Getting to Know Guatemala: Building Relationships and Businesses

8/9/17 – This blog post was written a couple weeks ago by team Selva Ventures, who was hard at work in Guatemala. Read their first installment here, in case you missed it.

Selva Ventures team in the field - literally.

Selva Ventures team in the field – literally.

Greetings from Guatemala! The last time we wrote, we were just finishing up Spanish lessons in Antigua. Since then, time has flown by. We are about to leave for our fourth community in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow. We couldn’t be more excited, or more in disbelief that the summer is almost over. The more we learn, the more we want to know. We could stay here for years trying to understand the complexities of forest conservation and social enterprise solutions. We want to tell you a little about the communities we have visited so far:

The first community that we visited is La Bendicion. It is located in Escuintla in the middle of the forest. The community is rather new, and it was wild to see how the community members from different parts of the country have converged to make their land a home. This community is extremely organized, with several committees each with very unique roles to play. For example, the youth committee is an extremely motivated group of young people with the goal of becoming self-sufficient. They are producing honey and are using parcels of their parents’ land to cultivate. One of them is even a real ‘honey hunter’ who has a variety of different wild beehives that he is using to harvest different types of delicious honey. The women’s committee is producing medicinal herbal salves and microfinancing for the community. Our time here was amazing and fruitful, and we cannot wait to go back.

La Bendicion team and youth group

La Bendicion team and youth group

The second community that we visited is San Antonio de Los Encuentros, located in Retalhuleu. This is a mangrove community that is surrounded by a huge sugarcane farm. Talk about fighting giants. The issues here are complex and the community has different forces pulling it in opposite directions. Many people blame the sugarcane farm for the devastating loss of biodiversity, the tragic pollution of the surrounding mangroves, depleted water in their wells and the river, and heavy sediment loading. Others here work for the sugarcane farm and appreciate its contributions to the community in the form of infrastructure, seasonal income, and seasonal benefits. Yet another group appreciates the contributions of the sugarcane company, but also sees the harm done to the environment. This group feels that they can work with the sugarcane company to make them stop depleting their resources and polluting the land. This community has some creative insights into potential social enterprise solutions for their home.

San Antonio de los Encuentros team and family

San Antonio de los Encuentros team and family

The third community is Pacalaj. It is nestled into the mountains of Baja Verapaz. The terrain here is incredible, and the microclimates are diverse. This area is actually an association of communities and we had the privilege of visiting two of the surrounding communities, Llano Largo and El Carmen. Pacalaj seems to be the happy medium climate wise between the other two, as Llano Largo is a cloud forest, and El Carmen is extremely dry. Each community has unique needs and desires. The amount of primary forest in this area is unreal: 80% of this land is forest, and 90% of this is primary forest. There are heavy pushes for agroforestry, as well as some very complicated land ownership discrepancies that the community is facing. Until the land discrepancies are resolved, this area will not be able to receive any forest protection incentives – so they are taking it upon themselves to protect the forests.

Llano Largo forests

Llano Largo forests

Our time here has been absolutely incredible. Our research has been productive, and we have been forever changed by the amazing people we have met. Tomorrow, we leave at 5am for our final community located in Chiquimula. After that, we have a wrap up meeting with our partner here in Guatemela, Utz Che, who have been amazing in transporting us to and from communities, providing us with background information as well as with formal introductions to community leaders. We are excited to develop our business models when we get back and to meet with our amazing partner organization in Fort Collins, Trees, Water &People.

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Rhthym Recyclers: Starting a Caribbean Recycling Revolution

7/28/17 – Three GSSE MBA students – Chris, Hasina, and Caitlin – are spending their summer in the Caribbean to immerse themselves in the waste and recycling realities of the region.

