smallholder farmers

This Social Entrepreneur uses Chocolate as a Force for Good, with Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate

Askinosie Chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate factory that sources cocoa beans directly from farmers in low-income countries.

Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, by Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie

Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, by Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie

For more than a decade, Shawn Askinosie has been searching for a way to make an impact. “For me, the sense of purpose comes from my faith,” Shawn explains. He has been associated with a Trappist monetary near his home in Springfield, Missouri for over 17 years. “And, I think it really springs forth from my compassion, that results from my dad’s death.” Shawn’s father died of lung cancer when Shawn was only 14 years old. His mother also died at a young age. “When those things happen to us, whatever sorrow it may be: we have a broken heart. And then we’re better able to see others who have that kind of broken-heartedness. And I think, over the years, that’s what has drawn me to this kind of purpose.”

Shawn tells the story of his search for meaning in his book, Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, which he co-wrote with his daughter Lawren.

In Search of Meaningful Work

In 2005, Shawn was a criminal defense lawyer. “I made my reputation in the defense of murder cases,” Shawn says. “I loved everything about it until I didn’t. When you don’t love it anymore, you feel it, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The only problem was, I had no other skill. I didn’t know how to do anything other than cross-examining people.”

Over the next five years, Shawn began exploring hobbies outside of work. However, he says, “It just wasn’t coming.” For the next five years, he tried a wide variety of hobbies. “Even 12 years ago, Google was in full force,” he explains. “I was distracted by all of the possibilities.”

He thought of buying a franchise. He tried making cupcakes. “I went to Magnolia Bakery in New York, just to look at the cupcakes and taste them, and see the place,” he says. He thought about baking pies. He looked at a frozen custard franchise. And yet, he never felt fully drawn to any of these possibilities. “I told myself I would feel it when it was right. I would sense deep down that this was what I was supposed to do, and it just wasn’t happening.”

Creating Space for the Right Idea

“As I approached this from a very traditional Type A, hard-charging entrepreneur, I said, OK, let’ research all the possibilities. What makes sense financially? How much savings do I have? What can I invest? What’s the ROI? What’s the barrier to entry? I asked all the questions, but I didn’t feel it.” Pushing forward through a logical path was not leading him to the outcome he was looking for.

Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate

Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate

“This process was five years. And during that process, I prayed this very simple prayer, ‘Dear God, give me something else to do.’” The answer to Shawn’s prayers came unexpectedly. “During this 5-year search, I got this volunteer opportunity to work in our local hospital in palliative care, which is essentially end-of-life care,” he describes. Every Friday, he would visit with patients in the hospital. “It had nothing to do with my search,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, the fifth thing on my list was, go volunteer at this hospital.’”

However, Shawn was open to volunteering at the hospital because of sorrow in his own life. When Shawn was 14 years old, his dad died of lung cancer. “I thought, I can go help people who are experiencing the dying process.” The patients would request a volunteer to visit them. “I would go in and talk to them about whatever they wanted to talk about. Then at the end, I would offer to pray with them. When people agreed, Shawn asked, “What would you like me to pray for?” This opened up a new avenue of conversation.

“For those seconds,” Shawn recalls,” and I mean seconds, I actually thought of someone besides myself. I was so driven to find the next thing. And for those seconds, it was not about me. And then, many times, when I left the front doors of this big hospital, walking out to my car, I felt like my feet weren’t on the ground.”

In this five-year period of volunteering, “There was this space created in me, to contemplate, to think about what would be in my future. I needed that. I love the quote, and I put it in the book, Khalil Gibran, ‘Our greatest joy is our sorrow unmasked.’ Well, my greatest sorrow was my dad’s death. It created this space for me to think about something like chocolate.”

Chocolate is the Answer

Eventually, Shawn settled on a single idea – chocolate. “I went from making it one pound at a time to 500 pounds at a time,” he says. “Back then, nobody knew what bean to bar chocolate was. We import cocoa beans from places like Ecuador, Tanzania, the Amazon, and the Philippines. We bring in these containers. They pull up to the back door of my factory. We roast the cocoa beans. We grind it and add the only other ingredient, which is organic sugar, and make chocolate bars. We sell them directly. We don’t have a distributor. There are just 16 people in my company, including me and my daughter.”

How do they distribute their chocolate bars? “Back in the beginning, nobody even knew what bean-to-bar chocolate was, so that was a real uphill challenge.” To sell the bars, they call stores and ask them if they want to carry their chocolate. “Year after year, through word of mouth, and winning some awards for our chocolate, we’ve made a name for ourselves.”

