Tag Archives: fellows

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:

Continue reading Entrepreneurial Success: 7 Simple Actions

Former Agora Fellow Starts Impact Business: Pitaya Plus

We are very proud of former Agora fellow Chuck Casano who has gone on to found his own Nicaragua-based impact business, Pitaya Plus.

Pitaya Plus is described as “the one and only Pitaya juice, smoothie, and dry fruit company in the world.” More commonly known as the dragon fruit in Asia, Pitaya carries an array of health benefits such as being rich in Vitamin C, Calcium, and magnesium.

Pitaya Plus works with local organic pitaya farmers to create jobs and promote sustainable farming methods in Nicaragua. The company is making an impact through hiring single mothers from impoverished rural communities providing necessary income to support their families.

Today, Pitaya Plus products can be found in natural health food stores throughout the US. Check out the video below to learn more. Great work Chuck!

The Story of Pitaya Plus from Pitaya Plus on Vimeo.

Powering Up: New Talent Arrives at Agora

One of Agora’s pillars is to provide not just financial capital, but also human and social capital to early-stage, impact entrepreneurs in Central America. But what exactly do we mean by human and social capital?

Image: Agora Partnerships FellowshipEarly-stage companies operating in poor countries like Nicaragua or Guatemala need more than just money to grow. Entrepreneurs often need the knowledge, networks, and strategic foresight to put that money into good use. The Agora Fellowship and the Summer Associates Program are two in-house initiatives dedicated to providing human and social capital directly to impact entrepreneurs.

The Agora Fellowship places passionate and talented individuals in either Agora’s DC or Central America office to work as strategic advisors to our team and the businesses we support. Agora Fellows are on the frontlines of the impact investing movement, working where financial and entrepreneurial innovation meets sustainable development.

This year, Agora reeled in two exceptionally skilled and motivated professionals. Chris Truglia, a former management consultant at Accenture, came to Agora with the belief that impact entrepreneurs hold the keys to improving the socioeconomic conditions of poor communities. Juan Turner, an ex-UBS banker from Venezuela, focused his studies on SME development in emerging markets and wants to replicate Agora’s impact in his home country. Together, this dynamic duo is the workhorse of the Agora Accelerator, ensuring that all of our entrepreneurs are prepared and well-equipped before coming face- to-face with impact investors and venture capitalists alike.

Then, there are the Summer Associates – select business and international affairs graduate students willing to dedicate a summer to boost Agora’s impact. This year, they will add extra wind to our sails at a very critical time. With the Investor Conference only weeks away, Summer Associates are making sure that entrepreneurs are ready to put their best foot forward, and that Agora is properly positioned to capture and continue the momentum from the first Accelerator class.

This year’s Summer Associates build and improve upon the tradition laid by those in previous years. They hail from some of the country’s most prestigious business schools, including Columbia, Cornell, Duke, and Thunderbird.

By putting this elite cadre of young professionals in contact with impact entrepreneurs and impact investors, Agora Partnerships is truly living up to its name – that is, to become a modern-day agora, or marketplace, where passionate and driven individuals can come together to help make this world a better place. Even if only for a limited time, it is truly a humbling and rewarding experience having them onboard Agora.

Nicaragua v DC Fundraising Challenge

by Matthew Pietras

Welcome to Agora’s First Annual Summer Fundraising Challenge. The Fellows and Summer Associates of the Nicaragua and DC offices have taken it upon themselves to battle it out for top fundraiser in what aims at being quite a face-off!

The rules are as follows:

  • Each challenge participant must create a firstgiving.com page.
  • The Teams will have ONE month to raise as much money as they can, with weekly tallies being circulated to Agora networks and staff. Along with the appropriate level of  competitive team rhetoric.
  • A donation can be NO more than $25, and challenge participants can only donate ONCE to their team.
  • The challenge began at midnight on Wednesday, June 23rd, and will end on Wednesday, July 21st at midnight.
  • Prizes and honors will be awarded on Sunday, July 25th.

This competition is our way of demonstrating the commitment of Agora’s volunteers to our cause. Through this fundraising challenge, we seek to broaden our Agora community and get people involved in a way that prompts a healthy level of competition. Our fundraising goal is $2,500. Please take a minute, and view our fundraising homepage. All contributions are greatly appreciated by Agora and the communities we support.

Over the next three weeks, follow the competition via our blog and twitter!

Your Fellow Agora Supporters

Looking Back on Nine Months in Nicaragua

by Emma Taylor

Me and some of my co-workers in Nicaragua.

Hola Readers.  I am new to the Agora blog, but unfortunately, I think that this will be both my first and last post.  I officially end my Fellowship this Friday after spending the last nine months living and working in Managua.  The time that I have spent here has been incredible – both from a personal and professional standpoint, and I wanted to take a moment to share my reflections with all of you before I pack my suitcases and step on the plane.