Smoke fills the sky, a pungent smell fills the air, as I near I can see the flames. British Virgin Islands is home to over 30,000 people. Almost 100% of their waste is being burnt in open landfills or incinerated through an open smoke stack. Improper waste disposal is a common practice throughout the Caribbean. On a large scale, waste-to-energy, recycling and  composting are just dreams that have not yet been fully realized.  There are a few businesses that are making significant advances in the absence of regulations, which shows that there are potential business opportunities throughout the region. Our Waste Diversion Team is diving head first into the waste disposal issues; learning from the locals, government organizations, businesses, and connecting people through recycling talks and open forum discussions.

We are here to start a recycling revolution.

 By spending time in the Caribbean Islands, we are experiencing and learning about how they dispose of their waste, which we could not have ever accomplished in classroom.  So far, we have found there is a demand for sustainability initiatives throughout the British Virgin Islands and Trinidad; however, the efforts need to be sustained through social, economic and political changes. We will continue gathering data by conducting interviews, observations and open forum discussions as we continue this journey throughout the Caribbean. We have received praise and requests to continue our efforts to help keep the environment healthy, clean, and hopefully establish trade and/or distribution channels between the islands.

Landfill erupting in flames: Tortola, BVI

Landfill erupting in flames: Tortola, BVI

Open Landfill: Virgin Gorda, BVI

Open Landfill: Virgin Gorda, BVI

Colorado State University’s GSSE MBA Waste Diversion Team were guest speakers at a Recycle BVI Talk.

Colorado State University’s GSSE MBA Waste Diversion Team were guest speakers at a Recycle BVI Talk.

The team was interviewed by JTV: Tortola, BVI

The team was interviewed by JTV: Tortola, BVI

 

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Human-centered design: Learning by immersing ourselves in Bali

7/26/17 – The GSSE MBA venture team, Learning Labs, is working to understand business models that would address the lack of quality education in rural areas in Indonesia.

Brightspots in Bali

Our first stop was in Bali where we studied the world-renowned Green School and several urban and rural schools. Specifically, the Green School is operated as a nonprofit that supports local low-income students through a scholarship program and receives its income from international high-paying families. We spent 14 days at the Green School learning about its operations, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and local communities. We were impressed by several social and environmental initiatives developed by the school; one of them was Kembali—a recycling facility where parents, students, and local communities can bring their trash to recycle. Our favorite part of Kembali is how local students receive 6 months of free ESL classes if they bring 5kg of trash to the facility. There are currently 325 local students learning English at the Green School at no cost because of this initiative.

GSSE MBA students Estefania and Maniphet with Green School’s local staff in front of the recycling bins they installed at a local primary school in Bali

GSSE MBA students Estefania and Maniphet with Green School’s local staff in front of the recycling bins they installed at a local primary school in Bali

Local Challenges

In terms of urban schools, the biggest challenges are the lack of proper teaching tools, underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and facilities that are in need of improvement—mainly bathrooms and playgrounds. The rural schools face even bigger challenges because of poor infrastructure and limited numbers of teachers and educational resources. Additionally, students have to travel long journeys, many on motorbikes by themselves starting at a very young age, and many families cannot afford transportation costs, school supplies and food during school time. Lastly, many teenagers opt to drop out of school to support their families in the family rice fields or farms.

Designing New Solutions

We learned about human-centered design in class, which helped us understand the needs of our target customers and beneficiaries by putting ourselves in their shoes. It allowed us to be open and connect with participants in our research. We incorporated human-centered design techniques with several interviews and focus groups that we conducted with Green School students, parents, teachers, and administrators, allowing us to better understand the pains and gains of our participants.

During our fieldwork in Bali, we learned about the beauty of the Balinese culture that is deeply rooted in people’s daily life, which influences how they perceive the world around them. We also learned that urban and rural students, parents and teachers understand how their island is currently a massive tourist destination. Most importantly, they understand that if English classes are made accessible for them, their families can have a better future. They welcome tourism but they want to have control over it, to not only be able to profit from it, but also to protect their culture and religion. This is something we would not be able to learn in class. Without immersing ourselves in the communities and culture, we will not be able to truly understand what the young and old generations of Balinese need, in terms of education.

