Tag Archives: social enterprise

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.

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.

allGreenup reduces Latin America’s carbon footprint

“Agora is honest, Agora understands and is truthful about the specific problems facing social entrepreneurs in Latin America.”

Andres Luongo believes in a future where both companies and individuals will have a more sustainable relationship with the environment. With a background in social entrepreneurship and civil engineering, Andres had spent years experimenting with different methods of environmental engagement. In 2012, Andres and his partner Sebastian began seriously discussing the creation of a business with an environmental impact. They lamented the fact that, despite claims of recycling, few people actually live environmentally-conscious lifestyles. Thus arose the idea of incentives, that if people were given some kind of benefit, green lifestyles would seem much more appealing. And so was born allGreenup.

allGreenup is an application that both educates and rewards its users, incentivizing citizens and employees throughout Latin America to track and reduce their carbon footprint. Offering discounts, products, and services as prizes for choosing a greener lifestyle, it increases sustainable action among individuals and companies.

Andres and Sebastian recognized that companies today are encouraged by governments and their customers to be sustainable, but don’t have the means nor the motivation. allGreenup thus provides the missing tools and incentive necessary for companies to integrate sustainability into their business models and the platform necessary to both expand and measure impact.

However, Andres struggled to acquire investment and recognition. Hoping to expand his contacts and improve his business model, he applied to Agora’s flagship Accelerator program in 2016. The week-long retreat and months of consulting that followed brought invaluable benefits: Andres and his team learned how to better deliver their value proposition and pitch to potential investors and partners, gained lasting community connections with other entrepreneurs, and closed contracts with Samsung and Bupa.

allGreenup today is perfectly positioned in Chile to continue expanding its user base. For now, Andres is focused on creating greater impact and generating revenue in his home country. In the next five years, however, he hopes that allGreenup will grow within the region, spreading to Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, and eventually developing into a globally recognized platform with over a million users.

His success is evident in the testimonies of customers. Chile’s second largest healthcare company, Bupa, praises the clear improvements in their consumer relations and the ability to accurately assess their impact, while individual users applaud the creation of a community in which they can find and be encouraged by like-minded individuals.

With eyes on the future, Andres envisions a world where social impact is integrated into every business model. He notes that the focus of companies today is no longer limited to just profit. Having a social impact has become increasingly important, and a growing number of individuals are looking for ways to help their community and world. The knowledge that he is a part of this movement for good is what pushes Andres each day to pour his heart and soul into his company. Run on the values of excellence, integrity, and teamwork, allGreenup is thus changing the world, one user at a time.

Learn more about allGreenup at www.allgreenup.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.

From the Mayan Biosphere to the World

The Pat family is demonstrating how it is possible to insert a rural indigenous community into the global economy and to preserve the environment at the same time.

I have to admit that I have often regarded ventures of this type as exercises in nostalgia rather than as serious business propositions. Also, too many of us in the development community are in a constant quest for scale and large numbers instead of measuring the intensity of impact for those affected. This project made me look at things in a new way.

The Pat family lives in the Mayan community of Tankuche of about 1,000 residents in the state of Campeche in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They have taken what was formerly a hobby –beekeeping – and turned it into a business that produces as much as 10 tons of pure organic honey a year. The bees are raised on communal and public lands within the Los Petenes biosphere reserve, and their cultivation requires the preservation of the ecology of reserve, thus aligning economic incentives with conservation. Don Vidal, the father of the Pat family, is currently in the process of formalizing the company as a cooperative, which will allow for easier access to financing. Getting past the bureaucrats who delight in making things as difficult as possible is just one of the many challenges he has to overcome.

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Don Vidal is a highly spiritual man and a visionary. He wants to provide an example to the rest of the village of how hard work can help people raise themselves out of poverty. His whole family is entrepreneurial. His wife, Isabel, is involved in providing healthcare, formally and informally, especially to pregnant women in the village. One of their daughters, Josefa, runs an outsourced garment operation employing women of the village and their other daughter commercializes the honey in Cancun. Their son, Rogaciano, currently manages the beekeeping with the help of three employees. Last year, with some public funding and a reinvestment of profits, the family began constructing a collection center. The center still needs about $50,000 to install the bottling operation and to build the warehouse and shipping center that will allow the family to manage not only their own production, but that for another 32 family producers, 8 of whom already produce with Vidal. The idea is to eventually incorporate as many honey producers in the village as possible.

The commercialization of the Pat family’s honey is being assumed by Mercado delaTierra, an entity formed by The GreenSquids, a company created by architect turned social entrepreneur Enrique Kaufmann who is dedicated to developing sustainable businesses in rural communities. The GreenSquids in turn has participated in Agora Partnerships’ Accelerator program and remains an active member of the Agora community. The GreenSquids is also working on a comprehensive community development project in the Mayan community of Nuevo Xcan in the state of Quintana Roo.

Mercado delaTierra is positioning the honey as a premium, pure organic product. Honey can also be differentiated by qualities such as acidity, color, and flavor derived from the type of flower that produced the pollen. Mercado delaTierra has already signed a contract with Thrive Market to distribute the honey in Thrive’s California stores and is seeking additional contracts for the remainder of the Pat family production. Due to declining U.S. production of honey, attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the causes if which are still being debated, honey prices in the U.S. have risen more than 80% since 2006 and about 65% of US supply is now imported. In addition, much of the product marketed as honey is impure or adulterated.

However, in Campeche, the very biodiversity of the Los Petenes reserve appears to protect the bees from natural enemies. There is a great opportunity to increase production. With a small amount of additional financing for the collection center (anyone thinking crowdfunding?), this business can be taken to the next level. This would indeed produce a sweet result for the Pat family, their village, the biosphere, and very satisfied honey lovers all around the world.

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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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