Tag Archives: initiatives

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!

Agora Entrepreneur: Kiej de los Bosques in Guatemala

Image: Kiej de los BosquesAgora entrepreneur Kiej de los Bosques is a social company established in 2004 with the objective of generating income for artisans – 90% women –  who although they have great abilities, are disconnected from markets, and are not able to live up to their potential. Founder María Pacheco says:

“We think poverty is a circle that starts with an unequal distribution of income generating opportunities between the rural and urban areas of underdeveloped countries. This leads to weak rural economies, where education is not a possibility. Lack of education has great incidence in high birth rates and low income, and these two circumstances combined will become low-income homes where food is not enough and education will once again, be beyond the possibilities of the next generation, thus perpetuating what we call, the ‘No Change Circle’.”

Pacheco’s experience working with rural communities since 1993 working with small groups of farmers and artisans in Sacalá Las Lomas in the Guatemalan highlands and Jocotán in the Guatemalan Dry Corridor indicates that this “No Change Circle” can be changed — if at least one of the variables is addressed. In both cases, the main objective of Kiej de los Bosques’s intervention was to increase the income of the beneficiaries – and it was like igniting development!

The income generated by this two productive chains – Wood in Sacalá and Natural fibers in Jocotán – have both impacted directly in the nutritional and educational indicators of the artisans’ children, and have also empowered the producers, formed new businesses and created a bankable saving capacity in the communities.

To create revenues, Pacheco decided to put the artisans’ products on the market under a new brand.

“When we saw how this circle changed dramatically in the communities we were working with, and we measured the role markets have had in the generation of prosperity in these rural initiatives, we decided to create an umbrella brand to consolidate the productions of several artisans’ groups and add value to the handicrafts that are traditionally made in Guatemala and in 2006, Wakami was born!”

For more information on Kiej de los Bosques and other Agora entrepreneurs, come join us at our Impact Investor Conference in Nicaragua.

The Big Picture: Impact Entrepreneurs

As I’ve said before, we need as many entrepreneurs and concerned citizens to step up as possible.

We need more entrepreneurs who can imagine the future and make it happen.

We need more concerned citizens who feel obligated to make sure it’s a sustainable future.

But most of all, we need more entrepreneurs who are concerned citizens.

Developing and accelerating this very rare kind of individual is our focus at Agora Partnerships. That’s because entrepreneurs who are concerned citizens are an incredibly powerful force multipliers for social change. They work to create companies that solve social problems, that can grow, and that can provide customers with such value that they will gladly pay for the product or service.

When a company has a value proposition that is compelling to customers, it should be able to access investment from the capital markets to grow faster. (In developing countries, this key piece is missing, and fixing this piece is a miain reason why Agora exists). With growth, the company can continue to solve social and environmental problems, while inspiring others companies to follow its lead. This is the basic theory of change that all organizations share in the impact entrepreneurship and investing movements.

It’s not hard to see why these kinds of concerned citizen entrepreneurs are so crucial to solving our challenges. Like a well-managed government, but unlike a well-managed program or non-profit organization, a well-managed company operated by a concerned citizen is sustainable. Of all forms of social organization, it is also the most cost effective, asking of the public very little and returning to the public enormous social value the public could not create on its own.

We call these kinds of entrepreneurs “impact entrepreneurs.” The entire purpose of impact investing as an asset class is to help impact entrepreneurs realize their vision of the future.

The world needs more people who possess two unique qualities: a sense of obligation to create a more sustainable world and the entrepreneurial drive and acumen to turn their vision of a sustainable future into reality.

The world needs more impact entrepreneurs. They must be defended, nurtured, and supported. We need more impact entrepreneurs. We will proclaim this from the rooftops and continue to collect and present the evidence until the world takes sufficient notice and decides to act.

It’s Working. Thoughts on Agora’s Entrepreneur Retreat.

It’s working.