Small Business as a Force for Good

Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate, with farmers in the Philippines

Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie Chocolate, with farmers in the Philippines

Askinosie Chocolate practices open-book management and profit sharing. Shawn explains, “What that means is, we share the numbers. We teach what they mean. And then, we share in the outcome.” They translate the profit sharing reports into the native language of the farmers. They also publish their reports on their website. “Anybody can see what I paid farmers in every single bean buy for the last 11 years.”

Askinosie Chocolate also works with local students. “My factory is in a revitalizing part of our community, around a lot of poverty,” Shawn describes. “That’s where I wanted it to be. There’s a homeless shelter nearby. We wanted to start a program that engages the kids of our neighborhood.” Shawn started Chocolate University over ten years ago. They have an elementary school, middle school and high school program.

“Every other year, we take the high school kids that are in this competitive program, to Tanzania,” Shawn says. “Remember, we’re only 16 people. The people in my company go to the elementary school, and the elementary school kids come to my factory.”

“We want to teach them about two things: One, that small business can be a force for good in the world. And the second thing is, there’s a world beyond Springfield, MO.”

Practicing Reverse Scale

Moving against cultural pressures, Shawn had decided to not rapidly scale his business. “One of our vocations is not getting bigger, but getting better at staying small. That is a real push against the pressures of growing, growing, growing at all costs. Investors want you to scale. Chambers of Commerce want you to scale because it means more jobs for the community. Your family wants you to scale because it means you’re going to be richer, supposedly. So, there’s this myth that top-line growth, just grow, grow, grow, is going to be better for everyone.

“But, I was drawn to this business because of all the things that we’ve talked about: farmers, students, just to travel and meet people,” Shawn explains. “But, if I scale, then what I’m doing is, I’m writing checks, I’m supervising, I’m managing, I’m delegating, I’m finding people to do the things I did before so that I can grow…If I’m not careful, what I’ve done is, I’ve lost the sense of what drew me to this business in the first place.

“So, what I want to do is hold on to a tether, and the tether is a practice we call reverse scale. When you grow at all costs, it becomes hard when you are distant from others. And when you become distant from other people, it’s hard to find yourself.

“I want to say to people, look, if you have an idea, don’t subscribe to this cultural pressure, this if it doesn’t scale, then it’s not worthy, that it’s not valuable. Because my message is, it is valuable If it helps the people on your street, near your business, that’s valuable.

Social Entrepreneur Quotes by Shawn Askinosie

“I prayed this very simple prayer, ‘Dear God, give me something else to do.’” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “It didn’t have to be chocolate. It could have been anything.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “To work with farmers and students, and to make a product, that’s what was missing.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “We share the numbers. We teach what they mean. And then, we share in the outcome.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “This summer, I begin my 40th origin trip.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “Small business can be a force for good.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “Travel gives us a sense of connection; that we really are connected to each other.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “Back then, nobody knew what bean-to-bar chocolate was.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “Go find somebody who needs you, and start.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet “Where does it hurt? Begin from that place of sorrow, because you’re going to find great joy.” @shawnaskinosie @askinosie Click To Tweet

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


Fair Trade Coffee from Smallholder Farmers, with Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee [ENCORE]

NOTE: This is an encore presentation of an episode that first aired on July 11, 2016. Advice from Lee Wallace is featured in the book, Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs. To hear the original, extended interview, go here:


Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee, Fair Trade for Smallholder Farmers

Lee Wallace, Peace Coffee

Smallholder farmers grow more than half of the coffee consumed worldwide.

Imagine if you will, that you are working at a non-profit in Minnesota, focusing on public policy. The phone rings, and the person on the other end says “Hello. This is the Port of Los Angeles. We have 38,000 pounds of green coffee with your name on it. How would you like to pick this up?” You know nothing about coffee or roasting or retail. What would you do?

That is exactly what happened twenty years ago at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. In today’s Social Entrepreneur, Lee Wallace, the Queen Bean of Peace Coffee tells us the rest of the story.

Peace Coffee is a for-profit social enterprise, owned by a nonprofit, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Peace Coffee has a wholesale business that they have been running for about two decades. They also have four retail coffee shops within the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

Last year Peace Coffee purchased 735,000 lbs. of coffee from 12 countries and 20 smallholder farmer cooperatives. In the process, Peace Coffee paid $370,000 in fair trade premiums.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Lee Wallace

“We think hard about how to do the right thing for coffee farmers.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Our customers named us.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

“I was trying to find a career that made sense to me in terms of my passions.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“What I was trying to do was find places that sit at the nexus of mission and money.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

“Pretty quickly I realized that this is a magical place for me.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I have always been interested in how organizations work.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

“We spend a lot of our time at work.”

