Tag Archives: economic development

Xinca discovers the potential of recycled materials

“Your social enterprise should be a part of you. It is always hard to separate the project from yourself, but use that to your advantage.”

Nazareno El Hom believes in a future where trash dumps are converted into forces for social integration. Attracted to the autonomy of running one’s own business, Nazareno quickly became a connoisseur of entrepreneurial ventures. He opened restaurants in Costa Rica, bars in his native Mendoza, and even a bike shop. But this is not just the story of Nazareno. This is the story of three friends, Nazareno, Ezequiel, and Alejandro, who came together four years ago in search of something different. They wanted to found a company that followed a different logic, whose success was defined not only by its profitability but also by its social and environmental impact. Upon learning about the existence of social enterprises as an industry, the three knew where their futures had to lie.

With no idea what they wanted to do nor how they would do it, they turned their focus to the local community. They became aware of the immense waste coming out of the tire industry, and visits to the disposal sites revealed mound upon mound of unused tires. They learned of and quickly became incensed by the number of individuals and groups that were excluded from the formal economy, realizing that there was tremendous productive potential lying unharnessed. The solution to this set of problems lay clear before their eyes; they had to found a shoe store. But it would not be just any shoe store, it would be Xinca.

The shoes Xinca produces and sells are absolute trash, and they are incredibly proud of that. Each shoe is produced from recycled materials, with soles made out of recovered tires. The individuals and organizations they partner with to create the shoes come from the most marginalized sectors of society, and they thus provide work for the physically disabled, single mothers, and rural families. Through a partnership with the penitentiary of Mendoza, they are giving a second chance to over 30 inmates, providing them with the opportunity to become productive individuals within society and raising their quality of life.

21,805 shoes later, Xinca continues to create an incredible impact. They have incorporated waste into their production while maintaining their standard of quality, proving to society that there is value and potential in recycled materials. They have partnered with several social organizations and workshops to empower dozens of individuals excluded from the formal economy. And they have aligned themselves with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, structuring their company to promote gender equality and responsible consumption and production.

Hoping to move their social enterprise closer to investment but wary of accelerators taking equity, the Xinca team looked to Agora. Equipped with a readily-available consultant and a wide assortment of materials for strengthening their finances, the team was able to tackle oncoming challenges head-on. They emerged from the Accelerator with a network of support and an improved growth strategy, closer to investment than ever before.

Xinca today is changing lives. Suffering from a physical disability, Ramón had not been able to get a formal job for the last seven years. After being connected with Xinca, he began to work producing their merchandise. In his new creative space, Ramón is able to manage his own schedule and satisfy his economic needs. Nazareno is continuously inspired by stories like Ramón’s, by the proof that the work he is doing with his team is in fact making a difference. He believes firmly in the importance of internal alignment and the power of his partners to successfully push each other through difficult moments. The Xinca team thus runs their company on the knowledge that honesty starts with oneself and empathy is crucial for generating impact, and they are changing the world, one shoe at a time.

Learn more about Xinca at http://www.xinca.com.ar.

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

Laboratoria changes women’s lives through coding

“If you want to be a social entrepreneur, make sure you are aligned with something you’re really passionate about. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most gratifying.”

Gabriela Rocha believes in the power of code to change lives. While at Columbia University acquiring a Masters of Public Administration in Development Practice, Gabi met the future founders of an incredible social enterprise. Mariana Costa Checa, Herman Marin, and Rodulfo Prieto were bound by a common frustration with Latin America’s underdevelopment, all hoping to apply their careers to the improvement of the region. Upon graduating, however, they went their separate ways.

While Gabi went to the favelas of Rio on a project for the Inter-American Development Bank, the three founders journeyed back to Peru and started their first web design company. But when the time came to look for web developers, they encountered an unexpected obstacle. Developers were few and far between, and those they did find were overwhelmingly men. What’s more, they learned that most of their developers had never received a university degree in computer science, and instead had either taken short-term classes or been self-taught.

Mariana realized that there was a tremendous opportunity presenting itself. In a world where demand for web developers is growing, its members unimpeded by the need for university degrees, there was an ideal niche for women to leave the low-skilled, low-pay trap. And thus, the concept for Laboratoria was born. After a successful pilot in Peru, they contacted their former classmates, Gabi and Marisol, who launched branches in Mexico and Chile, respectively.

