Greetings from Managua!
Off to greener pastures
Our client is Burke Agro/ Sol Simple, an agricultural-focused social enterprise and natural food brand that sells solar dried organic fruit and promotes its strong social mission. It works to increase smallholder farmer incomes, employ single mothers in its processing plant, and promote healthy foods and a reduced environmental footprint in Nicaragua. The team is conducting a market analysis of other product lines Burke Agro can get into utilizing its organically-sourced fruits from its producer network.
Upon arriving in Managua, we were greeted by the warm, refreshing Nicaraguan air. Having left JFK with snow flurries, we more than welcomed the change of weather to a modest 70-degree Nicaraguan night. Given that most of Sol Simple’s products are exported to the US, our focus in-country was to better understand the rest of the value chain, from farmer to processing and distribution. Our first day, we explored the farms, driving out to organic pitaya (or dragonfruit, which are neon pink exotic fruits with a pink flesh and a scaly green outer skin, native to Nicaragua), pineapple, and mango farms, which are all part of Burke Agro’s producer network.
One poignant memory is of a 90-year old farmer who has maintained his mango farm for over 60 years. He commented how he was one of the first to produce the “manga rosa,” which is a variety that is often smaller, sweeter, and with less stringy flesh, characterized by its reddish orange coloration. He started off with only 10 trees and then expanded, upon accidently learning how to prune the trees and engraft more mangos to produce a higher yield per tree. The next day, we visited the processing plant, where Sol Simple products are washed, cut, solar dried, and packaged by local Nicaraguan single women for distribution. Having concluded our Operations Engine class in the spring, it was interesting musing about improved efficiencies in the plant and how the company could identify bottlenecks, understand its capacity constraints, and ultimately employ solutions to improve its throughput. We also found ourselves trying to think from an Employee class lens, thinking about mechanisms to promote a strong company culture committed to its social mission.
The social entrepreneurship tide
In reflecting on Will Burke’s, the founder’s, unique journey to start his business, we saw some of the same struggles that many entrepreneurs face as they expand. As a social entrepreneur, Will had to take risks when others thought he could not to start a business that was completely foreign to him in order to provide for the livelihood of the Nicaraguan community around him. His ability to take risks, not necessarily being able to quantify market demand or prepare for the challenges he would soon face, ran against all business school teachings, yet also is characteristic of many entrepreneurs. What makes them successful is their resilience and ability to pivot like Will. It was refreshing seeing Will and his team work together toward a mission that they were so dedicated to achieving, while also seeing the hard balance they needed to make in staying committed to that long-term social mission, while also achieving short-term profits. The week in Managua was extremely refreshing, reviving our passion for social entrepreneurship and seeing the fruits (pun intended) of business school lessons applied directly to our client.
We are excited to work on the project to finalize our deliverables and hope to possibly send some of our team members to Nicaragua this summer, utilizing Yale SOM internship fund funding, to work with Burke Agro as they continue to expand their business and impact. Next time you see Sol Simple organic fruits at Whole Foods, make sure to pick up a bag (mango or pineapple is our personal favorite)!
The Yale GSE team’s goal is to help Agora identify new constructive and sustainable streams of revenue that build upon Agora’s knowledge base and core competencies and reinforce Agora’s core values and mission.
Prior to arriving in Nicaragua, we knew it would be important to set up an aggressive itinerary in advance of our trip to make the most of our time. We decided that it would be important to talk to Agora’s staff members, clients, and partners. In doing so, we wanted to focus our inquiry on Agora’s core competencies and reputation, market trends in entrepreneurship, entrepreneur needs/ challenges, revenue-generating ideas, partnerships, and the local culture.
Our week in Nicaragua was very eventful. We spent a lot of time at the Agora office interviewing over 30 people throughout the week. We interviewed staff members, entrepreneurs, and industry partners including ESEN, Oxfam, UCA, US Embassy, IFC, Vital Voices, ANDE, One Leap, and INCAE students. As we continued our interviews, we began to discover common themes. Agora’s core competencies are relationships, networks, and passionate staff. While Agora has a strong reputation in the impact investing community, we learned that Agora is less well known among average business owners in Nicaragua. We constantly heard about the lack of investment-ready deals from SMEs in Nicaragua. Challenges faced by entrepreneurs included human capital, financial reporting, marketing, and access to capital.