I distinctively remember my introduction to Nicaragua.  I landed at Managua’s airport, prepared for two-weeks of intensive Spanish before starting my Fellowship. I anxiously searched the airport lobby for my pre-arranged taxi driver.  Forty-five minutes later as I neared a stage of slight panic, he arrived.  With my limited Spanish, I could barely understand his exhausted explanation – he had been caught up in traffic caused by Granada’s annual horse parade and fiesta.  We sped off towards the city, and as we hit the first pothole, I reached for a seatbelt.  He turned around smiled.  “It’s not necessary,” he explained.  I was not so sure that I agreed.

As I prepare to leave Nicaragua, I would be lying if I said that after that first pothole, there were no additional frustrations – learning the language, navigating unnamed streets, hitting a few of my own speed bumps along the way.  But, the memories that I will take home with me are overwhelmingly positive. The people – willing to drop everything to give you directions or push your car out of a rut.  The magnificent beaches of San Juan del Sur.  The colonial buildings lining the streets of Granada.  Sandboarding in Leon.  Visiting a homemade yogurt restaurant set amongst the cowboys of Esteli.  The twin volcanoes of Ometepe.  And my adopted home of Managua – a little frayed around the edges but the location of some of my favorite memories and some of my best friends.  If you have not been to Nicaragua, trust me, it’s worth the trip.

My time at Agora has been similarly a period of small adjustments and many accomplishments.  Coming from a traditional New York for-profit firm, I initially had to learn how to work in a smaller, leaner office – one in which everyone pulls more than their fairshare of weight.  At times, our program coordinator is also our marketing expert.  Our development head is also our photographer.  But, what will always stay with me is the staff’s dedication – their commitment to the mission and dedication to Nicaragua, Central America, and to improving the opportunities for entrepreneurs who walk in the door each day.  Over the past nine months, I have worked on a diverse assortment of projects: reviewing our fund investment and monitoring procedures, founding our NYC Young Professionals’ board, leading a team of consultants assessing our access to finance initiatives, judging a business plan competition, participating in the ANDE Conference in Granada, and most recently developing our LiderES Initiative aimed at providing capacity development training, networks, and investment for impact entrepreneurs across Central America.

As I embark on my next journey, I cannot help but feel a slight sense of sadness and nostalgia.  My time in Nicaragua with Agora has been a wild ride for sure, but some of the most exciting, life-altering months I have ever had.  As I prepare to leave, I already know that I will continue to look back, committing my ongoing support to Agora and remaining forever grateful for the unparalleled opportunities that it has afforded me.

A Fellow’s Reflections on Agora

by Matthew Pietras

Hello readers! Saturday was Labor Day in Nicaragua.  With half of Managua sectioned off for the impending protests, parties and excited crowds, I felt that this would be a good time to reflect on why Agora does what it does.

With over 132 million people living on less than $2 a day in Latin America, it is hard for any of us to truly understand that level of poverty. But, what we do know is that aid without guidance is not a sustainable solution for the developing world. Agora’s mission is aimed at fighting poverty through entrepreneurial business, and not just any form of business but rather businesses that have a larger impact on the communities they inhabit. Agora has branded this form of entrepreneur as the ‘impact entrepreneur.’ I know, I can feel the hush go through the crowd as I type it!

To be more specific an impact entrepreneur is one who along with creating a successful business endeavor also works to entwine the notion of giving back to the community in their everyday business practices. For example, it can be as simple as creating jobs in their neighborhood. Panaderia Corazon de Oro, is an amazing bakery that Miguel Duarte and Luz Chow began in Masaya. With the help of Agora they have expanded to two locations with over 50 employees, and distribution nationwide. Through their business, Duarte and Chow have given back to their local community by giving others the chance to earn a steady wage. The ripple effect of their business prowess can be seen throughout Masaya and the neighboring communities.

Agora aids Latin American impact entrepreneurs to ensure the creation of a sustainable business. Our organization works one-on-one with these entrepreneurs and makes a strong commitment to their endeavors. It goes beyond the idea of ‘if they succeed, Agora looks good,’ and is ‘if they succeed, we can turn that $2, into $4, and so on, slowly alleviating the mass poverty that plagues the developing world.’ I feel personally connected to this mission and look forward to serving its promise during my fellowship, and continuing to support the work of Agora for many years to follow. If you would like to aid in ensuring the continuance of Agora’s work in Latin America, please donate today. Together, we can create a brighter future for all generations of developing nations.

Que pasen un feliz fin de Semana!

Always, Your Fellow

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!