Since then, Laboratoria has quickly become a transformative, educational powerhouse. It identifies high potential women from low-income sectors of society and puts them through an intensive six-month program. The women are trained in web development as well as personal development, learning both the hard and soft skills necessary to acquire and retain a higher-skilled, better-paying job. To date, it has graduated over 400 students and boast a 75% job placement rate into employment averaging three times their previous income. It has thus effectively and spectacularly broken the cycle of poverty for hundreds of women and their families. Above all, it has proven to the world that poorly educated women working low-income jobs are able to learn coding and begin successful careers in the burgeoning and competitive tech industry.

Hoping to accelerate their already impressive growth, the Laboratoria team applied to Agora’s flagship Accelerator program in 2017. Through the exercises at the retreat and months with a dedicated consultant, they gained access to Agora’s Latin American network, engaging with both social entrepreneurs transforming the region and potential donors interested in their project. They came out of the Accelerator with the certainty that they would officially remain a non-profit organization, and the knowledge that they needed to extend the duration of their program to two years.

Laboratoria’s team today remains unequivocally dedicated to excellence. They hope to train 10,000 developers and be in fifteen cities across Latin America by 2020. Their success is demonstrated by stunning growth in a region hostile to fledgling enterprises, and their commitment to their mission has enabled them to remain focused on their impact and constantly adapt.

Gabi believes in the potential of social entrepreneurship to change the Latin American region. Despite being the hardest thing she’s ever done, she believes that it has also unquestionably been the most gratifying and exciting. She has finally aligned her passion with her work, and has the opportunity to find inspiration everyday in the transformations of Laboratoria’s incredible students. Being of service to a group of women so breathtakingly determined and resilient, who constantly defy stereotypes, expectations, and systemic obstacles, makes the many challenges completely worth it.

With Laboratoria, Gabi and her partners are expanding the notion of what a nonprofit is and can be in Latin America. Run on the honesty, humility, and integrity of its team, the organization is changing the world, one line of code at a time.

Learn more about Laboratoria at http://laboratoria.la

D&E Green Enterprises promotes clean cookstoves in Haiti

“For my fellow social entrepreneurs, never fall in love with your solution. Fall in love with the problem.”

Duquesne Fednard believes that homegrown entrepreneurs need to fall in love with the problems facing Haiti, relying upon themselves rather than foreign aid to push their country into the future. Duquesne was born in a small Haitian town to a mother who had only a 3rd grade education and a father who could neither read nor write. Despite their own limitations, Duquesne’s parents instilled in him the value of taking initiative and the understanding that education would be his ticket to prosperity. Raised in a town that, even now, has no electricity or running water, little Duquesne housed an entrepreneurial fire whose brazen flames endure to this day.

At the age of 9, Duquesne was left alone to proctor his class’ exams. While his teacher desperately tried to woo the attractive teacher next door, the young entrepreneur seized upon this opportunity. Within weeks he had a full-blown business running, making sure students who wanted to cheat had to pay him, or risk the wrath of their lovesick teacher. By the end of the year, Duquesne had made enough money to buy himself a few toys.

At 16, Duquesne opened a print shop, his first formal business on the island, but he craved foreign exposure and experience. And so, he sold his print shop and moved to the United States, spending the next fourteen years on the fast track. He worked in a consulting firm, pursued a graduate degree, became an investment banker on the famed Wall Street, and even worked for Mayor Bloomberg. But his heart remained firmly tethered to Haiti.

He began to conduct market research on the existing organizations operating in Haiti and realized that his country had become overrun by NGOs, many of which had the best intentions  but were only creating greater problems. The deluge of foreign aid not only made Haitians increasingly dependent, but also destroyed many of their jobs. Duquesne knew he had to provide a local solution to a local problem that could be implemented by the local community.

Armed with the knowledge that 95% of Haitians still use charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking, Duquesne identified the energy market as an easy entry-point. He hoped to address both the environmental damage caused by this reliance as well as the social disparity that saw 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The solution became D&E Green Enterprises. Bringing affordable, reliable and clean energy to these impoverished communities, D&E manufactures and sells energy-efficient cook-stoves and integrates its customers into a financing scheme that helps generate savings.

