Scouting ventures in Colombia

elea Blog

Strategic sourcing to create social impact

Identifying and evaluating convincing impact ventures is at the core of our work, representing the initial step for potential impact value creation. We invest a large part of our time in strategic sourcing, from desk research to profound discussions with impact entrepreneurs and field visits on the ground. Our team members regularly organize scouting tours to one or more countries to exchange ideas with selected impact entrepreneurs and co-investing partners.

elea Associate Isabelle Sun shares insights from her scouting tour in Colombia: In July 2022, I had the chance to conduct such a scouting tour in Colombia, traveling to the country's urban, coastal, Andean, and Amazonian regions as part of a two-week itinerary. Medellín and Bogotá were important stops, as they are hubs for innovative impact ventures. Visits to more remote locations complemented my tour with worthwhile insights into business models that work in rural and peri-urban communities. I met with almost two dozen ventures and organizations active in the impact investing space, which I thoroughly investigated and reached out to before my travels.

“The people behind these organizations gave me valuable insights into their meaningful work. They contributed to a picture of a dynamic, rapidly advancing country that still faces many challenges."

Female micro-entrepreneur proudly showing her improvised shop front with goods provided by Elepha. Her goal is to establish a proper shop one day.

Colombia: A breeding ground for innovative business models

Colombia’s economy achieved significant expansion in past decades, but the Covid-19 crisis exacerbated the country’s long-standing challenges: lagging labor productivity, exports concentrated in non-renewable commodities (particularly petroleum), income inequality, and corruption. The past two years have essentially wiped off a decade of progress on poverty. Furthermore, the election of Gustavo Petro in 2022 marks the first leftist regime after a century of right-wing and centrist rule. The opinions of the people I talked to during the scouting tour about whether or not this will be good for the country were divided. I noticed equally as much pessimism as hopefulness. Nonetheless, Colombia is a high-growth country that is a breeding ground for innovative business models. At the same time, a large part of the population does not take part in this progress, making it a legitimate location for elea to seek viable investment opportunities with significant impact potential.

A sneak peek into the Colombian pipeline

During my tour, I met with those ventures on the ground that are deemed to be the most promising and fulfill our strategic investment criteria. One of these is Amazonía Emprende, an organization located in the Amazon region of Colombia, Caquetá. What I witnessed firsthand: due to its immense deforestation, it is one of the regions that is the most highly affected by the negative effects of climate change. The venture is developing a restorative forest farming model that, besides producing agroforestry products (i.e., honey, chili, native fruit), intends to create carbon credits. The solution incentivizes local families to preserve the forest by means of a sustainable livelihood. Another impressive impact venture I met is Elepha, which runs a last-mile distribution network on the outskirts of Cartagena. By enabling local women to order and deliver essential goods (i.e., food and personal care items) to their communities at affordable prices, they empower hundreds of women to run their own micro-business.

Amazonía Emprende team at their location in the Amazonian region of Caquetá

Research on seedlings to develop trees that are more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as drought or heavy rain.

My main takeaways

  1. Understanding different cultures, local realities, and how impact ventures change people’s lives can be difficult from afar. In some cases, it only clicked once I was on the ground.
  2. The personal stories of social entrepreneurs, their passion, and their commitment to poverty alleviation lie at the core of their business models. Meeting such personalities in person is incredibly inspiring and reveals their characters in a way that does not come across in a video call.
  3. Tackling global challenges and targeting systemic change is a joint effort for which collaboration with impact stakeholders in the local context is highly valuable. elea has a worldwide network of impact partners, but being on the ground puts local, mission-aligned organizations on the radar that might otherwise have been overlooked.

Scouting tours as an integral part of the elea Talent Program

As an Associate and participant in the elea Talent Program, I am mainly responsible for sourcing and analyzing investment opportunities. From my workplace in Zurich, I have learned a lot about evaluating ventures based on their business models, financials, and impact. However, my field visit to Colombia challenged me in a special way. The experience made me grow my interpersonal skills, and it helped me to project real-life stories onto pitch decks and understand elea’s operations more holistically.

In 2019, elea launched the elea Talent Program to attract high-potential graduates who want to build a career in philanthropic impact investing. Part of the talent’s strategic development journey is actively planning and conducting a scouting tour to one or more countries to meet selected impact entrepreneurs and potentially prepare investment recommendations based on, among other things, these exchanges.

Author: Isabelle Sun, Senior Associate at elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization