What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?
Scaling any project in international development presents the possible barrier of growing beyond the capacity of the operating organization. In order to ensure the highest possibility for success in scaling, Agros has:
• Improved direct program oversight by transferring management from Seattle headquarters to the field—increasing efficiency of fiscal oversight and facilitating the exchange of internal best practices and strengthened leadership in the field through promotions/staff restructuring to leverage internal expertise;
• Implemented new credit management software system that integrates directly with international accounting software;
• Scaled-up Monitoring & Evaluation system through planning grant to retain an expert consultant: Improving manageability and reliability of data; Improving program by identifying and building on strengths/addressing weaknesses; Strengthening communication and transparency with stakeholders;
• Hired full-time Strategic Program Development Director in May 2011 to facilitate high-level strategic growth and program development, align Agros with international best practices and oversee model standardization across all five countries.
Recognizing that every new location has its own unique culture, specific geographical constraints and language considerations, Agros has identified the key strategy of implementing its model in partnership to overcome the cultural and linguistic barriers – as well as the constraint of limited financial resources.
Tell us about your partnerships
Partnerships are a critical piece of Agros’ model, as they leverage resources and offer long-term sustainability to the villagers after Agros ends direct support. NGO partnerships provide health and adult literacy trainings; Agros staff facilitate partnerships with local programs, and empower families to take advantage of the resources around them for ongoing education opportunities. Internationally, Agros has partnered with Habitat for Humanity, Heifer International, and public universities.
Families are connected to municipal governments to ensure legal recognition of villages and infrastructure improvements like roads, schools and water systems. Agros in-country staff give presentations to government officials on Agros’ development model and facilitate partnership through village education workshops, such as proposal writing.
Business partnerships support market access and long-term financial success. Partners in Guatemala include:
• Atlas Coffee, a US-based coffee import company;
• National Association of Coffee, for technical and training assistance, as well as a coffee cupping to ensure quality and success on the market;
• The AGEXPORT Alliance (Guatemalan Association of Exporters), connecting farmers to contacts specializing in market and financial support;
• SIESA (Integrated Export Limited Co.), Guatemala’s premier exporters to European markets;
• AGROSIXIL (Association of Agros villages in the Ixil), a formal organization of participating families in the cooperative, for certification and commercialization.
Explain your selections
Agros International, a nonprofit organization, is privately funded through a mixed revenue model of foundations, awards, select businesses, and individuals; currently, the majority of the financial support is through individuals. Forty percent of funding raised is for enterprise credit and land purchases; as participants repay their enterprise and long-term land loans, that funding is recycled into new enterprise credit or land purchases. In addition, Agros leverages partnerships with local NGOs and municipal governments to extend the services it can offer.
How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?
In addition to improvements Agros has already undertaken (designing scaled-up Monitoring & Evaluation; implementing new credit management software; restructuring staff for improved oversight and efficiency), Agros is undergoing critical capacity development to refine and standardize its most successful practices. Specifically, Agros is fine-tuning its process of facilitating market access to leverage diversified sustainable profit. To that end, in early 2011, Agros hired its first full-time market specialist—a woman named Gabriela Montoya, in the Honduras office, as Agribusiness Coordinator. Gabriela will consult with villages and surrounding families on the best financial opportunities for them, given their growing conditions, local demand, the existence of export companies, and cost-benefit analyses of certifications such as Fair Trade, organic, and bird-friendly. This staff position, if successful, will be extended to all countries over the next 3 years.
Agros’ first commitment is to ensure sustainability in existing villages/regional partnerships. But even during the recession of the last 3 years, Agros has cultivated funding to support 2,500 landless people to start 8 brand new villages in Central America, paving the way to land ownership, economic self-sufficiency, and future generations free of poverty. Over the next 3 years, Agros anticipates powering economic opportunities for more than 10,000 people through new villages, surrounding regions, and pilot projects in new areas of the world.