Greetings from Managua (or somewhere between Miami and LA en route to my Indonesia International Experience to be exact)! I just wanted to share some of my thoughts after my Global Social Enterprise trip to Nicaragua, where I was able to reconnect with my international development roots and social entrepreneurship passions firsthand!
Off to greener pastures
The Global Social Enterprise (GSE) class/ club was a major draw for me coming to Yale SOM, so I was excited to have completed Spring-2 finals and turn my attentions to my project in Managua. GSE is a unique experience because it is a hybrid club and class focused on a consulting project for a social enterprise in the developing world. Each year, the program selects a focus developing country, this year being Nicaragua, and students select and ultimately consult with social enterprises in-country, with funds raised by their classmates. My client is Burke Agro/ Sol Simple, an agricultural-focused social enterprise and natural food brand that sells solar dried organic fruit and promotes its strong social mission. It works to increase smallholder farmer incomes, employ single mothers in its processing plant, and promote healthy foods and a reduced environmental footprint in Nicaragua. Together, with four other classmates, we are conducting a market analysis of other product lines Burke Agro can get into utilizing its organically-sourced fruits from its producer network.
Upon arriving in Managua with my fellow classmates, I was greeted by the warm, refreshing Nicaraguan air. Having left JFK with snow flurries, I more than welcomed the change of weather to a modest 70-degree Nicaraguan night. Given that most of Sol Simple’s products are exported to the US, our focus in-country was to better understand the rest of the value chain, from farmer to processing and distribution. Our first day, we explored the farms, driving out to organic pitaya (or dragonfruit, which are neon pink exotic fruits with a pink flesh and a scaly green outer skin, native to Nicaragua), pineapple, and mango farms, which are all part of Burke Agro’s producer network.
One poignant memory is of a 90-year old farmer who has maintained his mango farm for over 60 years. He commented how he was one of the first to produce the “manga rosa,” which is a variety that is often smaller, sweeter, and with less stringy flesh, characterized by its reddish orange coloration. He started off with only 10 trees and then expanded, upon accidently learning how to prune the trees and engraft more mangos to produce a higher yield per tree. The next day, we visited the processing plant, where Sol Simple products are washed, cut, solar dried, and packaged by local Nicaraguan single women for distribution. Having concluded our Operations Engine class in the spring, it was interesting musing about improved efficiencies in the plant and how the company could identify bottlenecks, understand its capacity constraints, and ultimately employ solutions to improve its throughput. We also found ourselves trying to think from an Employee class lens, thinking about mechanisms to promote a strong company culture committed to its social mission.
The social entrepreneurship tide
In reflecting on Will Burke’s, the founder’s, unique journey to start his business, I saw reflections of myself and some of the same struggles that I have wrestled with in my budding entrepreneurial journey in New Haven. As a social entrepreneur, Will had to take risks when others thought he could not do it to start a business that was completely foreign to him in order to provide for the livelihood of the Nicaraguan community around him. His ability to take risks, not necessarily being able to quantify market demand or prepare for the challenges he would soon face, ran against all business school teachings, yet also is characteristic of many entrepreneurs. What makes them successful is their resilience and ability to pivot like Will. I have seen this firsthand through the many challenges with my own restaurant incubator start-up that has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but is also tempered with a strong team, which brings together an almost monomaniacal passion for the idea with the business acumen to ground that idea in reality. It was refreshing seeing Will and his team work together toward a mission that they were so dedicated to achieving, while also seeing the hard balance they needed to make in staying committed to that long-term social mission, while also achieving short-term profits. The week in Managua was extremely refreshing, reviving my passion for social entrepreneurship and seeing the fruits (pun intended) of business school lessons applied directly to our client.
I am excited to work on the project and hope to possibly make my way back to Nicaragua this summer, utilizing Yale SOM internship fund funding, to work with Burke Agro as they continue to expand their business and impact. Next time you see Sol Simple organic fruits at Whole Foods, make sure to pick up a bag (mango or pineapple is my personal favorite)!
Off to Indonesia – hope to write more soon!