Tag Archives: impact entrepreneurship

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

Indigo Impacto ensures access to safe drinking water

“As a social entrepreneur, you need to spend time on understanding the community you are impacting. You have to understand that market, and thoroughly understand their individual needs in order to best be able to help them.”

Israel Amezcua believes in the basic right of humans to access clean, affordable water. Throughout his life, Israel has always cultivated his natural entrepreneurial spirit, founding several ventures that sold products ranging from jewelry to organic coffee. But for the last decade, he dedicated his time to a civil association, working with safe water, management of natural resources, and rural development. Israel became increasingly drawn to the monumental importance and rising value of water. Faced with the quickly approaching effects of global warming, he knew that rural communities were most at risk and least capable of accessing clean, safe water.

Israel learned that, despite being one of the world’s largest consumers of freshwater per capita, Mexico still had over 20 million of its citizens living without access to clean water. This was causing a massive portion of the population to be extremely vulnerable to serious gastrointestinal diseases. Israel knew that something had to be done, and accordingly put his entrepreneurial spirit to work.

Working with Fermín, a friend from the same civil association, the two men decided that they wanted to empower these rural communities in the management of their own natural resource while simultaneously bringing them access to safe drinking water. Out of this idea, Indigo Impacto was born.

Conceived with a clear focus on these rural communities, Indigo Impacto builds on the existence of water purification kiosks in urban areas, adapting the models to more remote areas and using them to bring opportunity and autonomy to marginalized individuals. By selling the kiosk franchise for women to operate on their own, Indigo Impacto ensures a stable stream of income for individuals who were unlikely to ever own their own business. Additionally, the kiosks keep the price of safe water low and affordable for all of the community. They have even become a source of pride, proof that natural resources are being efficiently managed.

In addition to the purification kiosk franchise, Indigo Impacto sells simple systems that collect and purify rainwater for individual households. With these diverse services, Israel and Fermín are changing lives. Maricela, a resident of the rural Francisco Sarabia community in Chiapas, is a single mother who used to make a living cleaning houses. Introduced to the purification kiosks, she formed a group with four other women, installed a model, and began to run her brand new business. She now makes an income stable enough for her to spend time at home with her children and address their daily needs.

Inspired by Agora’s Latin American vision and focus, Israel applied to the Accelerator program in 2017. In the months that followed the initial retreat, Israel was guided by an invaluable consultant, readily available for support and consistently connecting him with new individuals and organizations that could push his business further. Indigo Impacto today is stronger than ever before, with a clearer pitch, message, and mission that have drawn in several interested investors.

Despite the rapid expansion of his company, Israel’s thirst for creating impact has not been quenched. He envisions Indigo Impacto operating in ten states throughout Mexico, installing between 300 and 500 kiosks to be operated by women, and selling 100,000 household purification systems. Israel runs his company driven by the need to create a better future for his family, and he is changing the world, one drop of clean water at a time.

Learn more about Indigo Impacto at http://indigoimpacto.mx.

Cruz Campo empowers rural women in Peru

“If you have a dream, pursue it. Nothing in this world is impossible. I made my company from zero, with no knowledge of business management to guide me, but I learned along the way.”

Rosa Cruz believes in sharing the benefits of the native Peruvian tubers, yacon and aguaymanto, with the rest of the world. Born into a family of farmers, Rosa Cruz always had a special place in her heart for the rural community. And though she was familiar with the Peruvian yacon from a young age, any thoughts of it remained relegated to her rural childhood as she progressed through university. Upon graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, however, her attention was suddenly drawn back to this tuber, so under-researched and under-cultivated, yet brimming with invaluable health benefits. Hoping to bring its benefits to the diabetic community and beyond, Rosa effectively became one of the first individuals to study the yacon.

Over the course of the following decade, Rosa collected seeds, conducted research, expanded her study to include the aguaymanto tuber, organized a farmers’ association, and, eventually, began large-scale organic cultivation. From this, Cruz Campo was born.

Dedicated to bettering the environment through promoting biodiversity, organic cultivation, and environmental conservation, Cruz Campo brings healthy alternative products to its customers, a higher quality of life to its employees, and exposure to a larger market for its farmers.

Hoping to both expand her company and expose herself to the world of international entrepreneurship, Rosa applied to the Accelerator and was accepted. She left her native soil for the first time to go to the opening retreat in Nicaragua, where she found inspiring speakers and a group of burgeoning female entrepreneurs. Over the course of the next four months, Agora’s consulting allowed her to drastically improve productivity and management. But, above all, the Agora Accelerator connected her with Kiva, a microfinancing platform that enables individuals to give and receive loans, through which she was able to receive a $35,000 loan in a week. This loan has allowed her to invest in more raw materials and purchase a new piece of land, on which she hopes to build a secondary processing plant.

