Guest Blog: Monica Kelsh- MA in International Policy, MBA candidate
This summer with a team of 2 MIIS students and one MIIS alumna, I’ve connected with Spark Ventures to conduct research for a partnership project in Nicaragua. MIIS alumna Lucy Jodlowska recruited our mixed team of MBA/IPS/MPA students to examine the business climate in the area of Leon. Based out of Chicago, Spark Ventures is a nonprofit organization that takes a twist on the donor philosophy: they are venture philanthropists who invest in commercial-level businesses in different parts of the developing world to feed into their partner organizations’ revenue engine. Since the global economic crisis, organizations worldwide have witnessed substantial decreases in donor funding from traditional regions, such as the U.S. and Europe. Spark Ventures differs from other philanthropic or aid organizations because they are interested in long term sustainability support, not just hand-outs, for already-established nonprofits. With the creation of a poultry farm in Nbola, Zambia to sustain the operational costs of successful organization Hope Fellowship Ministries under their belt, Spark has expanded their partnership to an amazing children’s organization in Leon called Asociacion (Proyecto) Las Tias.
Our job as students is to research and create a profile for the investment and business climate in this region, so that Spark can smartly invest their capital in a business that will be profitable in the 2nd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 100% of the profits of the business will support the educational, vocational, and nutrition programs that encompass the Proyecto Las Tias’ operations. Wile conducting a month of research in Monterey, we quickly realized that there are only so many resources from behind the computer screen. So Spark brought us to Nica for the month of July to investigate the climate on the ground, interviewing key stakeholders and gathering information from local micro-finance organizations, state agencies, and local businesses owners and producers. Our research has been hugely successful as most people know and love the local Proyecto Las Tias, and would do anything to see that this 30-year old organization keeps running smoothly.