BUSINESS: Poverty reduction through good business strategy

Heart drawn in flour.

If you have too much, give to those who have too little. It’s a basic concept that has been driving philanthropic initiatives for generations. From World Vision to the United Way, charity organizations have worked their way into our hearts and our wallets through their cries to help the starving children of the world. From a fundraising perspective, the campaigns have been enormously successful, generating trillions of dollars. But to what effect? NGOs have been fighting poverty in Africa since the 1950s and yet it has become apparent that all they’ve done is create a population wholly reliant on foreign aid. Here’s a great article on why foreign aid generally fails. Here’s a funny article on the worst international aid ideas.

Throwing money at people who don’t have financial savvy, who don’t know how to budget or prioritize, is counterproductive. Moreover, giving money to governments raked by corruption is akin to throwing it in the sewer; the people who need it will never see it. People are beginning to realize that true sustainable change comes with the creation of macro-economies, building communities that work together to generate profit which they can then re-invest to better themselves. This kind of positive change is driven by good business strategy, not green paper.

Sustainable Development

“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

Several years ago, in Montes de Maria, an isolated group of mountains on the Northern coast of Colombia, a woman came across a young boy who was quite malnourished. Over the course of a few months, she offered him nutritious meals and helped him to regain his health. A little while later, she happened across the same boy and was perplexed to find that he was once again malnourished. After some investigation, she realized the boy’s mother had no concept of nutrition and didn’t know how to prepare wholesome meals. By being charitable, the good samaritan had attacked the symptoms rather than the sickness itself – in this case, a lack of knowledge.

Montes de Maria. Image:
Montes de Maria. Image:

This episode kickstarted the woman’s drive to find ways to teach the community about nutrition – to target the root cause. Eventually, she established an NGO to offer solutions for malnourished kids which included building balanced meal plans and training families to cook and eat in a healthy fashion.

That woman is Jesús Pérez’ mother, and in part inspired by her humanitarian passion, but also driven by the need to effect political and social change, her son has taken up the torch. He got a degree and found a job with the National Agency for Overcoming Extreme Poverty where he acquired the nuances of macroeconomics and financial inclusion.

In 2013, Jesús and a few of his best friends, Johnathan and Sebastian, founded Qantico, a consultancy which helps companies tackle social responsibility in a way that drives prosperity for their employees and their business.

According to Jesús , “Charity isn’t sustainable, business is.”

With that concept in mind, Qantico has been helping a group of some 50 women in Montes de Maria establish themselves in the local market. In a community that has been ravaged first by the war with FARC and later by the paramilitaries of that same conflict, these women were destitute.

Plantain. Image:
Plantain. Image:

Together, Jesús and his team helped the women define and develop a product they could market to eventually build a sustainable enterprise for their community. Working with a nutritionist, they experimented with different crops and techniques and ultimately came up with a high-nutrient, gluten-free flour made from plantain. From that initiative grew Qantico Alimentos, which purchases their flour at a fair-market value, helping to solidify the womens’ place in the economy.

Plantain flour, the product the women of Montes de Maria are producing. Image:

In turn, Qantico Alimentos has built a small industry in nutrient-rich baked goods which it is hoping to market across the region. The product line, which will be entitled “Nutri”, will focus on healthy alternatives and Nutri’s success will directly contribute to the success of the women of Montes de Maria.

Qantico has found a model that works well, fostering sustainable and socially responsible growth both for the community and for themselves. It’s exactly the model we need to be leveraging in the fight against poverty.