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Food Security through the Lens of Smallholder Farmers in Kenya

7/19/17 – This blog post is written by students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University who have founded FarmRise to address the challenge of food security in Kenya.

Vegetable market in Kenya

Vegetable market in Kenya

Albert Einstein might as well have been describing the GSSE venture experience when he said: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The FarmRise team has spent nearly a year at Colorado State University researching global food insecurity. We grew to know the challenges facing smallholder farmers, who produce roughly 80% of the world’s food and also make up a majority of the world’s 795 million food insecure people. Since we arrived in Kenya, we have begun to understand what that means for the individual farmers embedded in this statistic.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Team FarmRise experiencing a Kenyan farm first hand.

Team FarmRise experiencing a Kenyan farm first hand.

We knew that in Kenya, agriculture employs 75% of the workforce, yet smallholder farmers are often stuck in a cycle of poverty. Now we understand the dimensions of this cycle after listening to a group of farmers rank the multitude of challenges they face, ranging from low production due to counterfeit inputs sold in the market to lack of access to reliable traders, forcing sales to middlemen who undercut farmers at every turn.

We knew that drought is a critical issue in the region, exacerbating food insecurity by dampening farm production levels and forcing spikes in food prices. We now understand the extent of the problem after a local farmer guided us through her parched, dusty plot of land while explaining that due to the lack of rain, she could not harvest any crops this season.

We knew that crop storage is an underutilized practice among smallholder farmers. Now we understand the decision to sell a crop immediately post-harvest is not based on the lack of access to storage, but rather the need to earn quick cash to pay their children’s school fees.

Following the Value Chain to the Source

Team FarmRise meeting with stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain in Kenya

Team FarmRise meeting with stakeholders in the agricultural supply chain in Kenya

We know and understand that the farmer-food security paradox cannot be explained by any one challenge in isolation. During our six weeks in Kenya, we aim to examine every link of the agriculture supply chain, with the support of our partner, Farm Concern International. We are meeting not only with smallholder farmers, but also with input suppliers, processors, traders, brokers, insurance companies, financiers, NGOs, donors, small and local businesses, elected officials, and government agencies to better understand this puzzle. In doing so, we aim to identify sustainable business opportunities that serve the needs of smallholder farmers.

And perhaps cross paths with some elephants and monkeys along the way…

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Colorado FoodWorks: Pasta with a Purpose

Colorado FoodWorks co-founders

Colorado FoodWorks co-founders: Meghan King, Charlie Warden, Francisca Pretorius, Hannah Holden

7/11/17 – Colorado FoodWorks is a startup food venture led by four students in the GSSE MBA Program at CSU. Fran, Meghan, Hannah, and Charlie are focused on solving gender inequities through local food.

Start with a problem. This is the advice we heard over and over from our Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise professors, conferences, design-thinking competitions, and other start-up founders. If we want to make a social impact through business, we must know the problem we’re solving and the value we’re adding.

And so we began. Our team spent months conducting interviews and researching problems that arise from gender inequities. We researched various corners of the globe and interviewed men and women across socioeconomic statuses and political and ideological values. We discovered intriguing and common themes, especially regarding barriers to economic mobility for women and girls.

The world was our oyster. But then, we started taking a second look at our own backyard. The realization sunk in that so many of the same gendered problems exist here in the U.S. Digging in, we discovered that over 1 in 3 single mothers live in poverty right here in Colorado, and these women face numerous and significant barriers to accessing jobs that pay a living wage. Here in Larimer County, for a single mother with 2 young children, working a job that pays minimum wage, a woman needs to work 132 hours per week to be self-sufficient. That’s 27 hours per day for a 5-day work week. This is obviously not possible.

So, where does a business solution step in? As a team, we were drawn to local food, a growing industry predicted to continue rising. We were also inspired by transitional employment models across the nation that met basic income needs of underserved populations, while equipping them with long-term workforce skills.

FoodWorks Team and Chef Val

Colorado Foodworks and Chef Val of Wildfeast Foods.