The trip to Nicaragua was also a great team learning experience. By spending a lot of time together, we were able to recognize each other’s strengths/weaknesses and work styles. We also got to interact on a more personal level. We had opportunities to provide feedback. All of this made the group stronger and more cohesive.
Our time in Nicaragua was essential in helping us understand Agora’s mission and how Agora envisions helping entrepreneurs in Nicaragua by providing them with the human, social, and financial capital that is necessary for success. We were able to learn about the challenges entrepreneurs in Nicaragua face in terms of resources, but also culture. It was an amazing learning opportunity for us all.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and my group is at school, reviewing our treasured Gantt chart and putting together the itinerary for our visit to Nicaragua in a few weeks. The last few weeks have been busy, as our class has been learning about structuring a consulting project, setting group expectations and norms, while at the same time learning as much as we can about our client, CrediFactor.
CrediFactor is an organization that does micro-finance and factoring in Nicaragua. We are specifically helping them with MóvilFactor, their program that provides small lines of credit to pulperia owners. Pulperias, the small shops that are on nearly every corner in Managua, serve as the main supply source for many Nicaraguans. Thanks to MóvilFactor, this incredibly important section of the economy has access to credit, as the larger banks usually deem them uncreditworthy. Using lines of credit approved through the small business owner’s cell phone (most around $20, and disbursed directly to the pulperia’s distributor), pulperias are able to stock their stores with more inventory, allowing them to increase their revenue substantially.
We’re working to help MóvilFactor become financially sustainable by looking at a number of factors (including the number of pulperias and distributors participating and fee structure), and preparing for a week in Managua. Our trip will give us a chance to learn more about how pulperias work, what issues are important to the owners, and how a group like MóvilFactor might be able to maximize their impact.
We’ve already learned so much in our Skpe conversations with the team at CrediFactor; we can’t wait to get in-country in a few weeks!
We can’t believe that in just three short weeks we will be flying to Nicaragua to visit our client, CO2 Bambu! Over the past month we have been working diligently with our Nicaraguan partners to come up with a method that will help them find market opportunities for their exciting new product: amphibious housing.
CO2 Bambu’s mission is to support post-disaster reconstruction efforts using renewable bamboo resources. Amphibious housing is based on innovative technology that enables the houses to float when flooding occurs. There is tremendous potential for these homes in flood-prone areas where flooding is consistent and costly. Our client believes that there are many market opportunities out there, and our team is helping to identify where these opportunities exist.
Prior to our week in Nicaragua, we’ll be performing a money-flow analysis for post-disaster recovery events. Essentially, we’ll be figuring out which organizations are funding recovery projects, where this money is being spent, and how much is in the capital pool. While in-country, we’ll collect additional data on the product and interview funding organizations to gain insight into how to engage them in the RFP process. Finally, we’ll work in partnership with CO2 Bambu staff to further refine the go-to-market strategy, which we will develop fully back in New Haven.
It’s exciting to think that we’ll be helping to bring a potentially disruptive technology to market. Amphibious housing could be a game-changer for people at the base of the pyramid, and we’re eager to put our skills to use to make it a reality.
It feels like just yesterday we found out what organization we would be working with for the next four months. In reality, it’s been over a month and after many productive brainstorming sessions, we’re in the thick of our work. Clínica Verde’s mission is one that each of us feels connected to, which makes this partnership that much more meaningful.
Clínica Verde was founded with the vision of changing lives through health and hope by providing much-needed quality healthcare and education to the community, with a focus on maternal and infant care. They recently constructed and opened an environmentally sustainable clinic in the Boaco region of Nicaragua that merges the interactions of the environment, the community, and the people it serves.
The Clínica Verde GSE Team has been tasked with exploring revenue stream options to shift the organization’s model from a donation-driven one to an increasingly revenue-driven one. We’re hoping to put the organization on track to increased financial self-sustainability, and have some fun while we do it!
We’re excited to delve even deeper into our work with this great organization and to head down to Nicaragua in just one short month!
Since arriving at Yale SOM, we’ve often heard the term “triple bottom line.” Triple bottom line typically refers to organizations that are dedicated to achieving positive social and environmental impact, as well as financial. Put more simply, a company with goals focused on people, planet and profits. SOM’s emphasis on educating leaders not just for business, but also for society aligns particularly well with the triple bottom line model.
Our GSE team is working with Burke Agro and its consumer brand, Sol Simple. As a social enterprise, they exemplify the meaning of triple bottom line. Their mission is to use renewable energy to produce the highest quality natural products while pioneering socioeconomic advancement of rural single mothers, small farmers, and their respective producing communities. The company currently has the largest solar hybrid dryer in all of Central America, employs 18 single mothers, and sources from 35 different producers whom either have converted to certified organic production or are in transition.
