Tag Archives: Recycling

ChurecaChic empowers women through fashion

“Agora has acted for us as a seal of approval to get other accelerators, organizations, and investors to be interested in us.”

Andrea Paltzer believes in the power of innovative fashion to drive hundreds of women into the formal economy. She spent much of her 20s working in various NGOs across Central and South America, dealing with children’s health, poverty, and education. Eventually, she arrived at a NGO focused on educational infrastructure in Nicaragua, and found herself enraptured with the question of how to help generations of adults without any formal education access stable careers.

It was around this time that she learned of La Chureca, a municipal and industrial landfill, more aptly described as the largest garbage dump in all of Central America, and home to a shockingly large, impoverished community. This community worked and played amongst the trash, making their living sorting through the scraps for bits of metal and plastic. Andrea’s heart was touched by the perseverance of these people, surviving in such terrible conditions, and she decided she had to help.

Andrea knew that their greatest challenge was not a lack of money, but a lack of the education required to make a living in the formal economy. Furthermore, as officially listed residents of La Chureca, these individuals carried a debilitating label, earning them only discrimination and scorn from potential employers. The solution, therefore, had to go beyond simple welfare payments. Andrea had to change the individuals. She thus launched the Earth Education Project (EEP), a job-skills education program specifically catered to La Chureca’s women, funded by a series of scholarships from its community recycling business.

The program enrolls women with neither formal education nor experience in the formal economy in a year of reading, writing, and computing classes. It extends beyond the cultivation of these hard skills, teaching self-esteem, conflict resolution, and household management to psychologically empower the women, allowing them to successfully hold onto employment once they enter the formal economy. Upon completion of the program, graduates are placed through organizational partners into steady jobs across the country.

Despite the EEP’s laudable mission and initial success, Andrea knew from experience that NGOs are hard to sustain. A steady source of income was necessary if she was to maintain the Project, and so she came up with an idea for how to generate profit. And, just like that, Chureca Chic was born.

Launched in 2013 as an independent fashion label and registered officially in 2015 as a social enterprise, Chureca Chic takes recycled materials from the dump and transforms them into beautiful pieces of unique jewelry. The company provides full-time employment to several EEP graduates, and its profits are funneled back into the Project to expand its scholarship program. Andrea’s greatest achievement, however, is that her company has empowered dozens of women, placing 150 graduates into formal jobs and employing seven women itself. Fany Guerrero, who used to work for $5 a month at a jewelry co-op, now makes $220 a month, running the production line at Chureca Chic and more confident in her abilities than ever before.

Hoping to expand her vision, Andrea applied to Agora’s Accelerator and was accepted to its 2016 class. Her company, just founded, was an exception, a couple years behind the rest of her social entrepreneurial peers. But with the help of a patient and committed consultant, Andrea bridged this divide. She reorganized her projects and financial statements and emerged from the Accelerator with a clear investor report, a strengthened growth strategy, and contacts for potential sources of funding and partnerships.

Today, Andrea is focused on increasing national sales and expanding throughout the region. She plans to incorporate recycled plastic and wood into Chureca Chic’s raw materials, diversifying her products and eventually reaching the European market. Andrea hopes to one day absorb all running costs of the Earth Education Project, and is well on her way to meeting that goal.

Andrea is inspired everyday by the women she sees transformed through the EEP and empowered by formal employment. She believes that persistence, resilience, and consistent innovation have transformed the idea of La Chureca from something detestable into something beautiful. Andrea runs her company on the values of commitment, responsibility, and honesty, and her team of women are changing the world, one recycled string of beads at a time.

Learn more about ChurecaChic at www.eartheducationproject.org.

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.

Promesa teaches students to value the environment

“My relationship with the consultant was the best part of the program; I felt comfortable enough to share every detail with him and he helped us to both restructure our program and strengthen our team.”

Julio Alvarez believes in the promise of an educational program to raise the environmental consciousness of a nation. While still a university student, Julio traveled often to Mexico’s beautiful Acapulco beach on family vacations. However, he was appalled by the apathy people had toward the environment. Visitors littered all over the sands, and the evening tide brought in plastic bags, diapers, and empty bottles. His frustration moved him to action; he started an organization that prompted beachfront restaurants to pay for the installation of trash bins, yet, 200 bins later, people still did not seem to care.

Julio was driven to do more. Over the next few years, he created environmental initiatives, green reports, reforestation programs, ecological holiday agendas, and environmental workshops for 26 companies. Again, however, the same stubborn apathy reared its ugly head. Realizing how difficult it was to change an adult’s mind about living a more sustainable life, Julio knew he had to craft a quality environmental education program targeted at youth. Thus was born the concept for Promesa.

