Tag Archives: social capital

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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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).

Continue reading There’s a Lot More to Coffee Than Beans

Con Ágora Partnerships, uno siempre tiene más de lo que espera

IMG_6309Marcelo Hernandez Mahecha y Alexander Valencia participaron en La Aceleradora Agora 2014. Su negocio, CAIA Ingeniería, provee servicios de consultoría de energía y emisiones para empresas en industrias de alto consumo energético en Colombia. Luego, CAIA brinda servicios para implementar las mejoras recomendadas, a través de innovadores contratos de rendimiento de ahorro energético, que reducen o hasta eliminan las salidas de flujos de sus clientes.

Hablamos con Marcelo sobre su experiencia en La Aceleradora Agora y esto fue lo que nos contó.

Continue reading Con Ágora Partnerships, uno siempre tiene más de lo que espera

Retreat 2014: Accelerating the Shift Toward a New Economy

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John Kohler, Co-Founder of Toniic and leader in the field of impact investing, stated it bluntly: “I’d rather fund a medium business plan with excellent people, rather than a great plan with medium people.” When it comes to entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage, the founding team of entrepreneurs plays an absolutely indispensable role. They are the ones making the decisions, taking the risks, and creating businesses that have the potential to shift the way that business functions in society. They bring a unique energy that is truly indispensable, an energy that could be felt powerfully throughout the week of January 27 in Granada, Nicaragua during the Agora 2014 Entrepreneur Retreat.

IMG_6030 (1)The Entrepreneur Retreat serves as the launch event for the Agora Accelerator, an intensive, 3-stage program designed to give entrepreneurs access to the knowledge, networks, and capital they need to scale their business models and their impact. The 2014 Retreat was designed with the intent of strengthening three key components of the early stage ecosystem: the community, the business, the individual. The agenda challenged the entrepreneurs to dive deep into both their business models and their own decision-making as leaders. However, as the week came to a close, the development of the community became a top priority for many present

IMG_4441“Back home we are already feeling SAUDADES, a word in Portuguese that describes the feeling when you miss people who, for some period of time, were a part of your life, and for whom you will forever have wonderful memories,” Raquel Cruz, Co-Founder of Brasil Aromaticos, recalled. “I want to convey my gratitude for the opportunity to be with people so special. People who are ahead of the times with their businesses; who are creating both profit and impact…and above all, people who know that it is always possible to do more. I feel honored to have been in a group of people who believe, share their dreams, and are ready for action AGORA (Agora in Portuguese means NOW)”.

At Agora we believe that building this community is critical to accelerating the shift in business from business that focuses solely on profit creation to models that create value for all shareholders. Each of the entrepreneurs in our Accelerator is taking an enormous risk. They are challenging traditional models and building new approaches in some of the most difficult environments in the world. They are creating platforms for marginalized farmers to access and share invaluable data; they are employing prisoners to produce hammocks in high demand; they are bridging the gap between tourism, indigenous communities, and the exquisite natural beauty of Mexico; they are revolutionizing mobility in Brazil with the first ever electric car sharing program; and they are re-foresting Mexico by selling and re-planting carefully-extracted, live Christmas trees. These entrepreneurs are are doing it because they truly believe it is possible to build a dynamic, competitive, and inclusive economy that creates value for all and walks the often misunderstood line between purpose and profit. The Agora Retreat is just one step on the journey of these modern-day pioneers towards accelerating the full impact of that collective vision.

IMG_4382“I returned to Mexico with a complete paradigm change,” 2014 Entrepreneur Kitti Szabo, Co-Founder of La Mano del Mono, concluded. “Now I can dream big.”

 

 

 

 

Tegu: The Wooden Block. Reinvented.

Operating in Honduras, a country suffering from wide unemployment and increasing poverty, Tegu is a high-end manufacturing company that is innovating the traditional building block to give children better materials to play with. Tegu serves to high-end customers in the US and Europe while developing both a system to plant trees in Honduras and a scholarship fund to facilitate education for the local youth. After buying a set of Tegu blocks, clients can choose how they prefer the company to help Honduras.

Serving Honduras is a foundational priority of the company and to measure their impact, Tegu tracks: hectares of trees planted, students provided with full scholarships (number of funded school days), and permanent jobs created by the company.

