Intervening in the Refugee Crisis: an MBA team approach to Trauma Care

8/7/18 – Priyanka, Mahmod, and Scott are three students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program working to understand how to intervene in the global refugee crisis. Specifically in regards to caring for those who have experienced trauma, there is a huge opportunity to improve outcomes for these populations.

There are now more than 65 million people globally who have been forcibly displaced from their homes; this is the highest number in recorded human history. These people who are fleeing violence, famine, and persecution face a myriad of challenges and threats to their health and wellbeing. Many organizations are providing assistance and support, but often this aid is limited to baseline physiological and safety needs. Refugees are provided with shelter, food, and possibly medical care, but their mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health are often neglected due to the sheer scale of the need. Many asylum seekers experience significant amounts of trauma from situations that have caused them to leave their  through the process of fleeing their homes, and in seeking refuge in other countries. Trauma can result in numerous deleterious effects on the lives and wellbeing of these people. Increased levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, incarceration, suicide attempts, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, cancer, and premature death are all potential adverse outcomes of trauma. These outcomes carry enormous economic, social, and health costs for our society.

There is good news however. Trauma informed care practices have shown the possibility to reduce the impact of trauma on people’s lives. In fact, it is possible to experience what is being called Post Traumatic Growth after undergoing a traumatic event. The advances in our understanding of neuroscience, brain chemistry, positive psychology, and sociology present an incredible opportunity. An opportunity to harness these insights and methods in targeted ways to prevent the myriad of health risks experienced by the traumatized in our world, to assist them in living lives of wholeness and health, and to interrupt the cycles of violence and trauma.

This is the work that our team is undertaking this summer. We have been meeting with various stakeholders in the refugee systems in Sweden and Germany to learn more about the experiences of both those seeking asylum as well as the numerous nonprofits and governments seeking to help amidst this global crisis. We have met with entrepreneurial founders of nonprofits, dedicated government immigration officials, passionate caseworkers attempting to help support unaccompanied teenagers, psychotherapists, social workers, and refugees who themselves have become psychosocial counselors in order to give back and help their peers heal. We have met with officials from the UNHCR, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the A  and dozens of refugees themselves. These interactions have allowed us to attain invaluable information and increase our understanding of the refugee situation here in Northern Europe. We have also been able to share our vision and model of contributing to healthy integration by addressing trauma and strengthening mental health across communities. We have received positive feedback and interest from these partners, and are hopeful about the opportunities to come as we continue to develop our relationships here  in Northern Europe.

Priyanka, Mahmod, and Scott are working on designing a trauma-care solution for the refugee crisis.

Priyanka, Mahmod, and Scott are working on designing a trauma-care solution for the refugee crisis.

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Exploring Organic Cotton in Peru

7/24/18 – This blog post is written by the co-founders of an organic cotton startup in Peru: Kelsey, Jennifer, and Monika. They are students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University.

The team with a host at a Peruvian cotton facility

The team with a host at a Peruvian cotton facility

Initially when we began our research, we were looking to integrate sustainability in the textile supply chain. It became apparent that many of the harmful impacts occurred while procuring the raw materials for the textiles. This led our team to explore the use of a more beneficial fiber alternative. Half of the garments worldwide are made with cotton or a blend of the fiber. However, the process of producing cotton is heavy on the use of pesticides, electricity, water and chemicals that can severely affect the health of the environment and humans. This inspired the team to explore organic cotton as a sustainable alternative. And we ended up in Peru because there is unrealized potential with Peruvian cotton, which is a native plant of the country.

Peru is known for having some of the best quality cotton in the world. They struggle, however, to compete within the industry. Peru also has the capacity to have a vertically integrated supply chain. So we were left wondering, what can we do to provide more market access for this amazing product?