We look forward to spending the semester conducting a marketing assessment, with a one week trip to Nicaragua over spring break to gain a better understanding of the local business environment. We are excited to have the opportunity to contribute to such an innovative enterprise.
At the GSE Date Auction last Thursday, we saw some pretty impressive stuff on offer: private yoga and rock-climbing lessons; a culinary journey through China; hot-tubbing with SOM’s own three-star general, Tom Kolditz. Standards were high, but the most impressive accomplishment on display was not for sale — it was the outstanding generosity of our classmates, who pledged over $8,000 to the efforts of GSE in Nicaragua.
The SOM community is what makes GSE possible, and in turn, GSE provides a clear and potent embodiment of SOM’s commitment to create leaders for business and society. SOM shares that mission with our client, Agora Partnerships.
Agora aims to deliver on a simple equation: Human Potential + Capital = Impact. A Managua-based small business accelerator, Agora helps early-stage companies to scale their social and environmental impact by improving their access to infrastructure, networks, and resources. Agora has provided training and consulting to over four thousand entrepreneurs, aided forty-three companies with access to capital, and facilitated access to $4.1 million worth of capital investment.
Over Winter Break, our team took a break from our respective Law & Order marathons to chat with Ricardo Teràn Teràn, Agora’s co-founder and managing director, and COO Dorrit Lowsen. Skype is a miracle of the modern age, and within an hour, we had learned a lot about the evolution of the organization and the determination of its inspired team. Working with them promises an education in flexibility, as Agora adapts to new financial strategies, and in effective leadership.
We’re excited to learn from an organization that shares an important goal with SOM: a commitment to training leaders for the benefit of all. We’re grateful to our classmates, and to SOM, for making it possible. And, though our Spring Break will involve few private yoga lessons and fewer hot tubs, we’re pretty excited about seeing that equation — Human Potential + Capital = Impact — in practice in Nicaragua.
The Global Social Enterprise 2012-2013 leadership team (Kryn, Tiffany, Will, and Angela) is pleased to announce that the Spring 2013 destination will be Nicaragua!
Our GSE team had the pleasure of working with Indalo (http://indaloproject.co.za/) this semester on launching a web-based crowd-funding platform to raise capital for South African entrepreneurs. The experience was awesome in so many ways: project, client, team, travel, potential impact…
But as the end of the semester approaches, we have begun to realize how similar the experience has been to our standard method of transportation during the week our team spent with our client in Cape Town. Naturally, in order to save time and money we squeezed our entire team of 5 and our client into his Mini Cooper.
How was this similar to the GSE experience? In so many ways…
It was about doing a lot with a little, being efficient and timely, rethinking what seemed possible, and questioning assumptions.
It required trial and error and iteration after iteration to find a workable outcome.
It built camaraderie and encouraged professional and personal connections with teammate and client.
It caused a lot of laughter, occasional discomfort, and memorable stories.
And most of all, it wasn’t easy, but turned out to be a lot of fun.
Nexii provides a platform that connects capital to investment opportunities that focus on effecting positive social change on a local, regional or global scale. Historically, investors have had difficulty identifying and monitoring investment opportunities in this field, due to the expense of sourcing socially focused deals. In addition, social enterprises are often unable to effectively access capital due to their smaller size and a lack of formal capital markets. Nexii’s primary goal is to connect these investors to these opportunities.
Our Yale Global Social Enterprise (GSE) Team is working to provide Nexii with a comparative analysis of alternative impact investing platforms and potential areas for collaboration. We hope that this report will be used to identify possible industry-wide initiatives for standardizing requirements, reporting, and services.
During our week in Cape Town, the Nexii GSE team had the opportunity to interview various staff members at Nexii. In these conversations, we were able to gain a clear sense of Nexii’s vision for innovative uses of the capital markets. Additionally, we were afforded the opportunity to meet with various parties with whom Nexii is working such as asset managers, intermediaries, and potential issuing social enterprises. We came to better understand the landscape of impact investing, including strengths and challenges in this emerging field.
We had an incredible week of interviews and felt entirely honored to speak with so many brilliant minds. Our GSE team is currently continuing to conduct interviews with various other players in the social capital markets landscape and look forward to presenting our final analysis to Nexii.