April 15, 2011

Fighting poverty by enhancing social entrepreneurship

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Agora Partnerships expanding its impact beyond Central America roots

sustainatopia-logo JD LasicaOne of the coolest people I met at Sustainatopia in Miami last week was Daniela Hammeken, director of strategic partnerships for Agora Partnerships, a nonprofit that works with small companies in Central America to provide access to knowledge, capital and networks.

Based in Washington, D.C., and Managua, Nicaragua, Agora (tagline: “fighting poverty by enhancing entrepreneurship”) is a 6-year-old nonprofit that’s creating an entrepreneurial community, helping small to mid-size companies connect with each other and gain access to the financing they need from national and international investors.

“It’s really about using creativity and innovation to not only sell your main product but thinking about sustainability and the values in how they’re produced.”
— Daniela Hammeken

Each of the nine companies Agora works with has an interesting story to tell. One makes toy blocks, similar to Legos, derived from woods in the Honduras rainforest; with every toy sold, the buyer has the choice of supporting reforestation or an educational program in Honduras. Another small enterprise is run by a Guatemalan woman who increases the supply chain of women artisans in Guatemala to make their products more widely available.

“It’s really about using creativity and innovation to not only sell your main product but thinking about sustainability and the values in how they’re produced,” she says.

Impact investing is just beginning to come to the region, Daniela said. Applicants that come to Agora should be profitable businesses based in Central America, their business plan must incorporate social or environmental sustainability, they need to have fewer than 100 employees and generate between $50,000 and $1 million a year in revenue, with a goal of targeting that same amount in growth capital. A second crop of companies will encompass those in Mexico as well with other Latin American countries to follow.

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Agora’s Accelerator program offers companies better information about financial management, marketing and regional networks as well as entry into an investor conference where they can connect with investors.

Daniela, a native of Mexico who attended NYU, has a background in microfinance, and her interest in getting basic needs met for underserved populations eventually led her to the impact investing field. Agora Partnerships, it appears, is a small organization with the potential for big impact.

JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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