In March 2022, fourteen Vanderbilt graduate students traveled to Antigua, Guatemala over spring break as part of the Project Pyramid program. The Guatemala immersion was designed to help students better understand the landscape of social enterprise in-country and to advance the overall goals of the consulting projects they work on as a component of Project Pyramid. The students were part of three interdisciplinary teams working with social impact organizations based in Guatemala (2 teams) and in Dominican Republic (1 team). While the week presented the Guatemala teams with the opportunity to meet their partner organization in person, all three teams engaged in experiential learning that enriched their understanding of social enterprise in Latin America.
We kicked off the week on a rooftop overlooking Antigua – taking in the contrasts of old and new in Antigua’s historic old town. Monday morning, we hit the trail on a coffee tour with De La Gente Coffee, one of the Project Pyramid clients (more on their work below!). On the tour, we visited a coffee farmer, Gabriel, in his hometown of San Miguel Escobar, and learned about the coffee production process from coffee plant to coffee cup – including the production and growing, harvest, roasting, grinding, brewing, and tasting. Gabriel is part of San Miguel Escobar’s cooperative that sells to and is supported by De la Gente, exemplifying part of De La Gente’s vision to “enable small-scale farmers to earn a dignified income and live prosperous lives.”
The following day, we visited Ecofiltro, a social enterprise that produces and sells water filtration systems in Guatemala. Their founder, Philip Wilson, gave us a tour and dove into the company’s model, which sells higher end filters to high value customers to subsidize the cost for bottom of the pyramid consumers. Students were fascinated by the company’s evolution and model. As Bryce Cirbo (MBA ‘23) put it, “there is only so much one can learn about poverty and social business in a classroom. The concepts don’t fully make sense until they are experienced in person.”
From Ecofiltro, we headed to El Cubo for a tour of the new coworking space designed for social impact-oriented organizations. Students were immersed in the lively environment of El Cubo and got to see some of our clients and partners together within an ecosystem of other companies and innovators. Jake Menges (MBA ‘23) reflected on his appreciation for the ability to “[see] firsthand how social enterprise could stimulate the local economy and help alleviate poverty”.
On Wednesday, we toured Grønn’s new manufacturing facility outside of Antigua. Grønn, devoted to reducing waste in Guatemala, repurposes discarded bottles to create beautiful, high-quality glass homeware and to expand dignified work opportunities for women in Guatemala. We enjoyed hours of conversation with Grønn and UTZ Market’s co-founders, brothers Aaron and Hubert Bendfeldt, social entrepreneurs devoted to creating lasting change through markets and policies in their home country.
To close out our week, we spent Friday with co-founders of Chica Bean, a coffee roasting company focused on increasing access to markets for female farmers and roasters, with a café and roasting facility in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. Finally, we gathered at Cerveceria Antigua for a tour of Antigua’s craft brewery. After touring the facility and learning about how another business operates and grows in Guatemala, we shared beers with partners we connected with over the week at Cerveceria Antigua’s beer garden – an innovative and thriving business operating on the site of a coffee farm in Antigua’s city center.
In our time together in markets, minivans, rooftops, and walking cobble-stoned streets in Antigua, we all agreed that the complexities of learnings from Project Pyramid became more real and uniquely meaningful through travel and in-person connection.
We finished out our week with a brewery tour at Antigua’s craft brewery, Cerveza Antigua. After a brewery tour and learning about how another business operated and grew in Guatemala, we reflected on the week over beers with some of the partners we’d connected with that week in Cerveza Antigua’s new beer garden, an innovation and thriving business grown out of the pandemic on the site of a coffee farm in Antigua’s historic city center.
“There is a whole community of social entrepreneurs in Antigua. It was invigorating and so enlightening to see their passion, their collaboration, and their impact.”
-Tim Satterthwaite, M.Ed. Leadership & Organizational Performance ‘22
Here’s more on each team’s Project Pyramid clients and projects –
De la Gente Coffee
Noah de Comarmond (MPP ’23), Emilia DiGiovanni Banks (MBA ’23), Connor Jackson (Leadership & Organizational Performance ’23), Jake Menges (MBA ’23), Alyssa Patel (MBA ’23)
De La Gente Coffee builds stronger pathways and access to market for coffee producers and cooperatives in Guatemala. The Project Pyramid student team is supporting De La Gente as they look to grow their roasted coffee sales. Toward this end we are researching coffee industry trends as well as conducting marketing analysis that include SEO and website improvement recommendations.
Andrew Lin (MBA ’22), Kristen Meyer (MBA ’23), Annie Peterson (MBA ’22), Tim Satterthwaite (LOP ’22)
Pomona AgTech is Pomona Impact’s investment readiness team. The Project Pyramid student team is working to develop a sustainable source of income through consulting services offered directly to small and medium entrepreneurs. We will be conducting an analysis of the Latin American agricultural market to define the appropriate customer segmentation and offer strategic and pricing recommendations.
Bryce Cirbo (MBA ’23), Libby Crowe (MBA ’23), Will Husted (Higher Ed. Admin. ’23), Ross Klepetko (MBA ’22), Brandon Valentine (MBA ’23)
Conacado is a large global cacao production cooperative, working with more than 10,000 producers in the Dominican Republic. The student team is helping Conacado build capacity on two fronts: first, building traceability data visualization tools that will map the supply chain from the farmer level to finished goods to enhance internal analysis of operations and marketing of products to customers. Second, the team is developing community engagement recommendations for Conacado’s education programming and co-op support initiatives.