Chris and Will, founders of Tegu, were part of Agora’s first Accelerator class and embarked on a six month program that helped them build and garner human and social capital around their company’s needs, prepare an Investor Packet, and connect with impact investors and entrepreneurs in the region to increase their growth and social impact.

What’s most interesting about the Accelerator program is just how each entrepreneur is growing and learning from the process and the community. In the video below, founder Will Haughey tells the Tegu story and how the Accelerator has supported their growth:

Tegu Video at Agora Investor Conference

Agora is now accepting nominations and applications for the Accelerator’s second class. Apply or Nominate today.

Francisco Noguera Repost

Francisco Noguera

June 22, 2011 — 02:45 pm

Agora’s Recent Entrepreneur Retreat, in Granada.

Agora’s Impact Investor Conference: Accelerating the Central American Deal Flow

In the midst of all the talk and philosophical discussions about the promise of Impact Investing, I would actually like to read and write more about deals, the ins and outs of the investments through which this idea is coming into fruition. Such reading material is scarce though. I dare to say that actual deals taking place are equally so.

A topic that needs more analysis is the seemingly massive intermediation gap in this industry. We read about investors and entrepreneurs, but rarely about the wide and expensive gap that exists between the two. Actual figures are difficult to find or estimate, but costs associated with finding and preparing enterprises that match a certain impact area and geographic focus seem considerable for investors. Add to this the costs of due diligence and the lengthy process involved in getting a company to “investment-readiness”, a fuzzy, often-used term.

Agora Partnerships is acting on this gap and taking investment-readiness preparation to a level that I was, until now, unaware of — as far as the small and growing business (SGB) space is concerned.   In July, they will host the first Impact Investor Conference in Granada, featuring nine early stage enterprises that went through a competitive selection process to reach the Agora Accelerator Program. These ventures are, in effect, ready to engage in a transaction with an impact investor.

But what does this actually mean?

Through Agora’s Accelerator Program, all companies received business, leadership, and communications training, as well as intense consulting on the implications of seeking and receiving impact investments. Financial and legal reviews will be available for most of the firms, conducted by third party providers with high credibility and a strong track record in the Central American context. All companies are GIIRS rated, and thus fully invested in the impact investing philosophy, placing as much emphasis on their business strengths as on their abilities to generate social and/or environmental value.

Agora’s proposition brings tremendous value to the domain of impact investing, making it more likely for deals to start occurring. I encourage you to read more about the conference, which should undoubtedly yield deals and lessons to be shared with the broader sector.

 

Agora Founder Speaks at Georgetown Graduation

A month ago, Agora’s Founder Ben Powell was given the opportunity to address Georgetown University’s Masters of Science in Foreign Service graduates, along with Madeleine Albright. Being a graduate himself, Ben used this chance to tell the group of their newfound responsibilities — both to themselves and to the rest of the world. The crux of what he shared with the crowd is the following:

Image: Ben Powell at Georgetown Graduation

The story I want to tell is not about how I started Agora Partnerships — the non-profit that I run — or the rejections, mistakes, the highs and lows I’ve experienced building this organization — that’s a better story for the pub. But the idea of Agora, that’s what I want to talk about.

And this idea is pretty simple.

Developing world entrepreneurs can solve many of our problems better than governments or aid programs, if we only paid attention to them.

To read the full transcript of the speech, click below.

(PS. Now, you can catch up with Ben via Twitter at @BenAgora.)

Continue reading Agora Founder Speaks at Georgetown Graduation

Social Capital – Agora Retreat Part II

What is the hardest kind of capital for entrepreneurs to find in the developing world?

A strong argument can be made that it’s social capital – basically a feeling of trust, community, and mutually agreed upon norms and expectations that together benefit the community. The complete lack of social capital has prevented many incredible entrepreneurs from realizing their potential, and for good reason. Without social capital, investors have a harder time building trust. Transactions that could be simple take forever, and information that should be cheap and easy to find simply isn’t.

A lack of social capital begets a lack of investment capital.

Without social capital, the law of reciprocity – one of the most powerful laws of leadership and getting things done – doesn’t work. Ultimately, where there is little social capital, opportunity and potential are squandered, which is why the societies with the most social capital in the world are also the most successful.