Duquesne excitedly designed his prototype in 2009 and turned all his savings into a new factory with equipment that would manufacture the cook-stoves. But in January of 2010, disaster struck. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, taking the lives of 220,000 Haitians and the homes of another 1.5 million. Duquesne’s factory and all the new equipment inside were reduced to a heap of rubble. When Duquesne finally managed to visit the site, he noticed that a 39 year old who had been trained to work at his factory was visiting its remains every day. The factory was supposed to provide him with his first formal job, and despite the fact that this dream of an improved life lay in ruins before him, the man continued to show up at the site, desperately searching for a sense of normalcy.

It was at this moment that Duquesne remembered that his project was bigger than himself. Beyond the destruction of his dream and the loss of all his savings, his business had been a beacon of hope for all those involved. And so, picking himself up by the bootstraps, Duquesne got back to work. Over the next three years, his workers manufactured the cook-stoves manually, working in flimsy tents as hurricanes came and went. By 2014, the factory was rebuilt and his company was back on track.

Knowing that he needed capital to scale  his business was raising money, Duquesne applied to Agora’s Accelerator in 2017. His initial expectations were far surpassed. He gained access to a wonderful community and support system of fellow social entrepreneurs and was given the tools to get him closer to investment. Over the course of the past four months, a dedicated and perfectly-matched consultant helped him stay focused, maintain the structure of his business, and clearly define his priorities and responsibilities.

D&E today has sold over 125,000 cookstoves, directly impacting 600,000 lives. It has created over 60 full-time jobs and empowered over 100 local distributors. Duquesne hopes that, five years from now, there will be millions of low-income individuals on his savings-by-consumption platform, and D&E will be operating in three countries.

In the many ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey, Duquesne has learned that, as a social entrepreneur, one must fall in love with the problem and not the solution. Believing himself incredibly blessed to be able to help others, Duquesne runs his company with humility, openness, and resilience, changing the world, one cook-stove at a time.  

Learn more about D&E Green Enterprises at http://www.dandegreen.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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A Brighter Idea for the Future

One idea lights a thousand candles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imagination and light go hand in hand. A bright idea is commonly depicted with a light bulb, or more specifically, a traditional incandescent bulb – the very same kind that was invented more than 100 years. Our ideas have evolved greatly over the past 100 years, so why has the object used to depict them remained static?

Try to imagine a solar lamp of versatile and sustainable design, a base from which to explore your creativity, adaptable over time to fit the needs of the future. This is a much more accurate representation of the ideas emerging from society today.

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Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions

enerselva3I joined Agora because I was inspired by its work to promote the development of social entrepreneurs in Latin America. After selecting entrepreneurs generating positive social impact in Latin America, Agora facilitates these entrepreneurs’ access to financial, social, and human capital to increase their success and impact. I am currently advising four social social enterprises in Peru: two in clean cookstoves, one in solar lamps, and one in organic smallholder agriculture.

Having worked in microenterprise, small business training, and consulting in Africa and Latin America, I believe human and social capital are even more important to individual, company, and country development than financial capital. Here are the most important verbs I have identified for successful entrepreneurs:

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There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

I set off with Luisa Lombera and Gates Gooding, the founders of a company named Pixán, (which means happiness, soul or essence in Maya), joining them in their quest to find the raw material that had thus far eluded them. Fresh from Agora Partnerships’ Entrepreneur Retreat held in Granada, Nicaragua, we were infused with an invigorated sense of purpose.

Gates and Luisa applied to the Agora Accelerator with the aim of turning Pixán into a flourishing business that will double the income of coffee farmers in the Pixán supply chain. Searching for an opportunity to create impact in the coffee sector in Latin America, they were inspired by the Yemeni traditional practice of making a drink called kishr (or qishr), which is a kind of chai made with coffee fruit, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Luisa and Gates took to the idea and are now looking to produce a beverage made with an infusion of dried coffee fruit, also known as “cáscara” (skin or peel – in Spanish).

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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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