerator Class of ’13

It’s been about 2 weeks week since I returned from Agora’s Entrepreneur Retreat in Nicaragua, and I am still processing the experience.  During a week of many powerful moments and intimate conversations, a few stand out. They stand out for me not just because of their poignancy, but because they show the powerful, disruptive potential of the accelerator model for creating and scaling change.

The Ambassador’s Address

South Korean Ambassador to Nicaragua Soon Tae Kim at Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat
South Korean Ambassador to Nicaragua Soon Tae Kim at Agora’s 2013 Entrepreneur Retreat

It’s Thursday, January 31 at the Casa Dingledine, a beautiful old house perched on a cliff overlooking Managua and the surrounding lake.  About 60 people are packed into the living room – many of them are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs representing 27 businesses stand up, one by one. They introduce themselves, explain their business, and state their commitment to creating a better Latin America. I glance around at the people watching the entrepreneurs talk.

The room is filled with members of the Managua business and diplomatic community. The head of the World Bank for Nicaragua, the DCM (#2) of the US Embassy, And Agora co-founder Ricardo Teran’s entire family are there to support us.  And so is Soon Tae Kim, the Ambassador of South Korea to Nicaragua.

The fact that Ambassador Kim is present is by no means random. We invited him and are delighted he was able to make it. It’s taken us nearly 7 years, but we finally received a grant of about $230,000 from the Inter-American Development Bank to help support the Agora Class of 2013. The actual source of the funding comes not from the bank itself, but from the Government of South Korea. There is something very special about this money. It feels hard earned, both by us and by the Koreans. The Koreans have talked the talk and walked the walk. The most successful and sustained assault on poverty in human history was launched by the Koreans in the 1960s and continues to this day.

In 1960, Korea had a GDP per capita of $79, compared to $128 in Nicaragua and $13,414 for the U.S. After the Korean War, the country was in shambles. Today the country has a GDP per capita of about $32,100, ten times that of Nicaragua and, among many accomplishments, has created the only product that can compete with the iPhone (the Samsung Galaxy). All of us at Agora feel honored to be receiving this funding from the people of South Korea – funding that was generated through incredible hard work and a focus on innovation by a people with no natural resources to speak of, bordered by a hostile, totalitarian regime.

Agora’s Entrepreneurs

As the entrepreneurs are introducing themselves one by one, I steal a glance at the Ambassador, who is standing by the wall, listening intently – what does he make of this scene of entrepreneurs from 13 Latin American countries talking about their vision and

An Agora entrepreneur presents his business to the crowd at Casa Ding
An Agora entrepreneur presents his business to the crowd at Casa Dingledine in Managua, Nicaragua.

commitment? The entrepreneurs continue talking. They are on a roll; the energy in the room is building. The businesses are all unique, representing 10 distinct impact areas, but the sum is greater than its parts. The introductions form a collective voice, the voice of a new generation that has taken it upon themselves to create the change they want to see in the world. All of a sudden, anything seems possible. After the last entrepreneur sits down, we invite Maria Pacheco, a Guatemalan from Agora’s Class of ’11, to say a few words.  Listening to her, I hear, this time in Spanish, some of the words she spoke in San Francisco at the main stage at SoCap 2011. Maria finishes speaking and Ricardo tells everyone we will soon be showing a short video of last year’s Impact Investing in Action conference. He thanks the guests and the Ambassador. And then it happens. Ambassador Kim steps forward and asks if he can say a few words. The room falls silent.  He thanks us, and praises the entrepreneurs. Then he says,  “50 years ago we were one of the poorest countries in the world – poorer than most countries in Africa; Poorer than Nicaragua. What we did to grow was to come together and to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.  You are doing exactly what we did. You are coming together as a community. This is the right way to create development.”

He spoke for about 10 minutes and talked about his life and his work throughout Latin America. It turns out that 20 years ago he helped start the program that is now funding us. Listening to Ambassador Kim – representing a people who have learned how to develop through iteration, innovation, and partnership among government, civil society, and business  — was a welcome tonic.  Change can happen – it has happened – it is happening – and everything is possible.

The Importance of Community

It all starts with people coming together. Before you can quantify impact, before you can conduct randomized double blind studies, before you can have a chance of creating long lasting change, you need first to get people together in a room and commit to a shared vision of the future.  That commitment, from entrepreneurs and then eventually from government and other actors, is the basic soil from which the seeds of change can grow.

When I was in college, we learned that most of the problems in Latin America boiled down to an underdeveloped civil society. But the definition we learned of civil society usually excluded the markets and business. Business was not seen as a key component of civil society. In many places this is still the rule, but it’s a rule whose time has come and gone. Now it’s time to create a new rule. Ambassador Kim and the amazing entrepreneurs of the Class of 2013 are telling us that entrepreneurship must be an important part of civil society for real growth to happen. When people come together with a shared vision of the future and support each other – whether they are entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, consultants, or ambassadors, change accelerates. It happened in South Korea. And it’s happening right now in Latin America.