Julio gathered a group of psychologists, biologists, and environmental engineers, who together formulated a K-12 program that not only involves every student, but also includes important milestones to measure progress. As an additional bonus, he structured the model so that it is completely self-sustainable by collecting and selling the recycling from the enrolled schools. Schools can therefore enroll in the program free of charge. Moreover, the ripple effect of this environmental initiative reaches beyond the students, touching their teachers, families, and administrators.

The results were stunning. Post-program surveys revealed steadily increasing numbers of students who recycle, and a partnered school has already developed a compost zone, vertical gardens, and pluvial water collection, with plans to install solar panels.

Julio was ready to scale. He applied to Agora’s Accelerator, looking to gain valuable consulting on how best to expand his company. With access to a network of successful social entrepreneurs, a consultant whose hands-on approach showed him his full potential for growth, and an experience at SOCAP where he was confident enough to ask for larger investments than ever before, Julio’s ambition was fully unleashed. He emerged from the Accelerator program with a stronger financial model that could be pitched to international investors, a clearer idea of the team he needed to scale his company, and a more solid communication strategy that allowed him to successfully secure investments six months later.

Promesa is now on the fast track. With an astonishing 100% retention rate of enrolled schools and a rapidly expanding team, Julio hopes to reach 250 schools in the next two months, 1000 schools by 2018, and 7000 schools by 2022. He is building connections across Mexico and the U.S., joining with foundations and associations to champion his environmental cause.

Julio wants to share his passion with everyone, believing that the program is the key to awakening the environmental consciousness of its many students. Promesa is fueled by the passion of its incredible team, and it is changing the world, one school at a time.

Learn more about Promesa at www.grupopromesa.com.

Cocotech transforms coastal Colombian communities

“Agora teaches you not only the financial components, but also the personal and emotional components necessary for success.”

Germán Mejia believes in the incredible potential of the coconut shell to be the vehicle of prosperity for coastal Colombian communities.

For nearly twenty years, Germán devoted his energy to cultivating his homeland’s most famous export, beautiful flowers.  During these two decades in horticulture, he had the opportunity to explore the hydroponic cultivation of flowers with coconut fiber substrates and realized that the shell of this fruit had an incredible potential for improving the cultivation of vegetables like tomatoes, ornamental plants, vertical orchid gardens, and ‘green’ roofs.

Excited by the many uses and benefits of coconut fibers and substrate, Germán remembered the family trips to the Caribbean coast in his boyhood and the innumerable coconuts he had seen strewn across the department of Córdoba. He had not returned to the region in decades and decided to give it a visit. What he saw opened his eyes to the monumental opportunity awaiting him.

To avoid snakes nesting, the local communities were disposing of the coconut shells by throwing them on the beach or burning them completely, a practice that was severely polluting the air. Germán’s raw material, shockingly abundant, was thus not only being discarded but also contributing to the environmental degradation of the region. Moreover, these communities were living in abject poverty, the worst residing in homes of cracked plastic, with no access to clean water or electricity, and no sanitary bathroom or a functional area for cooking. Seeing the conditions for the first time through adult eyes, Germán was appalled. The man who, as a child, had told his mother at least once a week that he wanted to become a doctor and help people, was moved to action. And thus, Cocotech was born.

Cocotech buys coconut shells from these impoverished coastal communities, recycling them and transforming them into substrates for use in agriculture and horticulture. It thus simultaneously reduces the environmental contamination of the region and brings employment and additional income to families in desperate need of resources.

Since its conception in 2012, Cocotech has consistently progressed, entering the competitive market for coconut fiber substrates, and gaining a share substantial enough to break even. It has developed a buffering agent to treat the coconut shells and added coconut chips to its production line, further expanding its opportunities. In 2016, Cocotech became a finalist for Innpulsa, a Colombian entrepreneurial competition, and won first prize for sustainability with Corporacion Ventures, receiving national recognition for its incredible work.

Ambitious and ready to expand, Germán applied to Agora’s Accelerator program on the recommendation of an important potential client. The Accelerator provided him with invaluable materials, a methodology for growth, months of support from a consultant who was consistently well-prepared and committed to his company’s development, and the opportunity to present himself before investors and credit lenders in the hope of acquiring financing.

Newly equipped, Germán’s company today is poised for rapid growth. Germán hopes to continue expanding the plan of benefits for Cocotech’s employees that has thus far improved his workers’ education, health, living situation, and even their diet. In five years, he wants to acquire a major American client and develop a partnership with weavers who make artisanal products with coconut fibers, further unlocking the infinite possibilities of this little fruit.

Germán has brought hope and opportunity to an area that has remained virtually unchanged for the last 45 years. Within a population trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and underdevelopment, he is changing lives. He runs his company with the sense of responsibility and empathy that have so guided his life, and he is changing the world, one coconut at a time.

Learn more about Cocotech at cocotech.com.co.