Did we build social capital at our first retreat? I think we made an excellent start, and we did it really only by creating a space and a frame for extraordinary people to realize just how extraordinary they are .

We are told that Central Americans, like many others in countries with significant problems like poverty and crime (in this case, violence indirectly caused by oblivious American illegal drug consumers) have a culture that is anti-entrepreneurial. Overly conservative, distrustful, stratified, fearful of change, afraid to fail, tied to the status quo – these are words that describe parts of the business culture in Central America, there’s no denying it. But as Jose Bolaños, (one of the most inspiring and thoughtful life coaches in the region), said as he wrapped up the retreat, “Here, the status quo has been broken .”

Image: Agora Entrepreneurs Helping Each Other

If there is a lack of social capital in Central America, it will not be found among the entrepreneurs I met at our retreat. If there is fear of failure, that fear was not evident. When you are part of a community, you know that you are not confronting all of the challenges solo.

“I realize I am not alone and that together we are more powerful than we are individually,” said Guillermo Jacoby of Ostuma Farms, the most sustainably managed family-owned farm in Nicaragua we know about.

Central America is one of the most unequal, socially stratified places on earth. That is not something you can change overnight. Agora has begun the process of creating a community that can overcome class background — one whose glue is values, not where you went to high school.

In fact, I think we have already assembled possibly the most diverse group of entrepreneurs ever to form one community. One received angel investment from top Wall Street investors; another got her first loan ever – $100 – from a local microfinance bank. Together, Agora and these entrepreneurs are helping to build a new entrepreneurial culture in Central America .

Getting to Davos as a Young Global Leader

Image: Ricardo TeranOne of the first conversations I had with Ben (my fellow Agora co-founder) was about the conviction that impact entrepreneurs could and should play a catalytic role in creating wealth and social impact in the developing world. We knew that the current role of governments was overstretched as they represented a huge proportion of activity as percentage of GDP, yet were consistently under-delivering on basic human services. Countries that had grown rapidly, however, and begun to see important numbers of people grow out of poverty, showed increasingly levels of productivity and innovation – in large part because of the improved dynamism of the small business sector.

Ben and I wondered where in the world could we find a group of people who would fundamentally understand the power of business as the main engine for prosperity, with the critical belief that it must also play a role in how that prosperity could directly improve both the social and environmental outcomes of the people in the poorest countries?

It was January 2005, and the conversation was a relevant one: We were in the middle of one of the most prosperous eras in our history, yet it was infested with corporate ethics scandals, increasing disparity between rich and poor, and an alarming rate of environmental destruction. Many of these topics were being discussed at the  World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, and Ben and I made a joint promise: We would one day get to Davos, and would convince the most action-oriented world leaders about the power of business for social good. We needed to sculpt a path for entrepreneurs to make a dent in the universe.

About two months ago, I got the news that I had been nominated to the Forum of Young Global Leaders, part of the World Economic Forum, a program consisting of leaders from all around the world under 40 years old. They come from a myriad of disciplines and sectors to discuss the development of global strategies and concrete actions in order to advance towards a better future. I was elated, surprised, and a bit shocked! My first reaction, honestly, was “Is this a typo?!” followed by “SOMEONE messed up!”

I was incredibly honored to even be considered in the same league as entrepreneurs and other leaders who had already contributed enormously to the world, but I also fundamentally understood the opportunity: I was on the threshold of fulfilling the promise Ben and I made. The question now became: ”How to use this huge opportunity to spotlight – and help catalyze –  impact entrepreneurs?”

The answer came quickly after the first few minutes of my first encounter with other YGLs during the Silicon Valley Summit a few weeks ago. So many YGLs immediately offered to help Agora – help think through strategic issues; connect to relevant players, funders, and policy-makers; and with just about anything that would accelerate the growth of impact entrepreneurs and forcefully advance actions oriented to making developing economies more successful and responsible entrepreneurial societies.

Many YGLs were very successful social entrepreneurs in their own right.  David del Ser, founder of Frogtek, had successfully created one of the world’s first platforms to help small shop keepers. Roberto Milk had created one of the most successful artisan marketplaces in the world, NOVICA. And Geoff Davis, using all his brilliance and experience (currently an impact investor and ex-CEO of Unitus among other things) to supporting social entrepreneurs with access to financing and mentorship.