“The Twin Cities is an amazing place to learn about natural foods because we have such a vibrant and thriving co-op ecosystem.”

“My dad really wanted us to understand the history of industry as it came in and out of communities and how that really impacted families in those communities.”

“The original idea was that we would be an importer of all kinds of things.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“More than 50% of the world’s coffee farmers, farm coffee on very small parcels of land.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

“We come this work with the sense that, what we’re doing is working on trying to elevate the livelihood of an awful lot of people who historically have been very disadvantaged when it comes to the way trade works.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s livelihood, but its community development too.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Co-ops are stepping in and playing the role of civil society in these communities.” Lee Wallace, @Peace_Coffee”]

“People in these communities have ideas and know how they’re going to make their communities better. Our job is to be a good partner on the other side of that.”

“We have a price floor…We believe that below this level is unsustainable for coffee farmers.”

“This company existing 10 years from now is more important than what is happening this month. This company is bigger than all of us.”

“You’d be amazed at who would be willing to talk to you.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Be Curious, Leap In and Learn with Paul Polak

Paul Polak is the founder of iDE. At the age of 80, he launched three new social enterprises.

Paul Polak

Paul Polak

Paul was born in Czechoslovakia near Germany. In 1938, his family watched as refugees poured across the border. Paul says, “The conventional wisdom in 1938 was that Hitler was a joke and all this stuff would blow over. If you accepted that conventional wisdom, you’re no longer around to talk about it.” Paul’s father was willing to challenge the status quo. He moved his family to Canada in 1939. This lesson of challenging conventional thinking was an important life lesson for Paul. One key to his success is, he is willing to leap into areas where he is not an expert. But, he emphasizes that forward motion is not enough. “Jumping in assumes an active curiosity and learning.”

Paul’s first job after graduating from psychiatry residency was Director of Research at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan. At the time, Fort Logan treated half of the people in Colorado who were hospitalized for a serious mental illness. One of the first things that Paul did was to ask about the treatment goals of the patients. He quickly discovered that the staff was unaware of or disagreed with the treatment goals of the patients. By following his curiosity, Paul learned that two-thirds of the causes of hospitalization were social crises in the home.

Paul changed the practice for emergency admittance to the hospital. When a new patient arrived, they would take the patient back home to where the mental health crisis occurred. Paul said, “We started learning about the space and the people that were involved in the request for admission.” Paul even spent time with a homeless man in his home under a loading dock.

What he learned from these visits led to an innovative approach to treatment called social systems intervention. Through this system, they created alternatives to hospitals. “When someone needed a brief separation, we admitted them to a healthy home instead of to a hospital.”

Through this work, Paul saw how poverty contributed to mental illness and social disturbance. In an innovative move, Paul worked with the Mental Health Authority of Colorado to have them established as a public housing authority. This step allowed the Mental Health Authority to distribute 400 housing units. As a result, people who were living in slums or were homeless could move into an apartment, reducing both physical and mental illness. Paul told me, “Developing practical ways to address poverty is probably the most important basic science for health that you can think of.”

Around 1981, Paul’s interest in the impact of poverty took a turn. His wife introduced him to the work of the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief organization. Paul accompanied them on a trip to Bangladesh to focus on basic human needs. Though he had met many relatively poor people in Colorado, in Bangladesh, he met people who were living on less than one dollar per day.

Again, Paul let his curiosity guide him as he learned about the lives of poor people in Bangladesh. As Paul asked questions about why they were living in such poverty, the people patiently explained that they were smallholder farmer. They depended on the rain to water their crops. With a little research, Paul found out about the treadle pump, which had just recently been invented by Gunnar Barnes. The treadle pump is a human-powered pump that allows farmers to extract ground water.

Once back in Denver, Paul founded iDE (International Development Enterprises), a nonprofit social enterprise. iDE improved the design of the treadle pump and began selling them. For a purchase price of around $25, a poor farmer could install a treadle pump. The profit from the extra crops netted the farmers around $100 per year. Some innovative farmers began growing off-season vegetables and increased their annual profit to $500 from their $25 investment. iDE has sold more than 3 million treadle pumps across the world. Through their work, iDE has helped more than 20 million people double their income.