We decided to start with pasta as our product to sustain our social mission. We quickly started meeting with chefs to learn as much as we could. We met with Chef Daniel Asher of River and Woods, Chef Nate Hines of the Welsh Rabbit Bistro, and Chef Valentino of Wildfeast Foods. We toured a pasta manufacturing facility and met with a pasta equipment operation. We’ve continued to work closely with Cultivate Consulting and Dean Hines, GSSE alum and co-owner of the Welsh Rabbit, gleaning their expertise for a window into the local food business world.

Simultaneously, we are applying lean start-up principles we learned in class by making pasta ourselves and getting it into the hands of potential customers for immediate feedback. We are hosting several pop-up pasta events this summer to identify consumer buying decisions, product preferences, and value propositions that resonate. Even using “lean” methods, we are learning the important lesson of being even leaner (e.g. making smaller batch sizes for product testing).

Colorado FoodWorks beet pasta product sample

Colorado FoodWorks beet pasta product sample

Not only are we prototyping our minimum viable product (MVP), but we also plan to prototype our employment model by working with Project Self-Sufficiency to determine product fit, identify further needs, and co-create our model with the single parents we’re wanting to support.

Stay tuned for updates! Follow our blog at www.coloradofoodworks.com/blog and Instagram @colorado_foodworks.

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The Trials and Tribulations of Working Internationally: Sometimes Just Getting There is a Victory

6/27/17 – This blog post is written by GSSE MBA venture team Asante Sana. Team members Keni, Matt, and Evan are dedicated to improving rural electrification in Uganda. First things first though, as the team encounters challenges typical of working internationally…

Team Asante Sana in Uganda

Team Asante Sana in Uganda: Evan, Keni, and Matt

Only 8% of Uganda’s rural population has access to electricity, which means that Uganda is in need of a solution. In order to develop our business plans and help this population we must first gain contextual knowledge of the area. Our goal is to use human centered design to develop a solution for the people we intend to serve.

At the time of this post we had just arrived in Uganda, so our first and foremost concern is gaining contextual knowledge. We are staying at a retreat center owned and operated by our partner, the Global Livingston Institute (GLI). GLI uses their facility as a platform for their development activities. We are one of many teams of researchers staying on site: there are also students here researching agriculture, water/sanitation, and women’s health. All projects implemented by GLI must be sustainable and must add value to the community.

Qatar Airport statue

Qatar Airport statue

Of course the first challenge we encountered was just getting here. We spent 44 hours traveling to the retreat center, including 4 plane flights, one car ride, one border crossing, and a boat ride across Lake Bunyonyi at 1AM. We learned that Qatar has amazing falafel, although we are slightly concerned about the large statue of a teddy bear in the airport. We also learned that sometimes planes make stops to pick up other customers on the way to their actual destination. Our flights were rerouted half a dozen times before our trip. Matt and Evan would still really like to find their bags.

As crazy as our trip was, we are grateful to be in Uganda and be able to work towards finding solutions for rural electrification. We are excited to be working with our partner in the field. We are especially excited about market day tomorrow. Maybe the boys can buy some clothes to tide them over until their bags arrive.

Lake Bunyonyi from the Entusi Retreat Center in Uganda

Lake Bunyonyi from the Entusi Retreat Center in Uganda

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Altitude and Alpaca: Follow Fair Fibers’ Peruvian Adventure

6/23/17 – This post is written by students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program on the Fair Fibers team. These students – Callie, Herry, and Lucas – are in Peru for the summer investigating the alpaca supply chain.

Fair Fibers in the Peruvian Altiplano

Fair Fibers in the Peruvian Altiplano

Fair Fibers is excited to be in Peru this summer! Our plan? To investigate the unequal wealth distribution within the alpaca fiber supply chain. On average, an alpaca farmer will make $2.50 USD per kilogram of alpaca fiber sold. This same amount of fiber is sold in the Western market for over $175 USD. This is because the fiber changes hands up to 20 times before reaching the consumer. Each intermediary in the process takes a cut and this leaves farmers with low wages and no bargaining power.