We just wrapped up our first Agora Entrepreneur retreat and I couldn’t be more pleased exhilarated, really. From our cabins we could see in the near distance the bay of San Juan del Sur, where Vanderbilt’s ships used to ferry people to San Francisco. Except for holidays when the town pulses with energy, San Juan is normally a pretty sleepy fishing village that attracts surfers, backpackers, and locals from Managua. But the last few days were anything but sleepy. In fact, if there was one thing noticeably missing from the retreat, it was sleep.

Image: Agora Entrepreneur Retreat

Our goal of the conference was to bring the best early stage entrepreneurs in Central America (selected as part of our Accelerator program) together, connect them with the best trainers and coaches we could, and hope we could build a real sense of community. Our theory was that bringing people together was critical to helping the entrepreneurs accelerate their ability to attract investment and increase their impact. What we ended up building went far beyond a sense of community.

The list of reasons why the entrepreneurial sector has been so unsuccessful in Central America is long and fairly well known. Aside from a general lack of good political leadership over many decades, the problem can be boiled down to three things: lack of human, financial and social capital.

Getting to know these entrepreneurs personally, I feel better than I ever have that we have the right human capital in our Accelerator program –these are the kind of men and women that smart impact investors will want to associate with and learn from. Critically, they have the absorptive capacity to take advantage of education and opportunity and put it to work for them. They are also surrounded by additional human capital – our great staff, our fellows, retreat participants like nearly the entire senior leadership of KPMG in Nicaragua or World Economic Forum Young Leader Felix Maradiaga whose own personal journey is worthy of a Hollywood movie. The human capital is there.

We are working hard to get the right impact investors to learn about our first nine Agora entrepreneurs and to help ensure that capital flows where it can make the most impact. We were incredibly fortunate benefit from the participation of world-class impact investors like Morgan Simon from Toniic, Jorge del Castillo from PymeCapital, Ernesto Gallo from MesoAmerica, Jaime Guzman-Fournier from AVINA, Eduardo Argüello from Amzak Capital Management and Sonny Singh, a Silicon Valley investor who took part of his vacation in San Juan to share his insights on the pitch process. We often see people through their labels – investors, entrepreneurs, staff – but ultimately we are all just people trying to do a job and make a difference. At the retreat, it was the people, not their role, that stood out strongest.

These representatives of the impact investment community showed that investing is not about “us versus them” but is a relationship that is built on mutual interest. And, like all good relationships, it’s built on trust, respect and a complete understanding of what each one wants and what makes each one happy.

“The investor process is like a marriage,” said Jorge Castillo, “but with a built-in dissolution clause.” Very few of the entrepreneurs at the retreat have received investment from investors who did not know them personally. Being able to tell their stories clearly, explain what they can do with investment and how they can create social, environmental, and financial returns for investors will be key to their future success. We have a few more months to work on this for our upcoming Investor gathering in July in Granada, and I am optimistic we will be able to help address the lack of investment capital.

The final kind of capital is perhaps the hardest to quantify and to create, but it may have the longest and most important impact. A month ago, at the Draper Richards Kaplan retreat in San Francisco, a phrase that resonated with all of us was this: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

How do you build culture? How do you create social capital? And why is it so fundamentally important to creating the change we need? The retreat had a lot of lessons about that. And for me, they were the most important lessons. Stay tuned for more.

Ben Powell

What a Miniature Golf Course Taught Me About Development

Every journey starts with a single step. My journey started with a decision to plunk down about $200 to join the American Miniature Golf Association. The primary perk of membership was a thick binder that contained “all you needed to know” to run a successful miniature golf operation. Other than a short-lived quesadilla delivery business run out of my college dorm, this $200 was the first real cash I had ever invested in a business idea. The binder became my introduction to business – a window to new world of landscape design, glow-in -the-dark golf balls, and, yes, windmills. A year after the binder arrived, we opened up City Golf Puebla while Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” played from our speaker system under the shadow of the Popocatepetl volcano in the central valley of Mexico. (The volcano later erupted, spewing volcanic ash across the golf course — but that’s another story.)