After more than 30 years of running iDE, Paul thought about the impact that his company had been able to have. Though he is quite pleased to have impacted more than 20 million people, he knew that there were more than 2.6 billion people living in poverty. He wanted to do more. So, at the age of 80, Paul launched three new companies, each designed to impact more than 100 million poor people.

His first new social enterprise is Affordable Village Solar. Its first product is a solar-powered irrigation system that displaces carbon emitting, expensive-to-operate diesel pumps, enabling farmers to grow high value, offseason horticulture crops.

The second new company that Paul has launched is Windhorse, International, a holding company. One company in their portfolio is Spring Health. Spring Health is an India-based water company that utilizes an innovative point-of-sale purification and distribution model to sell affordable drinking water to low-income families.

And the third new company that Paul has started is Transform Energy. In this interview, Paul describes how his volunteer team of Ball Aerospace scientists and engineers can convert invasive and waste biomass into “green coal” in one hour.

Paul has written two books describing his approach. In 2008, he published, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. And in 2013, he coauthored The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers with Mal Warwick.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Paul Polak

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We started doing poverty strategy as part of mental health interventions.”, Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“One of the basic tenants of a successful business is to know your customer.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Too often we think of the extremely poor people of the world as unfortunates.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“To me, being an entrepreneur was natural.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Forward motion is useless unless you’re learning.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Be curious and learn all you can about the market you’re serving.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

“If you haven’t talked to at least 100 customers before you start, don’t bother.”

“If you can’t sell at least a million, don’t bother.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Go and do something.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The first step is to talk to the people who are experiencing the problem you’re interested in.” Paul Polak, @OutofPoverty“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

155, Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor | Collaborative Consumption for Smallholder Farmers

Hello Tractor is an AgTech company focused on improving food and income security across sub-Saharan Africa through a tractor sharing platform.

Collaborative Consumption for Smallholder Farmers with Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor

Jehiel Oliver, Hello Tractor

Collaborative consumption is reshaping the world. There are the well-known players. For example, Airbnb rents more rooms than Hilton, Marriott, and InterContinental combined. If you want to get around in a city, you can grab a ride with someone via Lyft or pick up a bike with bike sharing services such as Nice Ride Minnesota.

But can collaborative consumption help feed the world? That’s what Hello Tractor is attempting to do.

In Africa and Asia, more than 80% of the food is produced by smallholder farmers. These farmers cannot afford to purchase and maintain a tractor. They depend on manual labor to work their land. With a lack of available labor, they often do not fully cultivate their land. Hello Tractor builds low horsepower tractors, suitable for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Smallholder farmers can request tractor services by sending a text, just as you might request a Lyft.

Hello Tractor is not just building tractors. They have created a technology platform that can be used by other manufacturers to provide services on-demand.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Jehiel Oliver

“I’ve always been a fan of using commercial markets to reach low-income populations.”

“Most people who access microfinance, earn their income on the farm.”

“The tractor itself is low-tech, but the technology that supports it is fairly sophisticated.”

“We just asked people for advice.” 

“Our biggest asset is a willingness to put yourself out there and sound really stupid.” 

“The upside was clear.”

“We were always putting out fires. I think that was part of the fun.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Get started. Just go. You’ll never have it figured out.” @Jehiel, @HelloTractor”]

“The best learning is not done behind a desk. It’s done out there in the field.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Be bold with your ideas. Because some of these challenges are so massive.” @Jehiel, @HelloTractor”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

More Stories of Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger

In 2017, we’re emphasizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In February, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger. You can read more about Sustainable Development Goal 1 here, Sustainable Development Goal 2 here, or learn about the Sustainable Development Goals here.

154, Vijaya Pastala, Under the Mango Tree | A Hybrid Social Enterprise that Creates Livelihood from Bees

Under the Mango Tree increases agricultural yields by teaching rural farmers to keep bees.

Vijaya Pastala, Under the Mango Tree creates livelihood from Bees

Vijaya Pastala, Under the Mango Tree

Vijaya Pastala and Under the Mango Tree are a good illustration of something that I believe which is, miracles find you while you’re in motion.

Vijaya started experimenting with her business idea in January 2009. By January, 2010, Vijaya had 8,000 rupees in the bank. That’s less than $120 USD. At the time, the monthly cost of running Under the Mango Tree was around 34,000 rupees. Under the Mango Tree was gaining positive press, but beneath the surface, Vijay’s personal savings, which she was using to fund the company, were running out.

During this crisis, Vijaya received a request for a meeting from a stranger. Given all that she was managing, she considered turning down the meeting. It turned out that the stranger was willing to provide the funds needed to meet their operating costs. By May 2010, Under the Mango Tree won the UnLtd India competition, which provided their first seed investment. Other money was to follow, including support from Acumen.

