Tag Archives: social entrepreneur

Develop Link makes Guatemalan healthcare more efficient

“Being able to leverage Agora’s well-known name within this community allowed us to successfully acquire funding.”

Catherine Flatley believes in unlocking the potential of existing healthcare systems to provide more efficient care for Latin Americans. She was first introduced to the world of healthcare as an intern for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Immersed in the industry, she became increasingly fascinated by the communications problems that existed in the developing world and the opportunities to fix them. But she wanted to know more about the problem.

Catherine spoke to over 300 doctors who had participated in mission trips around the world, and realized that many encountered the same difficulties arising from their inability to coordinate patient care. As a healthcare consultant, she had worked with several pharmaceutical firms who were interested in entering emerging markets but struggled with the lack of data necessary to expand.

She was blown away by the extent of the problem and motivated to solve it. A decisive resignation and move to Guatemala later, Develop Link was born.

As a referral platform for doctors in Latin America, Develop Link helps healthcare providers search for specialists and labs, share information, and consult each other. The data collected through the platform is subsequently organized and sold to pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers hoping to expand within the Latin American region. Catherine emphasizes that Develop Link is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It simply serves as the link bringing together all the existing institutions to facilitate more efficient care.

Wanting to improve her company’s potential for growth and scaling, Catherine participated in several Accelerators, including Points of Light CivicX, Impact Engine, and the Fellow Irish Social Hub. However, she lacked both direct access to the Latin American network and consulting that would instruct her specifically on the Latin American market. So she applied to Agora’s Accelerator.

Through the four-month program, Catherine refined her launch strategy, strengthened the value proposition she would deliver to pharmaceutical firm clients, and connected with invaluable investor networks. The SOCAP experience, facilitated by Agora, introduced her to her very first client in Mexico.

Since the Accelerator, Develop Link has steadily progressed, entering Mexico by virtue of demand and planning to enter Costa Rica. Catherine has recently closed two contracts with investors and is on her way to closing her third, motivated every day by the number of doctors, NGOs, government organizations, and private companies all trying to provide better healthcare in Latin America with a clear need to better communicate.

She believes that the ability to be flexible and adjust existing plans to new circumstances has been key to expanding her company, and hopes to continue working towards halting the Latin American ‘Brain Drain,’ in which talented and promising individuals leave their native country to pursue a professional career elsewhere. Her company’s potential for expansion and promise for physicians and patients everywhere keep talented employees like Shaili Zappa, her director for Guatemala, working locally.  Develop Link, run on teamwork and collaboration, is thus changing the world, one patient at a time.

Learn more about Develop Link at http://www.developlink.org.

So, You Want to Start a Social Enterprise?: The Seed

You’ve heard the buzz, and you want to start a social enterprise. That’s great – but where do you begin? Just as every tree begins with a seed, every enterprise begins with an idea. Maybe you already have an idea. If so, congratulations – you’ve come to the right place! This is the first post in an ongoing series on how to get your social enterprise off the ground.

Identify the Problem   

What is a social enterprise? Basically, it’s a solution. The successful impact entrepreneur identifies a problem that no one else has solved, and then solves it. The first step is to identify a problem. How do you identify problems? Look around you. Talk to people. When in doubt, a good place for inspiration is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Does everyone in your community have food to eat, water to drink, and a place to sleep? Maybe you can help with employment, health, or physical security.

Create a Solution

You’ve identified a problem. The second step is to create a solution. Now, before you run off and come up with The Next Big Thing, do some research. Maybe you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There may be a business model out there that you can adapt, and it may not even be used in a social enterprise. Look at Grameen Bank. Mohammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank

didn’t invent finance – he just adapted it to the bottom of the pyramid. Or look at Sustainable Harvest. David Griswold didn’t invent coffee exporting – he just adapted it to include local farmers. Consider that your solution may not require revolutionary innovation – it may just require inventive adaptation.

