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Agora partners with third-party organizations to offer financial services to marginalized populations in Nicaragua. One such program is Thriive, a Foundation that makes interest-free loans to small businesses in the “missing middle” — too large for microfinance and too small for investment. These loans are strictly allocated toward the purchase of machinery and equipment. Recipient businesses repay Thriive loans not in cash, but rather by donating an equivalent value of in-kind products, services, and vocational training to the poor in their communities. The average loan disbursed is slightly less than $10,000, but the effect of the loan is enormous: on average, entrepreneurs hire 95% more employees after the loan is made. Thriive enlists field partners to disburse and monitor the loans. Current countries include Vietnam, Palestine, and Kenya, and Nicaragua.

The goals of the Thriive program are the following:

• Encourage small business growth

• Create new, permanent jobs

• Promote a culture of social responsibility within the business community

Since the inception of the partnership in 2011, Agora has helped 15 companies obtain financing totaling approximately $140,000. For more information on Thriive please contact Tatiana Toruño at troustan@agorapartnerships.org.

Agora’s Thriive Companies

Multimuebles NIC

Wooden furniture manufacturer. Owner, Leonardo Arias Guevara. Location: Masatepe, Nicaragua

Multimuebles manufactures a range of standard and customized wooden furniture, primarily chairs, tables, and doors. The firm’s workshop is a large, fenced-in yard with shop structures & well-used machines sprinkled throughout.  Their clientele is primarily high-end individuals and institutions, such as big hotels.

Requested funds of $9,900 were used to purchase custom woodcarving & cutting machines, along with several smaller workhorse items like power drills.  Prior to receiving the funding, Leonardo’s best power drill looked like it was held together with glue resin and electric tape.  The new equipment would allow for an expanded product line, greatly improve quality and consistency, and boost production dramatically.  It was estimated that Leonardo would be able to add up to 10 jobs to his current 13-man crew with the new equipment — five immediately, and five more pending anticipated increases in demand/new orders.

Multimuebles’ charitable repayment has been to donate upwards of 200 chairs and benches to remote rural hospitals with serious lack of infrastructure.  Leonardo said this ‘flow of funds’ was personally important to him, as his wife gave birth in one of these hospitals without enough furniture for patients.  She was forced to wait miserably on the floor while in labor.

Planta Artesanal de Quesos Gourmet “Quesos San Ramón”

Cheese manufacturer & green farm. Owners: Yelitza Frauenberger and Leonardo Castro. Location: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Yelitza and Leo’s “green farm” produces cheese via hydro turbines and raises cattle with a conservation sensibility — not cutting down all trees to create pasture, as is the norm in Nicaragua, but instead managing the land to show that trees and pasture can be compatible with a grazing rotation.  By pioneering a new strain of grass forage with significantly higher protein value (tested scientifically by government entities), Quesos San Ramon is generating above average milk production from their cows.  Leo & Yelitza (owners) are creating an energy-independent and environmentally harmonious farm that will serve as an active model for other farms in the region if successful.

The hydro turbine system installed costs $22,000 and Leo (a Nicaraguan of German decent, educated in the US and with experience on Wall Street) could afford just over half. Thriive decided to subsidize the cost with a $10,000 loan.

The charitable payback plan involves donations of milk and cheese products to local charities and the hosting of training courses in development of this new, high-protein strain of forage grass to regional farmers.

Diquisma

Manufacturer & distributor of industrial strength cleaning products. Owner: Annia Marin. Location: Managua, Nicaragua

Diquisma is the only purely female-owned business amongst the Thriive companies. The firm’s place of business was in the back of Annia’s home, which was not an ideal situation due to the vapors clearly present from the products.   None of the products were toxic, and DQuimsa had the business licenses and government approvals needed — still, it was a primitive working environment as employees stirred and poured cleaning liquids by hand to and from large barrels.  DQuimsa’s funding request was for an industrial size mixer for chemicals, as well as for packing equipment and an electric generator to help power the operation ($6,300).

They intend to find additional labor providing needed employment in a poor city.  Their charitable payback plan involves the donation of products and provision of instruction on industrial hygiene for public schools’ cafeterias and restroom facilities.

Caite Velas Artesanales

Artisan candles, decoratives. Owners: Juan Carlos Roa and Karla Ibarra Mejia. Location: Managua, Nicaragua

Caite Velas is a high-end candlemaker in Managua. The business is run by a husband and wife team and consists primarily of a single location that has a nice retail shop in the front and a manufacturing shop in the back. Caite Velas hopes to use their Thriive capital to purchase two pieces of equipment that will enable them to increase candle output eightfold, enabling them to cater to larger retailers and possibly begin exporting candles. The staff also provide job training to single mothers and donate candles to a community church in the neighborhood.

Iko Imagen

Light textiles, manufacturer of bags, backpacks, handbags, and screen embroidery for clothing. Owner: Yadira Bucardo. Location: Managua, Nicaragua

Iko is a modest-size manufacturer of bags, backpacks, and screen logo wear located in a very poor neighborhood of Managua. This is a business run by young people, led by a young woman, Yadira. The firm previously won a contest run by another NGO for their start-up funds.

Iko’s request was for one piece of equipment — the most expensive single piece and total financing request Thriive considered at $14,400.  This industrial embroidery machine will enable the firm to not only tap into the growing market for uniforms and other professional logo embroidery, but also elevate their brand recognition & quality by having the Iko Imagen business name embroidered on products.  They already have banks and local schools as established commercial clients.

The estimated boost in employment is dramatic, a greater than doubling of jobs, with 10-15 new ones added to the existing 10. The charitable repayment has been separated into two parts: donation of backpacks/school bags to students in poor public schools, and comprehensive workshops for 3 women/yr x 2 yrs to become distributors of Iko products.

Thriive will continue to inject capital into the region and empower small business entrepreneurs.