Under the Mango Tree works with marginal farmers, that is farmers who have an income of about $600 per year. They train farmers to transfer wild bees into a bee box. As a result, the farmers increase their productivity, their income and their savings. Under the Mango Tree also helps farmers to gain access to markets for honey and other bee-related products.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Vijaya Pastala

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We work with marginal farmers.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT”]

“There are only five types of bees that make honey and out of those, there are only two bees that can be boxed.”

“It takes a farmer 18 months to become completely at ease with being a beekeeper.”

“We are a honey brand in the market in India.” 

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We have created an ecosystem of beekeeping.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“We train women’s groups to create a swarm bag or a bee veil.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We’re like a one-stop-shop on beekeeping.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s farmers who are training other farmers.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“Agriculture is something I’ve always worked on.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I understood the importance of sustainability.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“The hybrid came into being from day one.”

“I realized that, in India, we don’t really showcase the origin of the honey.”

“When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s on your head – everything.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Yields are going up 40% to 60%.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“We have trained about 700 women beekeepers.”

“We have six women who are training other women to be beekeepers.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Keep knocking on doors.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“Use your network.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“Don’t be shy in asking for help.” @vijayapastala, @UTMT“]

“Set yourself a timeframe.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

More Stories of Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger

In 2017, we’re emphasizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In February, we are focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger. You can read more about Sustainable Development Goal 1 here, Sustainable Development Goal 2 here, or learn about the Sustainable Development Goals here.

154, Vijaya Pastala, Under the Mango Tree | A Hybrid Social Enterprise that Creates Livelihood from Bees

148, Kwami Williams, MoringaConnect | Unlocking the Value of Moringa to End Poverty

MoringaConnect connects smallholder farmers and consumers with the value of Moringa.

Unlocking the value of the Moringa Tree with Kwami Williams of MoringaConnect

Emily Cunningham and Kwami Williams of MoringaConnect

This month on Social Entrepreneur, we’re focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 1, No Poverty. Around the world, there are people and programs working to help the poor to permanently overcome persistent poverty. Some programs work better than others. One factor that helps determine the success of poverty elimination programs is a systems approach, with consistent application over time. In order to do that, there needs to be a steady source of funding.

According to the World Bank, in Sub-Saharan Africa there are 389 million people living on less than two dollars per day. Most of these are rural poor, working in agriculture on small plots of land. They are commonly referred to as smallholder farmers.

Kwami Williams and Emily Cunningham met through the D-Lab at MIT. Their assignment was to work with smallholder farmers in Ghana to figure out the best way to unlock the value of the Moringa. The leaves are packed with nutrients. The seeds produce an oil with exceptional moisturizing and anti-aging benefits for skin and hair care. Emily and Kwami found that the problem was not the value of Moringa. The challenge was to connect the value produced by Moringa farmers to the value sought by conscious consumers.

When the class was over and Kwami and Emily returned to the US, they kept working on their ideas. “It became an obsession,” Kwami told me.

Kwami was studying aerospace engineering. Emily was studying economics at Harvard. But, with input from mentors, friends and early customers, they learned how to create products, build a brand and sell their products.

Today, Kwami and Emily run MoringaConnect, where they manage the Moringa supply chain for smallholder farmers in Ghana. They provide farm inputs, training, value-added processing, and access to global markets. As a result, they increase the farmers’ income by 10x.

They produce and sell two product lines, True Moringa beauty products and Minga Foods.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Kwami Williams

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It became an obsession.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I’m a rocket scientist by training.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

“Emily is a Harvard-trained economist.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We fell in love with the farmers growing the trees.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

“We worked with the farmers and local fabricators to build everything in-country.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘#Moringa is a super crop of super crops.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You have a tree that keeps on giving.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa, #Moringa“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘They’re honestly invisible to most consumers in North America.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

“We’re connecting people to the incredible value in Moringa, whether they’re farmers or consumers.”

“As we learn about the pain points of consumers in their personal care, we realized it aligns very nicely to the applications of Moringa oil.”

“It was a lot of lessons learned from people using our products.”

“We train farmers in how to grow Moringa, well, professionally and commercially.”

“We give them the right kind of inputs that they need so that they grow the right kind of Moringa that will boost their productivity.”

“We provide nutrition training so that they know the best way to integrate Moringa into their day-to-day food.”