Cotton in the field in Peru

Cotton in the field in Peru

In the field, we have learned that there are several predominant reasons that cotton production has declined over the last twenty years. The main reasons include:

  • lack of political support
  • farmers transitioning to higher value crops, and
  • the rise of overseas competition

One of the most enlightening interviews in the field was with a thread manufacturer. The manufacturer indicated to us that in the Piura region, water is extremely cheap which encouraged farmers to switch to rice farming. Piura is an arid region, and rice is a thirsty crop. The lack of long-term planning among the farmers paired with the lack of incentives from the government has plummeted the rates of conventional cotton in this region and made organic production nearly nonexistent. However, additional field research with the leading organic cotton producer in Peru, Bergman Rivera, has provided the team with key insights into how organic cotton could make a comeback in Peru.

Currently Bergman Rivera is finding success by providing an internal support system for farmers that assists with financial access and organic training methods. Their close relationship with the farmers has helped differentiate them from the competition in Peru. In the coming weeks, the team will continue investigating the potential for organic cotton in Peru by traveling to the Piura region and doing field research with conventional and organic cotton farmers. Field research has allowed the team to understand – on a much deeper level – the vast concerns that currently exist in the Peruvian cotton industry. This complicated industry would have been impossible to fully understand from just sitting in a classroom. We look forward to sharing additional learning and progress in our next post, so watch for our updates soon!

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Funding a Better Future for Peruvians with a little help from some GSSE friends

Will Coffey, student in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA

Will Coffey

7/6/18 – This blog post is written by Will Coffey, a student in the GSSE MBA program, and is in Peru this summer for his MBA field research.

The financial access team, a.k.a. team CLAW (Cristina, Will, Atkelt and Will— we know, we are still searching for a better name!) is conducting an analysis of the current state of financial access in Peru. Cristina and I have been on the ground in Peru for three weeks, conducting interviews with microfinance institutions, banks, angel investors, FinTech startups, digital payment platforms and other entities. We’ve been learning about the lack of trust between financial institutions and poor populations, the cash-only informal economy that constitutes around 70% of economic activity, and the many barriers and opportunities there are for social enterprises to increase Peruvian financial access. Meanwhile, Atkelt and Lombola have been searching for financial access solutions that exist elsewhere (in the US and abroad) that might be applicable to the Peru’s economic landscape.

To aid in our summer research, we have partnered with two GSSE alumni. With Guatemala-based startup, BotPro, (founded by Andreana Castellanos from Cohort 8), we are exploring how Facebook messenger can be used as a channel to offer basic financial services. We created a chatbot for a little experiment called “CrediSencillo Peru”— you can check it out and even chat with our little robot here:

Credi Sencillo Peru logo

Credi Sencillo Peru logo

We are also working to understand how agricultural cooperatives might be able to better serve their farmer-members with on-lending or in-kind financial mechanisms with Cohort 7 alumni Aaron Sebesta, and his venture Axios Impact ( The idea is for an agricultural cooperative to be able to offer financing to its farmer-members by securing large collective loans on their behalf (with a better interest rate, hopefully). The cooperative could purchase the supplies the farmers need (like seeds/ machinery), and then manage the ‘repayment’ of the loan by simply deducting from the amount the farmer is paid after harvest, thereby saving the farmers the time and money associated with securing loans directly from financial institutions. Make sense? We are hoping to assess whether farmer co-ops in Peru might be interested in this, or something like it. Time is going by quickly, and we are pleased with our discoveries and grateful for the GSSE network, which has accelerated our learning considerably.

Posted in Global Orientation, Impact Investing and Startup Financing, Stories from the Field, Sustainable Enterprise | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How You Can Benefit From Solar Energy – No Roof Required

Luciana, Melody, Aurora, and Addie are the four MBA students on the Community Solar Concepts team. This photo was taken on Solar Energy International’s Teaching Yard in Paonia, CO.

Luciana, Melody, Aurora, and Addie are  the Community Solar Concepts team. This photo was taken on Solar Energy International’s Teaching Yard in Paonia, CO.

