Girl power: Accelerating women in social enterprise

Social Enterprise

Girl power: Accelerating women in social enterprise

Dried cacao seeds. Photo: Fitria Rinawati/Mercy Corps.

Tired of her desk job with an investment firm and its one-size-fits-all commodity sourcing, Emily Stone decided to travel to Belize to learn first hand about ethical trading practices.

Stone visited smallholder cacao growers in Belize’s mountainous Toledo District, where she met with hardworking farmers and was inspired to create Maya Mountain Cacao, which sources high quality cacao from local farmers for chocolate makers.

A few years after starting Maya Mountain Cacao, Stone participated in Accelerate Women Now, a program sponsored by Agora Partnerships and designed to propel the growth of women-run social businesses in Latin America through consulting support, mentorships and connecting with investors.

“Entrepreneurship is an unbelievable learning and personal growth process that depends on taking little risks everyday and celebrating the little successes,” Stone told Forbes.

The founders of Agora Partnerships, an impact investment organization, believe that women are key to economic development and should be encouraged to pioneer their own social enterprise endeavors. Statistically, women entrepreneurs bring in 20 percent more revenue to their companies with 50 percent less money invested, according to Sarah Granger of Harvard Business Review.

Each year, Agora accepts two to 18 companies to participate in its program cycle. Applicants must be based in Latin America and in the early stages of their business and with a proven product or market, like Stone and Maya Mountain Cacao. Typically, companies selected already generate $100,000 to $1 million per year and are seeking capital from investors for the first time.

Once accepted into the program, the entrepreneurs are expected to work closely with portfolio managers, and provide updated data for at least three years.

Since 2011, Accelerate Women Now has brokered more than $4.1 million in capital investments by connecting 43 companies with like-minded investors.

Applications for the class of 2015 will open in summer of 2014 and can be found on the Agora Partnerships website.

Other organizations have sprung up to help women succeed as social entrepreneurs:

  • InspirEngage provides training and workshops on starting a social enterprise. Its “Startup and Stilettos--The Future is Female” program teaches leadership skills to ex-offenders and victims of domestic violence and homelessness in the United States, and helps them navigate the social enterprise industry.
  • Young Women Social Entrepreneurs is a non-profit organization with chapters in major cities around the world that supports and promotes women social entrepreneurs. The organization is open to non-profit and for-profit businesses and government organizations.
  • Recognizing that many women in social enterprise want to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs, Women in Social Enterprise creates a forum for coaching, mentoring, developing projects, workshops, and training programs.

Working with her peers and the experts of Accelerate Women Now, Stone is confident in her business model. Maya Mountain Cacao has developed an international value chain that includes indigenous communities, Wall Street traders and fine chocolate makers.

“Fear is a needless, paralyzing emotion that doesn’t have a place in entrepreneurship,” she said. “The more that women can believe in themselves, leave fear in their dust, and move forward with confidence, the better off we will all be.”

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