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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.

D&E Green Enterprises promotes clean cookstoves in Haiti

“For my fellow social entrepreneurs, never fall in love with your solution. Fall in love with the problem.”

Duquesne Fednard believes that homegrown entrepreneurs need to fall in love with the problems facing Haiti, relying upon themselves rather than foreign aid to push their country into the future. Duquesne was born in a small Haitian town to a mother who had only a 3rd grade education and a father who could neither read nor write. Despite their own limitations, Duquesne’s parents instilled in him the value of taking initiative and the understanding that education would be his ticket to prosperity. Raised in a town that, even now, has no electricity or running water, little Duquesne housed an entrepreneurial fire whose brazen flames endure to this day.

At the age of 9, Duquesne was left alone to proctor his class’ exams. While his teacher desperately tried to woo the attractive teacher next door, the young entrepreneur seized upon this opportunity. Within weeks he had a full-blown business running, making sure students who wanted to cheat had to pay him, or risk the wrath of their lovesick teacher. By the end of the year, Duquesne had made enough money to buy himself a few toys.

At 16, Duquesne opened a print shop, his first formal business on the island, but he craved foreign exposure and experience. And so, he sold his print shop and moved to the United States, spending the next fourteen years on the fast track. He worked in a consulting firm, pursued a graduate degree, became an investment banker on the famed Wall Street, and even worked for Mayor Bloomberg. But his heart remained firmly tethered to Haiti.

He began to conduct market research on the existing organizations operating in Haiti and realized that his country had become overrun by NGOs, many of which had the best intentions  but were only creating greater problems. The deluge of foreign aid not only made Haitians increasingly dependent, but also destroyed many of their jobs. Duquesne knew he had to provide a local solution to a local problem that could be implemented by the local community.

Armed with the knowledge that 95% of Haitians still use charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking, Duquesne identified the energy market as an easy entry-point. He hoped to address both the environmental damage caused by this reliance as well as the social disparity that saw 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The solution became D&E Green Enterprises. Bringing affordable, reliable and clean energy to these impoverished communities, D&E manufactures and sells energy-efficient cook-stoves and integrates its customers into a financing scheme that helps generate savings.

Duquesne excitedly designed his prototype in 2009 and turned all his savings into a new factory with equipment that would manufacture the cook-stoves. But in January of 2010, disaster struck. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, taking the lives of 220,000 Haitians and the homes of another 1.5 million. Duquesne’s factory and all the new equipment inside were reduced to a heap of rubble. When Duquesne finally managed to visit the site, he noticed that a 39 year old who had been trained to work at his factory was visiting its remains every day. The factory was supposed to provide him with his first formal job, and despite the fact that this dream of an improved life lay in ruins before him, the man continued to show up at the site, desperately searching for a sense of normalcy.

It was at this moment that Duquesne remembered that his project was bigger than himself. Beyond the destruction of his dream and the loss of all his savings, his business had been a beacon of hope for all those involved. And so, picking himself up by the bootstraps, Duquesne got back to work. Over the next three years, his workers manufactured the cook-stoves manually, working in flimsy tents as hurricanes came and went. By 2014, the factory was rebuilt and his company was back on track.

Knowing that he needed capital to scale  his business was raising money, Duquesne applied to Agora’s Accelerator in 2017. His initial expectations were far surpassed. He gained access to a wonderful community and support system of fellow social entrepreneurs and was given the tools to get him closer to investment. Over the course of the past four months, a dedicated and perfectly-matched consultant helped him stay focused, maintain the structure of his business, and clearly define his priorities and responsibilities.

D&E today has sold over 125,000 cookstoves, directly impacting 600,000 lives. It has created over 60 full-time jobs and empowered over 100 local distributors. Duquesne hopes that, five years from now, there will be millions of low-income individuals on his savings-by-consumption platform, and D&E will be operating in three countries.

In the many ups and downs of his entrepreneurial journey, Duquesne has learned that, as a social entrepreneur, one must fall in love with the problem and not the solution. Believing himself incredibly blessed to be able to help others, Duquesne runs his company with humility, openness, and resilience, changing the world, one cook-stove at a time.  

Learn more about D&E Green Enterprises at http://www.dandegreen.com/.

 

Thinking Outside the Box in Latin America

“There has never been an example of an economy that has suffered as a result of giving women access to capital, knowledge, networks, and entrepreneurial tools. The only places where women don’t add as much to the economy as men are places they aren’t allowed to. The world has too many problems to only have half our brains working on them.” – Anne Welsh McNulty

Business has provided billions of people around the world with endless opportunities. From personal laptops to affordable air travel, innovative business models have provided us with a wealth of comforts the world over.  However, there are still those who live day to day without products, services, and opportunities that so many take for granted.

