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 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 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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GSSE MBA Students Win Business Design Competition

Did you catch the news? Even Business Wire and Yahoo Finance picked up the story about how our GSSE students won $10k in a business design competition to figure out how to get millennials to save for healthcare and retirement. Their participation in the event along with their victory confirms two things:

  1. GSSE MBA students go above and beyond – this wasn’t part of their coursework, and the competition took place during the busiest 8 weeks of the program thus far; and
  2. The degree’s focus on social and sustainable enterprise, as well as the venture creation pedagogy, enabled these students to compete at the highest level against traditional MBA students. In other words, GSSE is kind of like an MBA+.

Learn more about the competition and the winning team via this CSU article and the Denver Post article. Congratulations to Charlie, Hannah, Meghan, and Montana – team Business for Good – on your well-deserved win!


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GSSE Venture Prepares to Scale Up Solar Business in Peru

12/21/16 – The Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program has been educating entrepreneurs since 2007 at Colorado State University. In our very first cohort, a team of students started PowerMundo, which continues distributing off-grid clean energy products in Peru. GSSE alumni Michael Callahan is the CEO of PowerMundo, and was interviewed in this article about their recent recognition and support from the Development Innovation Ventures program at USAID. Congratulations, PowerMundo!


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Alumni Spotlight: Get to Know Charitha from Cohort 4


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