Women Entrepreneurs Focus of New Collaboration Between Agora Partnerships and The Eleos Foundation

Agora Class of ’11 entrepreneur Aida Mayorga is the owner of Oscarito’s, a children’s clothing store based outside Managua, Nicaragua.

Agora Partnerships, a Washington, D.C.- and Managua-based nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the growth of early-stage, impact companies throughout Latin America, today announced a partnership with The Eleos Foundation that will unleash the potential of women in Latin America through the power of entrepreneurship.

The Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund, a collaboration between the two organizations, will provide gender-lens investing opportunities for early-stage impact investors to accelerate the success of women-run companies, as well as those that support the empowerment of women and girls, in Latin America.

“The Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund embodies the very heart of the Agora mission,” said Agora Partnerships CEO and Founder Ben Powell. “Leveraging the power of the market to create an environment ripe for social entrepreneurship gets at the core of what we do. And with a special focus on providing gender-lens investment opportunities, the fund with Eleos creates a special kind of economic and social force that will positively impact communities for years to come.”

Agora Partnerships, through its Impact Accelerator, surfaces high-potential

An employee of Kiej de los Bosques, an Agora Class of ’11 company run by Maria Pacheco of Guatemala.

entrepreneurs seeking to create impact and then provides them with the strategic consulting, mentoring, leadership development, and a community of peers. The Eleos Foundation, working with Agora, conducts due diligence on companies in the Accelerator that meet its investment criteria and then assumes the role of lead investor in those companies in which it decides to invest. Individual and institutional investors are given the opportunity to co-invest in selected deals through individual series LLCs set up by Eleos Investment Management LLC. The structure of this partnership fills a critical need for both entrepreneurs and investors.

Those interested in learning more about Agora Partnerships, the Eleos Foundation, or the Agora-Eleos LatAm Women’s Fund should contact Becky Bailey (bbailey@agorapartnerships.org) or Karla Newendorp (karlanewendorp@theeleosfoundation.com).

About Agora Partnerships

Agora Partnerships is an early pioneer of the impact-investing and -entrepreneurship movement, with a core focus on supporting ventures at the seed and early stages. Launched in 2005 as an alliance between entrepreneurs from both Nicaragua and Columbia Business School, Agora created the first impact-investment fund of its kind in the region, trained thousands of small-business entrepreneurs in Nicaragua and has helped drive approximately $5 million into more than 40 small businesses across Central America. Today, through its Accelerator program, Agora is committed to creating a pipeline of small-business entrepreneurs (between about $50,000 and $1 million in revenues) from across Latin America: entrepreneurs who are ready, willing, and able to build a more sustainable and successful economy. Agora’s mission is to unleash their potential and the potential of business’ new role in solving our common challenges.

Visit our website at www.agorapartnerships.org, follow us on Twitter @AgoraPrtnrships, and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AgoraPartnerships.

About The Eleos Foundation

The Eleos Foundation and Eleos Investment Management LLC, invest in and partner with social entrepreneurs who effectively implement high impact, early stage, pioneering market based solutions in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. Eleos provides opportunities for co-investors to invest in funds at the forefront of pioneering markets. Eleos also develops and facilitates partnerships with social entrepreneurs, negotiates alongside them, and empowers them to get to scale and attract the necessary capital investment.

To learn more visit www.theeleosfoundation.com.

WANTED: High Potential Impact Entrepreneurs In Latin America

We are currently in search of 30 high-potential early-stage impact entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America to join our growing community of world-changing businesses (Agora’s Class of ’12 is pictured above).

Entrepreneurs around the world are joining a growing movement to create positive, sustainable impact through private enterprise. At Agora Partnerships, our mission is to accelerate those visionary entrepreneurs who are redefining the role of business in society.

We are in the middle of an ambitious recruitment effort for our 2013 Impact Accelerator. This highly selective program provides access to human, social, and financial capital for a unique community of entrepreneurs throughout Latin America. The Accelerator kicks off with an entrepreneur retreat in Central America, followed by strategy consulting and investment readiness services, and admittance to the Impact Investing in Action conference hosted in the United States.

Over the past two years, we have worked with 18 company operating in some of the poorest regions of the Western Hemisphere. Over 70% of or Class of ‘11 received millions of dollars in investment, propelling these impact companies to an average 80% growth rate.

Now, we are expanding from our base in Central America and searching for 30 new companies spanning the whole of Latin America to help accelerate impact for the region.

If you are an entrepreneur interested in applying to our Accelerator or if you’re interesting in helping us spread the word, please contact Inga Schulte-Bahrenberg at ischulte@agorapartnerships.org. You can find more information about how the Accelerator program worksformer entrepreneurs, a summary overview, and the results of our Accelerator on our website.

Furthermore, we’ve prepared ready-made Twitter, Facebook, and blog copy for you to share with your networks.

The deadline to be considered for scholarships is October 8. The final deadline for all applications is October 22. So, Click here to apply now!