3CF Site Visit: Agora Partnerships, Nicaragua
In March of this year, I represented 3rd Creek Foundation at Agora Partnerships’ Entrepreneur Retreat in Granada, Nicaragua. Every year, Agora selects a class of promising social entrepreneurs from throughout Latin America to participate in a business accelerator program that culminates with opportunities for the entrepreneurs to pitch to investors. This year, these pitches will take place at the Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP) in October, with the hope that many of them will obtain the capital needed to scale their businesses and amplify their impact. The weeklong Retreat is led by impact investing pioneers. These individuals present the entrepreneurs with tools, strategies, and new perspectives for business development.
Ricardo Terán Terán, co-founder of Agora, led the class through the Business Model Canvas to show how entrepreneurs can use a shared language to challenge assumptions and create strategic alternatives while they manage risk and stay ahead of their competition. John Kohler, Executive Fellow and Director of Social Capital at Santa Clara University addressed the challenges that social entrepreneurs have in coordinating impact capital. A panel of investors that included Ricardo Visbal of Global Partnerships and Virgilio Barco of Acumen, answered investor-related questions from the group and provided the entrepreneurs with benchmarks that they should consider using in order to demonstrate impact. Key questions to reflect upon included: What is your social impact and where is the innovation? Have you illustrated a road to profitability and is your product or service scalable?
Building Your Board At the Entrepreneur Retreat, I was delighted to lead a workshop on board development. Many of the entrepreneurs have not yet had the experience of building or working with a board, and as their businesses continue to grow, investors and lenders expect to see a board infrastructure in place. An effective board brings an organization to the next level by introducing new skillsets, points of view and networks. A board also can bring better oversight and accountability to a quickly growing company.
Who are the Entrepreneurs? The entrepreneurs at this year’s Retreat represented 33 companies in 16 countries, and their businesses were grouped into one of five industries or impact themes, including access to basic services, adoption of clean cookstoves, ethical fashion, indigenous businesses and sustainable agriculture. One of the greatest challenges to problem solving in disparate parts of the world is the unique nature of each problem. What makes these Agora entrepreneurs so exceptional is their ability to innovate to overcome these challenges.
Exemplifying just this, Victoria Alonsopérez, engineer and co-founder of Innovative Efficient Engineering Technologies (IEETech), is combatting food insecurity among rural farmers in Uruguay through Chipsafer. Chipsafer is a platform that remotely tracks livestock and enables farmers to receive alerts on a cell phone. Another company, Suyo, in Colombia, generates social and economic opportunities for low-income families by helping them formalize property rights. With the use of mobile technology, Suyo has taken a traditionally time consuming and cost-prohibitive process and made it available to people who would otherwise be left out.
Erica Jordan has served on the board of 3rd Creek Foundation since 2007. In addition to her work with 3rd Creek, Erica is a Court Appointed Special Advocate and board treasurer for Haight Ashbury Psychological Services. Erica has lived in London and Norway, and traveled for work and study throughout Europe, Turkey, Uganda, Nepal and the Philippines. She received her BA in Classical Studies from King’s College London, and after focusing on family for several years, she has returned to school to pursue an MBA in Global Management from Dominican University of California. Erica is an avid photographer and loves to garden.