“The cost of electricity, from when we incorporated until now, has quadrupled.”

“A lot of the services and infrastructure you need to build a business are either nonexistent or inconsistent.”

“Try to not be so in love with your baby, or even think about your social venture as your baby.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘You don’t listen so well when you think your solution is the greatest ever.’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘How can I make my life count in the biggest way possible?’ Kwami Williams, @truemoringa“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


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133, Rashmi Bharti, AVANI Society | Create Sustainable Livelihood Through an Ethical, Green Brand

AVANI is creating sustainable livelihood for women in the Himalayas.

The story of AVANI is really two stories. There is the story of the business and it is the story of their products.

The story of the business is not unlike many businesses. Rashmi Bharti and her husband found unmet needs, looked around for the assets at hand, and then applied appropriate technology to solve the problems. The twist to this story is that it takes place in the remote Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located in the middle ranges of the Central Himalayan region.

But this is also the story of the products produced by the Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative. They create hand-crafted finished goods for conscious consumers.

Rashmi grew up in Delhi. After obtaining her degree in mathematics, she and her husband wanted their lives and their work to be aligned. Rashmi told me that when they moved to the Kumaon region, “We didn’t have a blueprint. We just followed as needs emerged.”

One immediate need that they found was that the electricity was often unavailable for long periods of time. They thought that they could improve energy access by simply moving the production and consumption of electricity closer to one another. And so, they used the abundant resources at hand to create an energy company. They noticed that there was an abundance of pine needles. Pine needles are a source of frequent wildfires in the region. AVANI started producing electricity from pine needles. They also produce solar energy.

Their energy production is a social business, not a charity. They insist that their customers pay. When poorer customers could not pay, they looked for ways to create livelihood.

Within the villages, they found that most of the men had migrated to the cities or to the military to make a living. That left a population of socially vulnerable women, such as widows, physically challenged or abandoned by their husbands. These women and girls had no source of income.

Because the middle school was a long distance from the village, girls were often not educated beyond the fifth grade. These girls were at home and were often married off, even if they were not yet eighteen years-old.

To create a livelihood for these women and girls, AVANI created an artisan-owned cooperative called “Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative.” Kumaon Earthcraft is a social enterprise based on the traditional skills of hand-spinning and hand weaving. The women produce finished goods from hand-spun yarn, dyed with plant based pigments, produced by local farmers. Young girls became trainees, which lead to livelihood and often leads to a delay in the age of marriage.

AVANI also produces natural detergents and natural dyes which they use in their products and supply to other companies.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Rashmi Bharti

“There was always the belief that my work and life should be contiguous.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We didn’t have a blueprint. We just followed as needs emerged.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon”]

“The production and consumption of energy, if it close to each other, the reliability increases.”

“It was a model where we were insisting that people should pay.”

“If we wanted the poorest of the poor to participate, then increasing their income becomes our responsibility too.”

“We looked for traditional skills.”

“We started with 20 families and over the years this enterprises has grown to about 50 villages. It benefits about 1,500 families at the moment.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We are located seven hours from the nearest train station.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“We decided to take these school dropout girls, between the age of 15 and 17, as vocational trainees.”

“The age of marriage was delayed, sometimes eight to ten years.”

“For the last 14 years, this enterprise has been bringing income every month.”

‘[spp-tweet tweet=”The economic empowerment led to this change.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“We are addressing the entire cycle from fiber to fabric.”

“We want to develop a mountain brand – an acknowledgement for local weavers.”

“Our job is to identify local skills available and to create product lines that cater to them.”

“We are creating completely natural products that are hand knitted.”

“We were very conscious that the dies we use should not cause soil and water pollution.”

“We are making colorings from local plants and providing livelihood to people.”

“We are the only company I know of who is making pure bees wax crayons with natural colorants.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Follow your dream.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Be willing to work hard.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“The results don’t come very soon.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We as urban people need to learn how to slow down.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“Our job is to learn how to function in a way which is in harmony with where we are working.”

“It’s not about decreasing consumption, but being very conscious of how much and what we buy.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘People want natural, sustainable and cheap. It doesn’t work.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“When we buy, we really must look at where it is coming from, and look for people who are working in an environmentally sustainable way.”

“We as consumers should leave a very small footprint on this earth. Then only have we lived well.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

131, Paul Rice, Fair Trade USA | Vote with Your Dollars

Fair Trade USA fights poverty by matching conscious consumers with responsible companies.