More than 20% of Peruvians (6.5 million) do not have access to electricity. 35% (16.7 million) of all Colombians are unbanked, as is 65% of the population of all of Latin America. (1) Nearly 54% (8 million) of Guatemalans live below the poverty line ($1.25/day), while 75% (11.3 million) of the population participates in the informal economy. (2)

Though these statistics may seem daunting at first, three regional innovators are successfully tackling these challenges – Alicia Kozuch, Founder of Buen Power (Peru), Ana Barrera, Founder of Aflore (Colombia), and Sophie Eckrich, Founder of Teysha (Guatemala). These entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of business to electrify remote rural communities, build trust in often uncertain financial systems, and create a direct connection between artisans and customers – all while making a profit and shifting the way their respective industries view success.

Alicia, Ana, and Sophie are all 2014 McNulty Fellows, an annual scholarship award funded by the McNulty Foundation. Each year, the McNulty Foundation selects three outstanding women entrepreneurs accepted into our Accelerator program and funds their participation in an effort to amplify market-driven solutions to pressing issues in Latin America.

LIGHTING UP PERU

IMG_5211 (1)In Peru, the combination of the Andean Mountains and Amazonian Jungle creates a complex geography that often prevents entire communities from connecting to electrical grids. It’s these conditions that motivated Alicia to look beyond the problem and look to a solution.

Buen Power doesn’t just provide an affordable and sustainable source of light to off-the-grid rural communities; the company has built a business model that creates local micro-entrepreneurs by integrating teachers as distributors of dLights. “We are utilizing teachers – since they are going to these remote communities anyway. While they are back in their home cities on the weekend, we train them in solar energy, and provide them with sample lights and specially created picture books which we have designed. They then hold community meetings in the communities where they work – and teach the community members about solar energy and its benefits and offer the lights for sale. These teachers earn a commission on sales. We are also creating other micro-entrepreneurs – by supporting about 50 other locals who buy our products at wholesale and sell at retail in their very distant communities.”

Q'ero girls with dlight - Buen powerAlicia recently received an email from a friend who works in remote Peruvian communities that stated, “Last week, we arrived in Q’ero well after dark. We saw a light in the distance which slowly moved towards us. These three beautiful girls came to meet us with you will never guess what – one of your dLights! What an amazing sight – never before have we been greeted in the dark.”

Alicia recalled, “The story brought tears to my eyes as I could clearly see, from an outside source, that our work was touching lives that we didn’t even know about. What an incredible feeling! It’s these moments that keep me going through the hardest days.”

Buen Power is currently in the process of opening 6 new locations in Peru. Next, the companies plans to replicate this distribution system country-wide. They recently received a $100,000 grant from USAID to pursue their “radical new distribution method for rural electrification”. (3)

BRINGING TRUST INTO FINANCIAL SERVICES IN COLOMBIA

IMG_4547 (1)Ana is thinking big. “Within the next 5-10 years I would like to see that Aflore has revolutionised the way of addressing the unbanked [adults who do not have bank accounts], in such a way that it has inspired others to innovate and develop other products and services to serve them properly.  After spending so many years working at the forefront of financial innovation in large investment banks,  I now believe that it is actually in this market segment where innovation should really happen, and most likely, the only segment where it really matters.”

Besides the unbanked, Ana has found that many of the people in Colombia who do, in fact, have bank accounts withdraw their money as soon as it lands in their accounts. She believes that this problem of financial inclusion is not an issue of access but rather one of engagement. Ana explains that, “Aflore’s main innovation is the channel: distributing financial products through a network of informal advisors. These informal advisors are people that are already trusted in their communities and who are seen as financial role models. We leverage these existing trusted relationships not only to get people to engage in financial services but also to access information about our clients (personal and financial) that allows us to do risk assessments of a demographic that the banks are not attending.”

Jeny, one of Aflore’s first clients, illustrates the success of this business model. Jeny has been unable to get a loan from a bank in the past because she withdraws her minimum wage salary each month as soon as it is deposited. In steps Yaneth, an Aflore advisor.

In addition to being an advisor, Yaneth is also one of Jeny’s closest friends. Yaneth has built a small but successful clothing manufacturing business from her home and has become a trusted source of financial advice for Jeny and other women in her community. When Jeny’s mother fell ill, Yaneth offered Jeny a $100 loan to visit her family. When Jeny repaid this loan, she was then extended a $500 loan to buy a washing machine. Jeny has also repaid this loan and is considering borrowing an additional $1,000 to invest in her husband’s business.

“This year, we are focusing on proving and building the channel. We aim to finish the year with a network of 120 advisors,” Ana concludes. “We aim to put in place an operation that will allow us to scale our business significantly during 2015.”

HUMANIZING FASHION IN GUATEMALA

IMG_5312 (1)The Teysha team “wants to see a fashion industry that values the creators of the goods just as much as the design and look”. They believe “that in order to create a more vibrant and prosperous world for all, we need to know each other better and value each other’s talents more”.

