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!