Increasingly, consumers are seeking out fair trade products. Almost 60% of US consumers are aware of the Fair Trade Certified label. Back in August when we spoke, Paul Rice told me, “I think it’s very empowering for people to realize that they can only vote for president once every four years, but they can vote for a better world with their shopping dollars, every single day.”

Paul knew from a young age that he wanted to work in the social justice movement. He studied agricultural development and sustainability. When he graduated from college, he went to Nicaragua for what he thought would be a one-year visit. He ended up staying for eleven years. While he was there, he worked in agricultural development projects, many of them aimed at lifting farmers out of poverty. Paul told me, “We were just not effective at helping farmers in the communities to develop their own capacity to solve their own problems.”

In 1990, Paul first heard about “fair traders” in Europe. That summer, Paul organized Nicaragua’s first fair trade co-op. In their first year, twenty farmers joined the co-op. They produced one shipping container of coffee for sale. The farmers sold their coffee to Equal Exchange in Boston, for $1.20 per pound. At the time, the local price for coffee was $0.10 per pound.

Over the next four years, Paul grew the co-op to 3,000 families. They exported over 100 containers of fair trade coffee on an annual basis. The farm families used the profits to engage in social, environmental and economic development. They dug wells, built schools and ran health programs. They trained women to be entrepreneurs. They started an organic certification program. Besides the obvious benefits to fair trade, there were less visual impacts as well, such as hope, pride and dignity. All of these benefits were thanks to the model of direct and equitable trade.

After four years, Paul realized that, while the fair trade movement was going well in Europe, it was still in a nascent state in the United States. “I just realized that fair trade was a model that needed to extend to the US,” he said.

He returned to the US, where he enrolled in an MBA program. “I knew how to organize farmers up in the hills,” Paul told me, “but I didn’t know how to organize the US business community.”

Today, Fair Trade USA is the leading independent certifier of fair trade products in the US. They work with farmers and workers in 80 countries across more than 30 product categories. These producers have earned more than $44 Million in premiums. Over 1,000 US Brands carry fair trade certified products.

Fair Trade USA has recently started certifying new product lines such as fish, clothing and household goods. While they have traditionally worked with producers across the global south, they have plans to begin certifying products produced in the United States.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Paul Rice

“I decided at the age of 17 that I wanted to dedicate my life to social justice.”

“So much of the international aid that goes out just creates dependency on aid.”

“I heard about these crazy people in Europe who called themselves fair traders.”

“We were getting farmers more than ten times more money than they would have.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It sparked a movement.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA”]

“They were learning how to be exporters and truckers and bankers.”

“The market it quite possibly the most powerful force for change that we could hope to have.”

“I pivoted from being an anti-capitalist to embracing social enterprise.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I was a man on a mission.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“People, planet and profit – they can go together.”

“There was an elegant link between quality of life for the grower and quality of product.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘All of us learned about fairness on the playground.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Consumers are increasingly asking, where’s my food coming from?”

“The research indicates that anywhere between thirty and fifty percent of shoppers today are taking these values into account when they go to the store.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Social responsibility is good business.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Corporate leaders are realizing that their long-term success, their long-term profitability and their long-term reputation as companies, are intimately connected to their supply chains.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘There are no more secrets in the global supply chain.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Our work in the field, fundamentally, is auditing and certification.”

“We have a very rigorous standard, a 300-point checklist of social, labor and environmental criteria that all of our farmers have to meet.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Fair trade guarantees more money back to the farmer.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“We will start to certify farms here in the United States.”

“It is absolutely unconscionable that we would dedicate ourselves to fighting poverty and promoting sustainability around the world, but ignore the problem that is right here in our own back yard.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I believe that saving the planet and saving the species is task number one.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“I believe the business community and the conscious consumer movement are probably the most powerful and scalable way to make a difference.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The concept of social entrepreneurship, for most people is relatively new.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“The question is not where you will be most effective. The question is, where will you be happiest? Where is your passion? Because this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘This next generation of social entrepreneurs has the opportunity to save us all.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“It may sound crazy that you can change the world with a cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate, but it’s true.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Fair Trade USA:

115, Anushka Ratnayake, myAgro | How to Move Smallholder Farmers out of Poverty

Anushka Ratnayake of myAgro uses a combination of savings, inputs and training to increase the income of smallholder farmers.

As a social entrepreneur, Anushka Ratnayake has seen startup challenges that are not common in other regions. For example, less than a year after launching myAgro, an armed conflict broke out in Mali. A group associated with Al-Qaeda set up a new state in Northern Mali. In response, the French military launched an operation and ousted the rebels.