Fair Fiber has visited each part of the supply chain from fiber to finished good. We have conducted several in-depth interviews, including with:

  • The director of COOPECAN (a Peruvian cooperative of alpaca farmers with almost 2,000 members)
  • the CEO of Suritex (a processes of alpaca fiber that’s dedicated to social and environmental impact)
  • the director of Peru Opportunity Fund (a social impact investor funded by the Clinton Foundation), and
  • the director of the Ministry of Product of Lima who is kickstarting a sustainable alpaca fiber production program.
Fair Fibers presenting at universities in Lima

Fair Fibers presenting at universities in Lima

In addition to these conversations, we have given two presentations at universities in Lima on our business model proposal and in-country research. What have we found? There is available supply of fairly-traded and ethically-produced fiber for the US market. Farmers are already working on building capacity and Fair Fiber can help accelerate this plan into a reality.

Our favorite part so far was visiting a weaving community in Patacancha, Peru. These women live at an altitude of 4,800 meters (over 15,000 feet!) and raise, sheer, and weave clothing and textiles made from alpaca. We got to try our hand at the weaving process and quickly learned how difficult it is. We spent 3 days living with, learning from, and connecting with this community whose livelihood relies on selling to the western market. We hope to collaborate with them in the future for production.

Fair Fibers visiting weavers in the altiplano of Peru

Fair Fibers visiting weavers in the altiplano of Peru

What’s next on our journey? We are going directly to the source to visit the alpaca farmers (alpagueros) in the altiplano of Peru. We have farm visits scheduled and can’t wait to meet some new fur-friends. Then, we’ll head to the processing facilities that also have fair trade certifications to look at how the fiber is transformed into clothing and accessories for western markets. From all of these visits, we plan to build the foundation to create a sustainable for-profit business as a solution to this challenge.

Follow our adventures this summer at facebook.com/fairfiber or on instagram @fairfiber.

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Finding our roots and growing our branches in Antigua: Selva Ventures’ first days in Guatemala

6/16/17 – Selva Ventures is a GSSE MBA venture team working to understand the problem of deforestation in Guatemala. We are working with two organizations: Fort Collins based Trees, Water & People and a Guatemalan organization called Utz Ché

1.6 billion people around the world rely on forests for food, fresh water, clothing, shelter, traditional medicines, and oxygen. Additionally, forests are absolutely integral to maintaining atmospheric and ecological stability. Unfortunately, forests are being lost at a rate of 50 thousand square miles per year; equivalent to 48 football field per minute.

Yes, you read that correctly. Our global forests are being lost at a rate of 48 football fields each and every minute!

Not only is this completely unacceptable, it is also avoidable. And because we need forests to breathe (minor details, right?), Selva Ventures will be conducting ethnographic research in five rural Guatemalan communities this summer to investigate sustainable solutions to this problem.

Right now, Megan and Lindsey are brushing up on Spanish by taking classes and living with a host family for full-on Spanish immersion. Claudio is keeping himself busy networking and searching for an interpreter to accompany us to these communities this summer. Michelle Sultan, a GSSE alum has also taken us under her wing by showing us around Antigua and introducing us to some very special parts of the city– especially those where you can find healthy farm to table food. Click here to read about what Michelle worked on during her practicum work in Guatemala a few years ago.

We are very excited to hit the road and head into the communities in a few days. After Spanish lessons finish up, we have meetings scheduled with Utz Ché to kick off our research. The first community we will visit is La Bendición in Escuintla. We will provide updates as we continue our research. We are looking forward to an adventurous and exploratory summer.

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Design Thinking to Save the Pollinators: a Bee-utiful Summer Practicum

Montana6/1/17 – This blog post is written by Montana Williams, a student in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA who is embarking on the summer practicum experience with his teammates Haroon Abasy, Sam Doll, and David Enden, for their venture, StrHive LLC.