6/25/18 – This blog post is written by four students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program about their summer research work in the solar industry. 

The sun’s rays are truly a gift that keeps on giving to our planet. As the most abundant energy resource, the sun is continuously striking the earth with 173,000 terawatts of solar energy. Don’t worry, we did the math for you- that’s more than 10,000X the world’s energy use. Wouldn’t it be great if we could pocket all that energy in order to power our world for the next decade?

The US solar energy industry has clearly come a long way from its beginnings in the 1970’s, with over 56 Gigawatts of capacity now installed. (That’s enough to power 10.7 million homes!) However, there are still many roadblocks and misconceptions on “going solar” that are keeping individuals from participating in this movement. Most notably, nearly half of all households and businesses are unable to host solar arrays on their building’s property or rooftop. Along with this, many individuals do not have sufficient credit in order to get the capital required to make a solar investment. Our team is tackling this problem by providing local, community scale solar power purchasing options to these locked out consumers, regardless of their living situation or credit score.

How can this be done? By four amazingly brilliant MBA students of course!

Community solar enables renters, homeowners, and businesses the option to purchase renewable energy from an off-site solar farm. The energy produced by community solar farms flows through the traditional grid system and is allocated by the utility. Members in the community solar farms receive credits on their electric bill to offset their cost. Community solar farms are an emerging strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by energy production. This strategy provides consumers an easy and cost-effective way to use their purchasing power to buy emissions-free energy. This means that anyone who subscribes gets the financial and social benefit of clean energy without the burden of maintenance, a large initial investment, or risk of losing the right to the energy if they move.

Solar panels observed on a tour in Paonia, CO

Solar panels observed on a tour in Paonia, CO

Our team, Community Solar Concepts, has spent the last 6 months researching enterprise-based solutions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy in Northern Colorado. We have spent this summer meeting with industry professionals, surveying the opinions and needs of community members, presenting at local energy events, and developing plans to implement a solar array on the Colorado State University Research Station in Paonia, CO in a partnership with Solar Energy International.

As we wrestle with all the layers involved in the energy market- including contracts, land use, utility interest, and financial models- we hope to develop a viable solution in order to expand the access to renewable energy, while saving customers money on their bills. Although the solar industry has come a long way, it will take innovative solutions to current problems in order to get it to its full potential. Community Solar Concepts hopes to create the bright alternative to the future of energy.

If you are a Colorado resident and would like to take our survey to help us with our research please click here. Thanks!

Community Solar Concepts team conducting surveys with community members in Old Town Square, Fort Collins, CO.

Community Solar Concepts team conducting surveys with community members in Old Town Square, Fort Collins, CO.

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Diffusing Colorado’s Ticking Time-bomb: What to Do with the Dead Trees in a Dense Forest

6/18/18 – This blog post is written by Waste Knot – a team of three students in the GSSE MBA program. Bessie, Ariel, and Kevin are developing innovative solutions to the beetlekill problem in Colorado forests.

Fort Collins is quiet in the summer, leaving plenty of time for hiking and long venture sessions in one of many coffee shops. Hiking is a classic Colorado summer activity, but it also provides a stark perspective into the natural ecosystems and challenges in the high country. Look around when you hike almost anywhere along the Front Range, and you will find dense forests with dead trees, many killed from a pine beetle epidemic that devastated a fifth of Colorado’s forests over the past decade. The dead trees and overly dense forests create a plethora of problems for Colorado communities including high intensity wildfires, threatened watershed health, public safety concerns, and declining forest health.

We are just beginning our summer research to deeply understand the issue. So far, we have traveled to Montana to attend a Wood Innovations Technology conference, participated in the Colorado Association for Recycling Summit, and met with many industry professionals through connections provided by our project partner, the United States Forest Service. We are building a network that will enable us to find innovative financing or product solutions to address the dead wood problem in our state. And although forest service professionals, sawmill owners, and high-country Colorado landowners may sound gruff and a little grizzly, we have been welcomed to each team and community with enthusiastic support for our venture research and the possibility of a viable business solution to this ticking time-bomb of a problem.