Be Sustainable

So – you’ve identified a problem and created a solution. This means you’re already ahead of the curve, but you’re not done yet. The third step is to make your solution sustainable, whether that means your solution is practical and scalable (in the business sense), or minimal in its impact on the environment and resources. (Ideally, it’s both.) For example: mosquito nets in Africa. For decades, aid agencies imported mosquito nets to Africa. The aid agencies identified a problem (malaria, which, untreated, causes the deaths of nearly 1 million people in Africa every year), and then created a solution (distribution of mosquito nets). But their solution wasn’t sustainable – if funding dried up, aid agencies would no longer be able to distribute mosquito nets. This presented an untenable scenario.

Workers producing mosquito nets at A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania.

A more sustainable solution to the malaria problem would be to develop and grow mosquito net production in-country.  A to Z Textile Mills, a Tanzanian company that received start-up capital from Acumen Fund in 2003, is doing just that. A to Z is not only addressing the malaria epidemic, it is lowering shipping costs for each bednet, and creating jobs for Africans.

Problem leads to solution leads to sustainability. And, if you’re lucky, Jacqueline Novogratz mentions you in a TED Talk (at 12:20).

Built to Last

I met Ben Sandzer-Bell, founder of CO2 Bambu, a few weeks into my internship with Agora when he dropped by our office between meetings with potential funders and USAID representatives.

What struck me instantly about Ben was the sheer enthusiasm with which he tackled my questions. When asked about CO2’s partnerships with local microfinance organizations, he hopped up and grabbed a marker and started rapidly diagramming on a nearby whiteboard. When asked for details on how bamboo actually functions as a building material, he pulled out a slab of flattened bamboo and told me we could keep it for the office. When asked about projects in the pipeline and what might be pursued were funding available, he really went to town…

Ben rattled off five fully-baked project ideas in minutes; I ultimately had to stop him from going on. Each, be it related to schools in Nicaragua, warehouse infrastructure in Haiti, or otherwise, was undoubtedly necessary and would surely address urgent community needs. So impressed were we at Agora with the ways CO2’s efforts could materially affect local livelihoods, and so impressed were we with the scope of Ben’s vision, that when we learned Global Giving – a platform which enables tax-deductible donations and facilitates project progress reporting – would be running a fundraising challenge this August, we were quick to turn to Ben and ask if he was up for partnering with us.

Global Giving hosts nonprofits exclusively, so Agora is acting as CO2’s sponsor (given the company’s for-profit status). In the arrangement, the majority of funds raised (97%) will go to CO2 for the proposed project, and the balance (3%) will go to Agora to cover support costs. CO2’s goal is to raise $15,000 to build a battered women’s shelter in Muelle de los Buyes, an impoverished rural region of Nicaragua from which many of CO2’s best workers come (CO2 is responsible for bringing jobs to areas of Nicaragua with over 80% unemployment). CO2 would complete the project for free because the area desperately needs this safe haven and because CO2 needs its bamboo buildings to be visible to the community and local government in order to prove their structural viability. Why the emphasis on bamboo? Bamboo’s exceptionally strong and flexible poles are able to withstand the extreme forces of hurricanes and earthquakes, so it’s an ideal material for the disaster-prone region. And bamboo can be harvested and replenished with low environmental impact, a key point for an area facing significant deforestation.

If CO2’s project hits at least a third of Ben’s $15,000 goal from 50 unique donors, Agora will gain a permanent spot on the Global Giving platform. This would be incredibly strategic for us: in our quest to improve our entrepreneurs’ access to financial, human, and social capital, we’ve come to recognize that there are an increasing number of platforms through which our entrepreneurs could be raising lower amounts of funds, more quickly, in smaller increments. These platforms present an opportunity for social engagement (with the online ‘crowd’) unique from what we offer through events like our Entrepreneur Retreat and Investor Conference. An ongoing Global Giving spot for Agora would position us to do spot fundraising for other entrepreneurs in the future, as well as potentially raise funds for Agora-run initiatives.

For more on CO2’s project, please check out their Global Giving listing. And please consider donating to the cause. CO2 is about building for the long-term: creating jobs that last and contributing to Central American development in a meaningful way. Help CO2 move forward with their vision, and help Agora gain a permanent position on Global Giving so we can move forward on our promise to increase the flow of capital to our talented entrepreneurs.