In her book, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd illustrates the most important lesson a novice beekeeper can learn: “Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.” After spending a school year familiarizing ourselves with the art and science of beekeeping, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why my venture team is working to understand the challenge of pollinator loss in the United States. These assiduous little ladies and other insect pollinators contribute an estimated $29 billion to farm income in the US alone (Ramanujan, 2016). That’s a lot of money! Putting economics aside, we need these pollinators to help diversify our food supply and keep our natural and urban ecosystems flourishing. Just imagine a world without 75 percent of our flora. You can’t? Yeah, we don’t want to either.

My team and I recognize that we cannot rely on government and policy change alone to help save pollinators; we must utilize the innovation and talent of business to incentivize change. We are currently working with multiple organizations and individuals within the three key stakeholder groups surrounding honey bee health in the US—conservation groups, beekeepers, and farmers—to learn where business might make the greatest impact in mitigating this challenge. According to the Xerces Society, there are four main factors responsible for pollinator loss: the loss and fragmentation of habitat, the degradation of remaining habitat, pesticide poisoning, and the spread of diseases and parasites (Hoffman et al, 2011). Though pesticides and varroa mites seem to be blamed as the leading culprits in honey bee decline, habitat fragmentation and degradation are much more deleterious. Therefore, my team and I are focusing our efforts on finding business solutions to increasing honey bee and native pollinator populations in heavily fragmented ecosystems, such as urban and suburban neighborhoods or farmland.

Utilizing market research and design thinking techniques acquired during the school year we plan to immerse ourselves further in the world of pollinators to gain a better understanding of each key stakeholder group and how we might best design a business model to help mitigate the challenge. During our research, we found California to be in the greatest need of these services, which is why we will be spending the month of June traveling through the central valley of our nation’s golden coast. We will be speaking with farmers, beekeepers, conservation groups, municipalities, and homeowners within the central valley to help familiarize ourselves with the area and gain some insight into how we might best assist these stakeholder groups.

Staying true to the design thinking and lean startup methods we were taught this past year, we have released a MVP, or minimum viable product, to address pollinator loss in northern Colorado. This MVP is simply a swanky term for three honeybee hives we will be installing and maintaining for three lucky pilot clients. During this process, we are hoping to experience the art and science of beekeeping first-hand while simultaneously gaining a better understanding of the cost structure and revenue streams associated with the beekeeping business.

Please stay tuned for an update on what we learned from our California travels!

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Out in the World: Bringing Alumni Back to the Classroom

5/17/16 – In the last week of class for the semester, Dr. Susan Golicic invited three GSSE MBA alumni to come talk to her Supply Chain classes. We love hosting our alumni to come back to campus – the hard part is choosing which alumni, since they are all so great!

“The three alums discussed what life was like in the working world after getting an MBA from CSU. They started with introductions and briefly discussing how Supply Chain Management has impacted them in their current positions. They answered various questions from the students on their careers, their life, the balance between the two, and what they learned in the program that contributed to all of this. The students really appreciated hearing from them – many replied that it motivated them, helped them appreciate what they are going through, gave them hope, and one even replied it was their best session of the spring semester!” – Dr. Susan Golicic

Where they are now:
Colorado State University Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA alumni Christie Zimmerman
Christie Zimmerman

GSSE MBA Cohort 5

GSSE Team: Siembra Orgánica , helping connect Bolivian quinoa farmers to local sources of organic fertilizer.

Current Position: Product Standards Manager at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage

 

Colorado State University Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise alumni Greg Goble
Greg Goble

GSSE MBA Cohort 5

GSSE Team: Noya Fibers, enabling Mongolian cashmere goat herders to properly graze their endangered grasslands and connecting them to high end cashmere markets.

Current Position: Lifecycle Specialist at Otterbox, and CEO of Noya Fibers

 

Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA alumni Andrew Kumar | Colorado State University
Andy Kumar

GSSE MBA Cohort 6

GSSE Team: LimaLinks, to enhance market information for farmers in Zambia.

Current Position: Product Manager at Envirofit International

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