Dead Trees in Colorado Forest due to the Pine Beetle

Dead trees in Colorado forest due to the pine beetle

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Why are We Fishing for Fish to Feed to the Fish we Feed to the World?

6/6/18 – This blog post is written by Nobilis Aqua, a team of four students in the GSSE MBA program at Colorado State University whose goal is to find opportunities to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable.

Three days of travel and our team is finally reaching one of the most important destinations of our summer venture research. We’re tired – exhausted from the late spring heat – but excited to see the shoreline of Havana. For months, we’ve waited to see this location specifically. This Havana, however, isn’t located along the beautiful shores of Cuba as you might have thought. Rather, our team is right in the middle of the American heartland in rural Illinois. None of us probably dreamed we’d have any real ambition to visit this particular small town located about three and a half hours south of Chicago. However, this town is specifically special to us as a GSSE MBA venture team because Havana, Illinois is the location of the largest population of Asian carp anywhere in the world.

Why is that so significant? Glad you asked!

America's Heartland in rural Illinois

America’s Heartland in rural Illinois

Our team has spent the past half year researching various opportunities around how to help the aquaculture industry become more sustainable. As our global population continues to inch closer to an estimated 9 billion, the world’s food supply feels an increasing burden to keep up with demand pressure. The fishing industry is particularly vulnerable when it comes to meeting this demand. With more than 3 billion people living in or around coastal communities, our world’s fish stocks are disappearing quicker than ever before.

While many see aquaculture as a path to help alleviate these pains, this growing industry is still no savior to world fishery issues. Today, 3.2 billion pounds of fish are harvested annually in order to help society feed farmed fish. Not only is this impacting the wild fishery ecosystems that are reliant on these lower trophic fish (such as mackerel, sardines, menhaden, etc.) but it’s simultaneously perpetuating the issue of overfishing. Shrinking fisheries that act as sources of protein in fish feed mean rising feed prices for fish farmers and an aquaculture industry desperately in need of alternative protein sources.

The Mississippi River

That’s where we come in – Nobilis Aqua! Our venture seeks to improve sustainability of the aquaculture industry by tackling the unsustainable protein sources found in traditional fish feed. We believe that by using invasive Asian carp as a substitute protein source for fishmeal, not only will we help improve the biodiversity along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, but will provide a premium quality product for fish feed producers to source. Our goal this summer is to develop contacts and resources throughout Illinois and Kentucky to establish our supply chain. We’ll be working closely with the Department of Natural Resources in the coming weeks to learn more about the Asian carp invasion here in the Midwest, while forming relationships to help build the foundation of our venture. See you on the river!

Three of the four Nobilis Aqua team members: Diana, Erica, and David. Photo credit to team member #4: Kelly.

Three of the four Nobilis Aqua team members: Diana, Erica, and David. Photo credit to team member #4: Kelly.

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GSSE Updates from the Program Manager

5/29/18 – It’s hard to believe it’s time for another round of updates from our teams in the field. In case you have lost track:

  • Cohort 10 graduated in December!
  • Cohort 11 just finished up their 2nd semester and is launching their field work.
  • Cohort 12 is getting ready to enroll in the fall.

So get ready for updates from teams. Here are the descriptions of the challenges they are working on:

  • Reduce Poverty Through Financial Access (Peru)
  • Prevent and Interrupt Trauma in Vulnerable Refugee Populations (Sweden)
  • Implement Sustainability in the Organic Cotton Supply Chain (Peru)
  • Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Community Solar (Colorado)
  • Reduce Negative Impacts of Aquaculture and Invasive Fish Species (U.S.)
  • Reduce Wood Solid Waste Caused by Pine Beetles (Colorado/U.S.)
Cohort 11 of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program

Cohort 11 of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program

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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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