Anushka Ratnayake, the founder of myAgro was an early employee with Kiva. There she learned about the power of microfinance to impact poverty. She also worked with One Acre Fund where her job was to develop a repayment process for smallholder farmers. She heard from the farmers that they wanted to prepay their loan, or in other words, they were asking for help in saving money for the future.

Seventy percent of the population of Mali are smallholder farmers, most living on less than two dollars per day. The farmers have seasonal income. They have the most cash at harvest time and less cash on hand when it is time to purchase seeds and fertilizer.

myAgro sells seeds and fertilizer on layaway via a mobile phone platform. They also provide training on well-established agricultural methods. This helps smallholder farmers grow more food and increase their income.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Anushka Ratnayake

“Smallholder farmers make up 80% of the two billion people living under two-dollars per day.”

“I saw this opportunity of low yields, lots of land and a fast growing population.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I started hacking One Acre Fund from within.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_”]

“When you’re working a startup, everyone’s time and resources are so valuable.”

“On the side, I started working with someone on a savings program for a cow.”

“There were all doing amazing work, but no one had a savings program specifically for farmers.”

“Solving the financing problem for farmers is a key to ending poverty in our lifetime.”

“One of the reasons it’s hard to serve smallholder farmers is that they tend to need many different support mechanisms.”

“It’s really convenient for farmers to put small amounts of money aside.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We bulk purchase seeds and fertilizer and deliver it to farmers.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_“]

“It’s that combination of financing plus delivery of inputs plus training that really gets us that increase in harvest and the increase in income that we’re seeing.”

“Farmers are increasing their harvest from 50% – 100% over a control field.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘They’re increasing their income by an average of $150.’ Anushka Ratnayake, @myAgro_”]

“There was a twelve hour period when it was unclear whether Mali would continue to exist.”

“I think social enterprises sometimes under value the impact they have on their team.”

“Our favorite day across the organization is delivery day, when farmers get their inputs.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

114, Satyan Mishra, Drishtee | Developing Sustainable Communities

Satyan Mishra of Drishtee is developing sustainable communities in the villages of India.

In the late 1990s, while Satyan Mishra was working on a government contract, he had the opportunity to visit many villages across India. In India, more than 775 million people live in small villages. Nearly half of them live on less than one dollar per day.

Satyan saw how the presence of a computer in a village could have an impact. His company, Drishtee started setting up kiosks in villages. By 2006 they had set up over 1,000 village kiosks. And yet, as Satyan told me, “I realized that what we had done had not really made any impact on the community.” Economic challenges, social constraints and environmental degradation remained.

So, Satyan and his co-founders at Drishtee decided to take the company in a different direction. While they continue to work at the village level, today they use the power of entrepreneurship to take on the social challenges of the villages.

They take a holistic approach to community development. They start with livelihood. This often comes by developing local agriculture. Once people have livelihood, then Drishtee works to add services – doctors, education, banking, cobblers, etc., which further stimulates the economy. This is followed by infrastructure such as roads and electricity. The fourth area of intervention is governance.

Drishtee incubates businesses in a non-profit. If the ideas is successful and looks like it will be able to scale, they move the idea into the for-profit side of the business.

They are in about six thousand villages today. That means that their work impacts around two million families.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Satyan Mishra

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We have always worked in villages.’ Satyan Mishra, @drishteeindia #SocEnt #India”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We have always believed in #entrepreneurship.’ Satyan Mishra, @drishteeindia“]

“We have always been drive by business models.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘There are business solutions for every problem that exists.’ Satyan Mishra, @drishteeindia #business“]

“When I was in class nine, I wanted to be filthy rich.”

“We realized the computers could not solve all of the problems of the community.”

“The idea of Drishtee was to make money initially, but over a period of time I realized that this is perhaps not the best way to become the richest person in the world.”

“Our entire approach was very top-down.”

“That is when we started looking at the community as a customer.”

“Sixty-five percent of people live in the villages, but they contribute about fifteen percent of the overall GDP.”

“When you go into a village, you see that most people do not have jobs.”

“The first and foremost need that they had was livelihood.”

“Agriculture stood out as an area that we could train and enhance.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We are like a pipeline. Start with an idea. Incubate it. Nurture it.’ Satyan Mishra, @drishteeindia“]

“We have limited bandwidth, but the need of the community is unlimited.”

“I think a social entrepreneur is one who will be relentless, and would be flexible.”

“We have been treating the symptoms. It’s time to look at the core disease.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We have moved away from living together.’ Satyan Mishra, @drishteeindia #community“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources: