Liga Masiva Direct Trade Social Enterprise

Liga Masiva Direct Trade Social Enterprise

Dominican Republic
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Liga Masiva is like a global farmers’ market. It directly connects small-scale organic farmers in Latin America to consumers in the US, making international trade more direct, transparent and ethical. By eliminating the unnecessary middlemen and anonymity surrounding trade, Liga Masiva avoids the outdated, inefficient practices of conventional markets. Improving the supply chain and making use of available communications and transport technologies lets us pay farmers more, make a good profit ourselves, and provide customers with a superior product experience, enriched by the stories of the people that produced it. We bring farmers across Latin America into more beneficial trade relationships because, well, the better we all do, the better we all do.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Liga Masiva works with organic smallholder farmers in Latin America. Small-scale producers are the backbone of rural economies, and have increasingly been faced with hostile international markets favoring large-scale production and industrialization, and creating extensive urban migration. Urban migration destabilizes rural areas, leading to separated families, poverty, food insecurity, and desolated rural communities. Liga Masiva is working to build a trade model that enables small-scale farmers to have sustainable, agricultural livelihoods through Direct Trade. Smallholder farmers tend to be more invested in their communities than large corporations, and tend to farm their land more sustainably since they often avoid monocropping. Supporting these farmers to become organic increases environmental benefits, as well as economic ones. Currently, Liga Masiva works with farmers based in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. This mountainous area is ideally suited to the cultivation of high-quality Arabica coffee. However, due to a history of poor export quality, farmers in this region have been excluded from specialty markets. Limited to the domestic sale of their coffee, farmers have had little access to premiums for organic, high-quality production, despite having the potential to meet these criteria. This has inhibited the development of coffee farming as an increasingly specialized and successful occupation, despite its potential and ideal conditions. We partner with communities like this, where a little market access makes all the difference for powering economic opportunity and localized, sustainable livelihoods.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Conventional markets are based on outdated practices that are inefficient, bleeding value for consumers and producers, decreasing the quality of everyone’s experience. Even Fair Trade, which creates a price floor within the conventional system, fails to fundamentally alter the way the supply chain functions, meaning that neither the farmer’s nor the customer’s experience are improved significantly. Through Direct Trade with organic, smallholder farmers, Liga Masiva pays farmers 200% what they could otherwise earn, and provides customers with a superior product experience enriched by the stories of the people that produced it. We eliminate the many middlemen in international trade by partnering directly with farmers and “owning” every step in the import, processing, and distribution of our products. Working directly with farmers allows us to creatively address needs with their input, rather than following a top-down model that may not reflect on-the-ground needs. This improves the farmer experience in addition to incenting quality production, decreasing vulnerability to the market, and providing access to capital. Liga Masiva is based on a two-way connection that allows farmer stories to reach our consumers and consumer stories to reach our farmers. Over time, we translate and adapt demand-side feedback so that farmers can evolve their growing techniques to most effectively meet consumer demand. This kind of interaction gradually increases the connection that we see as world changing. It builds a stronger, direct link between people across borders.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Liga Masiva works directly with farmers in order to make the supply chain more efficient, incent quality production, and connect producers and consumers. It’s pretty simple, really. We buy direct from the people that grow the products and then sell them direct to the people that enjoy them. We sign completely transparent, long-term contracts that guarantee a price to the farmers that is 200% what they could otherwise make. Currently, we’re buying the whole crop from the six farmers that are part of our group, and we’ll add more farmers as we sell more coffee. Our work with farmers is driven by farmers, and our products are driven by consumers. Rather than starting programs that we think are necessary, we ask. Together, we’ve made tailored farmer workshops on pricing and supply chain, a preharvest loan program that reduces farmers’ interest rates from close to 40% to 10%, totally transparent, long-term buying commitments, as well as a coffee subscription with free shipping, customized roast, brewing and tasting notes, and new farmer information every month. We also do what we do in a sustainable way, which to us means organic, for a start. It means worms and coffee pulp for fertilizer, not big bags of pellets or spraying machines. And that there are no chemicals put in the soil, and the water, and the air, either. It is an ongoing process, headed for more farmers, more products, and more countries.
About You
Organization:
Liga Masiva
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Liga Masiva

Organization Country

, XX

Country where this project is creating social impact

, VE

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Liga Masiva Founder & CEO, Emily Kerr, has extensive experience working in Latin America and in Latino communities in the US. She is bilingual, and has lent her business acumen and skill at building relationships to everything from getting EBT cards accepted at NYC farmers’ markets to overhauling the operations of the world’s largest mortgage provider, located in Mexico. Just this past year, Emily, with Liga Masiva, was chosen as an Unreasonable Fellow, out of over 700 social entrepreneurs.

Liga Masiva was born high on a mountain path in the Dominican Republic. Emily had lived and worked in the DR for many years, a lot of that time with cacao, plantain, and coffee farmers. These farmers were hardworking, innovative, and created amazing products. But the farmers were struggling. Because of the ups and downs of international commodity markets, and the many middlemen taking their cut of profits, a farmer often had to choose between eating and sending his child to school.

So the idea sprouted. What if trade was based on relationships instead of commodity prices? What if Martin in DR could sell his coffee directly to Johanna in New York? What if we could shop at a global farmers’ market?

Liga Masiva started small, connecting a group of organic coffee farmers directly to consumers in the US. The company got a great response from farmers and consumers alike. So it has grown bit by bit and bean by bean, and we are now on track to add some great new products and keep refining.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Liga Masiva exists to change the way people interact across borders using the engine of Direct Trade. Our social impact comes from successfully creating a new model of international trade that greatly benefits producers. Besides an income lift of over 200% to farmers, a decrease in cost of capital and the stability of a long-term buying relationship, our work with organic farmers and their communities also has strong and long-lasting positive effects on people and the planet.

Our impacts are measured by the following:
• Short-term and long-term income lift of 200% for our six farmer partners, measured against the last 5 years of international prices
• Decrease in farmer cost of capital from close to 40% available from microcredit organizations to less than 15% through our prepayment program
• Long-term buying relationships that prevent inconsistent income sources from one year to another and disincentives for quality in product and production through contracts
• Increase in farmer knowledge and insight into the demands and preferences of consumers through workshops and information sharing
• Improved information about market prices, best practices in agriculture, and climate conditions through direct contact with us
• Decreased need for migration to the cities due to increased income, which has both social and environmental ripple effects
• The maintenance and gradual improvement of arable land in our producing communities by providing a market and a premium price for organic products from smallholder farmers, measured by decreases in pesticide use
• The use of recycled or environmentally-sound materials (such as packaging and shipping materials)

How many people have been impacted by your project?

101-1,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Our vision is a thriving community of farmers and consumers that connect through the direct exchange of phenomenal products. Liga Masiva members will get everything they cannot buy locally throungh a basket of organic, Direct Trade Liga Masiva products brought to their door.

Liga Masiva’s first product was released in March 2009. Since then, our model, customer base, and farmer programs have grown significantly. We will add additional farmers to our partner group this year. Products based on organic cocoa from the Dominican Republic will be added in early 2012. Expansion to additional countries will begin in 2013.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Our most significant barriers include:
• Scaling work with partner farmers: Since our business model is about direct connections with small-scale farmers, the work of scaling these direct connections is crucial to our impact and requires a significant amount of innovation. Creating localized solutions that are human-centered necessitates unique strategies for “scaling up” to enable the incorporation of more farmers, products, and countries into our model. We cannot scale in a cookie-cutter way. Rather, we work to systematize the processes related to our Direct Trade and farmer-centered activities, such that as we scale, we can replicate these processes across countries and products. Because of this process rather than program-oriented approach, the particular manifestations of our work in different products and countries will look different in different communities.
• Ensuring Liga Masiva’s actions make a positive social impact: Working closely with farmers to define social impact is a democratic process. While incorporating multiple voices and defining social impact in a local context can be a challenge and could be considered a barrier, we consider this sort of problem to be exactly what Liga Masiva exists to address. Working together to define positive social impact helps us to ensure that our actions have beneficial consequences for the communities we work with.
• Creating an authentic connection between consumers and farmers: Liga Masiva’s objective to create a global farmers’ market with the richness of connection is central to our differentiation yet certainly not simple to execute organically. Therefore, the medium and content of this dialogue is in “perpetual beta” as we constantly measure and evolve the interaction based on responses by our consumers and partner farmers

Tell us about your partnerships

Liga Masiva would not be where we are today without the creative, passionate collaboration of many. Our partners include:

Roastmaster Coe Young brings passion, art, and science to Liga Masiva coffee. Coe is a “super taster” with a mind for the science and engineering behind the intricacies of small-batch roasting. The owner of L’aveggio Roasteria, in Binghamton, NY, Coe has been working with Liga Masiva from the beginning.

Farmer Socios in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. Our farmer partners are the innovative, hard-working, “artists of the land” that grow every coffee bean we sell.

Sheltered Workshop for the Disabled are the people who put the final touch on every package that goes out. We are honored to work with SWS, a social enterprise that provides employment for the disabled, offering both on-the-job training and social services.

The Unreasonable Institute is the social enterprise incubator that selected Liga Masiva from among 700 social entrepreneurs worldwide for intensive mentoring, access to financing, and training. The Unreasonable community of fellows and mentors continues to be a powerful source of support and collaboration for Liga Masiva.

Other mission-driven companies, such as Runa, Blissmo, Mosaic Ventures, and many more are constant collaborators in sales and marketing, creating win-win joint ventures, and strategic planning.

Explain your selections

Liga Masiva’s operations are supported primarily through revenue from our consumers’ purchases of Liga Masiva products. Additionally, we have secured a small amount of capital from socially responsible investors, including several individuals, Presumed Abundance and First Light Capital.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Liga Masiva seeks to connect farmers in developing markets with consumers in the US. Our focus for the near term is on improving the richness of the experience for our consumers and farmers alike and stregthening the connection between the two.

Our primary mission of providing markets for smallholder farmers will be strengthened by expanding our customer base for our current and future products, allowing us to increase our number of partner farmers.

Growing our customer base takes a three-pronged approach:
1. Leveraging traditional and social media to meet new customers
2. Improvements in existing products, communications, and logistics for current customers to transform them into “fanatics”
3. New product additions to widen our reach and cement Liga Masiva’s brand

On the farmer-side, we will strengthen the capital and information our farmers access through Liga Masiva. Specifically, we are refining seminars on growing practices and one-on-one evaluations to provide tangible actions to increase quality.

Finally, we seek to enrich the interactions between our consumers and farmers to go beyond the current level of information sharing. Through improvements to our model, customers will become further engaged with our project, interested in more than the simple purchase of coffee. And for the first time, our farmers will see the end consumers of their products.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Restricted access to new markets

SECONDARY

Lack of access to information and networks

TERTIARY

Inadequate transparency

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Liga Masiva’s farmer partners have historically lacked the ability to export directly. Selling their coffee off their farms to middlemen, farmers had little knowledge or international prices, which lessened their ability to make informed decisions about sales. Through their partnership with Liga Masiva, farmers gain direct access to an international market that boasts a high premium for their quality product. Farmers gain access to market information throughout the harvest, and have opportunity to collaboratively decide on a fair price as well as access to capital at low rates through the Socios program. Finally, since farmers are integrated into a transparent decision making process througout, they are more aware of their situation and able to make informed decisions about their crops.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

SECONDARY

Repurposed your model for other sectors/development needs

TERTIARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

In 2011, Liga Masiva plans to add four more farmers to our existing program. By extending the reach of our project, thereby upping farmer incomes, enhancing access to capital, incenting quality production, and building long-term relationships, we will continue to improve the position of farmer partners in Jarabacoa. We will add more farmers as we grow. Additionally, in the next year we plan to expand our model to work with cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic, thereby allowing further iterations of our model in a new sector. By 2013, we will also be working with farmers creating other products in multiple countries, beginning with Mexico and expanding to Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Liga Masiva collaborates with technology partners to deepen our reach into socially-concious consumer communities. Two types of technology firms have been integral to building our base: socially-oriented “daily deal” sites and e-retailers. Thousands of consumers have found us through eco-firendly deal site Blissmo and we will soon be featured on the socially-oriented site Roozt. We are planning to launch online storefronts at premium food e-retailers like Foodzie, Abe’s Market, and Gilt Taste, in upcoming months. These storefronts will enable us to share the richness of our mission with consumers who value direct connection with farmers and purveyors. One of our team members is an applied anthropologist, who brings academic expertise to understanding the situations of our farmers.