10250257_644211412316537_6710091512219631956_nWith this philosophy in mind, Teysha has built a business model that creates social, environmental, and economic value for all stakeholders, every step of the way. Sophie explains the Teysha business model: “We work directly with groups of artisans to connect them to our customization platform, combining the forces of textile makers, leather workers, shoe makers, to make one of a kind goods. Our customers are able to customize their goods by learning about the various villages and techniques we feature. Through this model, we create a direct connection between the customer and the maker, and create a bridge between cultures.”

10155167_640971995973812_3946401823499050900_nThis model has the potential to revolutionize artisanal fashion in the region because rather than simply analyzing market trends, producing a product, and selling it – Teysha is building a platform to connect the producer and the consumer and empowering them to work together to create a product that uses the skills of the artisans and satisfies the desires of the person purchasing the product. By bringing this human element to the fashion industry, consumers consciousness and product transparency is reaching an entirely new level. Sophie affirms that “we are working to make ethically and authentically made goods the norm within the fashion industry”.

IN CONCLUSION

These three women have overcome countless barriers in incredibly difficult business environments. The McNulty Foundation recognizes the importance of this type of innovation, values the passion, endurance and leadership these women have shown, and is committed to supporting the growth of these game changing businesses.

Anne Welsh McNulty, co-founder of the McNulty Foundation, believes “Women don’t need to be told to be leaders or to find solutions to economic and social problems in their communities. All they need is access to the economic tools and networks traditionally denied to them and they will build the solutions on their own, because that is a human desire, not a gendered one.”

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.”

 

 

 

 

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

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.

Agora Entrepreneur: Plantech

Agora entrepreneur, David García of Plantech, is dedicated to making products that have direct environmental impact by using organic compounds for fertilizer. Plantech is a biotechnology company that produces organic alternatives to traditional agrichemicals, allowing farmers to produce quality crops at a low cost and minimize their exposure to hazardous substance.

“One thing that most motivates me to pursue this project is to assist in the development of technology, especially biotechnology, in Costa Rica and the rest of the region. In recent years, our countries have been merely spectators to advancements in areas like computing, electronics and biotechnology – all important elements for economic development in up-and-coming societies. If Central America wants to be part of this scenario – and reap the benefits – it is necessary to undertake local projects, within our means, that directly improve our own societies. Technologies made for us and by us will greatly benefit our countries.”

For more from David, check out this video:

 

For more information on how to help David and other Agora entrepreneurs, learn more about our Impact Investor Conference.

Agora Entrepreneur: Oscarito’s

“We are always inspired because we love what we do, but we are also motivated by our ability to provide jobs in a country where there are so few employment opportunities. We are committed to moving forward in spite of the difficulties we face.”

Aida Patricia Mayorga of Oscarito’s is dedicated to the principles behind Agora’s mission: using business for social good. Oscarito’s designs and produces clothing and uniforms for children and infants as well as embroidering services for corporate promotional materials. Ten years after starting with a $100 microloan, Oscarito’s has more than 45 employees and international clients. What’s more amazing is the company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Oscarito’s production processes have been certified by ISO 14001.

Aida explains more about the company and their impact entrepreneurship drive in the video below:

For more information on Oscarito’s and Agora’s other entrepreneurs, visit our website.

Agora Entrepreneur: CO2 Bambu.

What keeps Agora going are the powerful mission-driven entrepreneurs that bring business and social good together to create positive change. One such organization is CO2 Bambu.

CO2 Bambu’s founder, Ben Sandzer-Bell, believes firmly in the mission his organization seeks to solve. He tells us:

“Several years ago, I decided to change my priorities and make environmental impact the heart of my professional work. Furthermore, as a resident in a new country, Nicaragua, with a poverty level higher than the previous countries I’ve lived in, I wanted to have not only an environmental impact – but also a social one.”

For marginalized populations living in Nicaragua’s most remote areas, living conditions are poor and stable housing is difficult to come by. To fill this void of adequate shelter, CO2 Bambu constructs sustainable housing using bamboo as the primary raw material. Maintain bamboo farms as a means of capturing carbon is an integral part of their operations. In doing so, the organization creates a triple-bottom line model, creating economic, social and environmental good.
Image: CO2 Bambu
CO2 Bambu aims for ecological impact by substituting higher carbon footprint materials with sustainable materials (in this case, bamboo) in the reconstruction after natural disasters. Further, it supports reforestation and plantation development, creating fair trade jobs across the full value chain of bamboo processing.

With such a powerful business model proofed out in Nicaragua, Co2 Bambu is expanding to Haiti. The company has already received launched contracts in Haiti, launched a small pilot reforestation project, assembled the first of many future field assembly teams, built a first model house in Leogane, the epicenter of the January 12, 2011 earthquake, and selected a warehouse from which to address the Haiti reconstruction market.

By working with impact entrepreneurs such as the team behind CO2 Bambu, Agora helps unleash their potential for good.