Then there were other hard-core entrepreneurs and thinkers, like Alejando Poma, Jennifer Corriero, Anand Chandrasekaran, and Matias de Tezano. Matias started his first venture in college, almost accidentally and certainly with no business experience, with very little support from traditional friends and family –  a situation faced by millions of aspiring young entrepreneurs in Latin. America. Today, after three very successful (and some not so successful) ventures, Matias is mentoring and guiding other entrepreneurs to success, and putting his money where his mouth is as a “cowboy” angel investor, taking on the kinds of risks no traditional funder would ever take.  More importantly, Matias has seen first hand the power of business for social impact and is now willing to help Agora Entrepreneurs achieve just that.

Did I mention that three of the top entrepreneurial technology minds in the world were also YGLs? Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google, and Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook not only spent time with us and gave us some fantastic insights into trends in search, mobile, and social media,, they were kind enough to invite us to lunch over at their respective campuses and give us privileged access to experience firsthand why Google and Facebook are such revolutionary and successful companies. They are developing some of the most democratizing technologies in history to connect people to each other and to opportunities for a better life, like the Google Earth engine and the merging of voice controls with  Google Translator. And, Facebook’s Pages will give small local entrepreneurse worldwide a huge suite of powerful tools to efficiently promote and quickly grow their businesses.

After only a few short months of being a part of the group, being a Young Global Leader already represents so many things to me. It is a privilege and responsibility; it represents opportunity and challenge; it entails contributing and learning. It is a call to action. I feel very humbled and proud to represent Agora and Nicaragua in this amazing group of individuals. I’m very excited about the opportunities to promote Agora’s vision of business as a force for good and scale our impact with the help of other partners and YGLs. I am most excited, though, to meet other amazing YGLs and learn about and from them.

We all have much work to do, so I invite you to comment with your ideas and present your initiatives that may lead to meaningful partnerships in the comments section below. If you are a YGL, an Aspen fellow, an entrepreneur, or just believe the world needs more impact entrepreneur and want to get stuff done, let us know.

Ricardo Teran Teran

Meeting an Impact Entrepreneur


Agora Partnerships
Originally uploaded by agorapartnerships1

by Andrew Zizmor

Throughout my internship this summer at Agora’s Washington, DC office, I became familiar with the term impact entrepreneur and the type of people who embody those characteristics. To clarify, impact entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs that focus on sustainable growth, take into account multiple stakeholders, define success in terms of profit and social impact, and act as role models within their community. Last week, I finally received the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua and visit a couple of Agora’s impact entrepreneurs. After the recent capital investments in VegyFrut by the Agora Venture Fund, I was most anxious to see how Carlos Fernando Solorzano of VegyFrut planned on using his newfound capital.

VegyFrut distributes fresh cut fruits and vegetables to hotels, supermarkets, and restaurants mostly in the Managua and Granada regions. In just three short years, VegyFrut has expanded beyond Carlos’s wildest dreams, from working out of his parents’ backyard to a nearly complete multi-room plant with multiple storing units. As I tour the nearly complete plant with Carlos Fernando, he explains to me his future business strategy. With this newfound space and equipment, he is going to increase the number of fruits and vegetables he distributes each day and offer a larger selection of products. One of these new products is a fruit juice which he created with an Agora run MBA consulting team. Now with this new building, it’s only a matter of time till Nicaraguans start their day with a refreshing 100% juice drink.

Throughout my whole conversation with Carlos Fernando, the most surprising part is the conscious effort VegyFrut takes to incorporate local Nicaraguan businesses into its success. Before building his new plant, Carlos wanted to ensure that the contractor, builder, and materials would all come from his local area. In addition, VegyFrut’s emphasis on community development shows up in multiple forms: VegyFrut buys all of its produce from local Nicaragua farms and sends its scraps of fruits and vegetables, which are not able to be sold to its customers, to a local pig farmer who uses it to feed his animals. From his success, Carlos Fernando is not only able to create jobs for many Nicaraguans but also to foster a local business network within his own community, this is what makes Carlos an impact entrepreneur. This might not seem like a lot of change but if Agora can give an opportunity to 240 Carlos Fernandos within the next five years, through its new Accelerator initiative, then Central America will take a giant leap towards economic prosperity.