I have a lot of stories about City Golf. It was where I cut my teeth as entrepreneur. I made a lot of mistakes, and I also learned a ton — but I learned one lesson above all others: If you want to make a contribution to the world, there are few, if any, better ways than to start a business and turn it into a force for good. If you can’t start one, then invest in one, with your time or money. This insight eventually led, in 2005, to my founding Agora Partnerships at Columbia Business School and then partnering with one of the most relentless and entrepreneurial spirits in Latin America, my co-founder Ricardo Teran.

A few years later, as the global economy was tanking and the punditry was solemnly assigning blame, I decided to put a quotation from Teddy Roosevelt on the back cover of our second Annual Report::

It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, all progress is accomplished by the man who does things. 

This blog, which we are re-launching today, is about people who do things, things that improve the world, and how can we help them to do their work better and bigger. Our focus is on a particular type of person — one we call an “impact entrepreneur” — and their particular journey. An impact entrepreneur is a for-profit business entrepreneur who is actually so serious about their business as a force for good that they explicitly imagine, design, and run their business to maximize total impact — for all the key stakeholders. They are the kinds of entrepreneurs in the U.S. who run B Corps or join member organizations like Social Venture Network — and they are absolutely fundamental to solving humanity’s most vicious problems. In developed countries, these entrepreneurs are on the rise. In the world’s poorest places they are under-valued and under-supported. We aim to change that.

We are living at a time of incredible change and opportunity. One of the biggest things we need to change is our own attitudes and understanding about the interplay between early stage impact entrepreneurship, impact investing, and global sustainable development. There’s a lot of buzz about these terms, and our hope is to give you our perspective on this exciting and emerging industry, telling you what we are learning as we work with some of the most remarkable early stage entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Our hope with this blog is to communicate, as best we can, what we and others in this movement are doing, learning, planning, and why. We aim to bring in authentic and thoughtful voices from across our emerging industry — from foundation leaders who are building the field to factory line employees who can tell us how this work has made a difference in their lives. The entrepreneur is at the center of our work and will also be a centerpiece of this blog. Our goal is simple: further knowledge — and action — to advance the cause of sustainable impact entrepreneurship across the globe. Thanks for reading and for being a part of our community and our journey.

Ben Powell

Back to the basics: a note on fundraising

by Sergio Figueroa Sanz

Agora Partnerships is not a fundraiser. Agora’s mission is clear: tackle poverty, inequality, and marginalization by broadening economic and social opportunities for the bottom of the pyramid while fostering private sector initiatives with a clear and significant positive social and environmental impact. Agora does this by investing human, social, and financial capital in impact entrepreneurs and the small and growing businesses (SGBs) they run. So, where does fundraising fit in this equation?

Certainly fund raising matters for Agora since, as the saying in Spanish goes, “con dinero baila el perro” (some sort of version of the well-known saying “money talks and bull…” well you know the rest!). This is not breaking news though. Every organization needs funding and obtains it in a number of ways. NGOs, such as Agora, tend to rely on external funding sources and, thus, fund raising activities become a centerpiece of their operations. However, Agora currently has a very strong additional incentive to undertake fundraising activities: it’s currently in the implementation stage of its most ambitious initiative to date, the Agora Accelerator. The Accelerator is a regional initiative for Central America and Mexico and the funding needs certainly match the ambitions for geographic coverage. In response to this, Agora started a fundraising challenged a few weeks ago (the details can be found here).

So how difficult is it to meet a fundraising goal of USD 2,500? Let’s just say, some are gifted and some are simply not. Fundraising at this scale is a daunting task, to say the least, for someone like me, an economist with moderate skill to get people to listen to my ideas but incredibly lacking in the ability to get people to put their money on them. As you can see, although I was certain I’d be able to dazzle potential sponsors with my First Giving fundraising webpage, my colleague and fundraising challenge rival Julen Baztarrica proved to be the skillful moneymaker. I just hope this doesn’t reflect my ability to make money after graduating from the MPA… maybe I should’ve sold my soul like Julen and pursued an MBA….

Please help me reach my personal goal of $1,000 and give the DC office a fighting change in this international fundraising competition. Your support directly aids Agora’s mission and the communities to whom we provide assistance.

Thank you.