Strategically placed to give the greatest number of rural women easy access to a steady job, avoid raw materials losses incurred during transportation, and facilitate direct contact with producers, this plant will allow Rosa to continue creating the incredible impact she makes with Cruz Campo.

Rosa’s company has empowered many rural women. Cruz Campo has given life to a supportive community of single mothers who have fallen victim to domestic violence while also providing them a consistent income and the opportunity to educate their children.

She hopes to continue addressing the Sustainable Development Goal of ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’ and to acquire the funding necessary to develop another industrial plant closer to other areas of cultivation, exporting beyond the confines of Peru’s borders to the greater world. Fueled by honesty, fairness, and perseverance, Cruz Campo is changing the world, one yacon plant at a time.

Learn more about Cruz Campo at http://www.cruzcampoperu.com.

Agora Partnerships Joins with MovingWorlds to Empower Entrepreneurs and Drive Sustainable Solutions

In 2015, international leaders came together to discuss the myriad issues facing our global community and identify 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address these challenges by 2030. Achieving the Global Goals will take creativity, tenacity, and an unwavering dedication to creating a better world. At Agora Partnerships, we believe that entrepreneurs will lead the charge to realize the future envisioned by the SDGs.

In an effort to expand upon our core mission of supporting and empowering entrepreneurs, Agora Partnerships is thrilled to announce a new partnership with MovingWorlds.  Through the partnership, Agora entrepreneurs have access to the skills of talented professionals who will donate their time and expertise towards solving business and technical challenges.

It’s called Experteering, and it was designed by MovingWorlds to connect social impact organizations with highly-skilled professionals. Experteers have years of experience and go through a training and planning process to ensure that they start making a positive impact on your organization from day one.

As a fellow social enterprise, MovingWorlds believes that social impact organizations should not pay for help and, thus, will not charge your company for Experteer services. All MovingWorlds asks is that you provide an immersive experience and local benefits to your Experteer, which normally means providing the Experteer with free accommodation.

Already,  Agora entrepreneurs have reaped the benefits of working with Experteers. One such organization is Suyo, a Colombia-based company that uses technology and microfinance models to support displaced populations with affordable, reliable property formalization services. In order to establish trust in the unreliable formalization sector, Suyo needed to enhance their user interface to convey professionalism and dependability. MovingWorlds matched Suyo with an Experteer, Felicia, who moved to Medellin, spending months getting to know Suyo’s customers and developing an effective user interface.

Through the partnership with MovingWorlds, Agora entrepreneurs can access more human capital than ever before and overcome business and technical barriers, allowing them to take their organization to the next level of growth and impact.

To learn more about the partnership, or to sign up to be an Experteer for Agora entrepreneurs, visit our partner page.

How your company can benefit:

If you are a current or alumni Agora entrepreneur seeking support, sign up to be matched with an Experteer at MovingWorlds.org. Through your affiliation with Agora Partnerships, your organization will experience increased traffic on your MovingWorlds profile and receive additional matching support from the MovingWorlds team.

Get started today by signing up at MovingWorlds.org and indicating your Agora Partnerships affiliation on the organization setup page!

How you can support entrepreneurs:

If you want to increase support to Agora entrepreneurs, Experteering is a fantastic way to make a unique and lasting impact. By becoming an Experteer, encouraging your friends to sign up, or promoting Experteering projects on social media, you can help bridge the talent gap and provide invaluable support to high-potential social entrepreneurs.

Browse all Agora-affiliated projects or sign up on Movingworlds.org to get started!

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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Shared Values: what we look for when selecting entrepreneurs for the Agora Accelerator

Ben Powell - Impact Investing in Action 2013 (1)The Agora Accelerator is designed for entrepreneurs with real potential to make a significant positive contribution to the world. When we select our classes, we look at a number of factors including business model innovation, scalability, and social impact. But the most important factor by far is the quality of the entrepreneur.  Figuring out who are the most promising entrepreneurs for the accelerator is one of our hardest jobs, especially given the tremendous energy and innovation we are seeing among entrepreneurs working throughout Latin America.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we have found that using core values as a framework can be incredibly helpful in understanding the power an entrepreneur will eventually wield to propel his/her company to success.

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