Doing good through sustainable businesses
We're highlighting three social businesses that we’re excited to follow as they grow and make an impact.
We believe that the best way to end poverty is by empowering entrepreneurs because successful small businesses create economic prosperity which leads to financial and social inclusion in the communities they serve.
We’ve been fortunate to work with a few companies and social enterprises who are succeeding in business while improving the lives of their customers and feel they deserve recognition. When iDE started almost 40 years ago, businesses that serve the poor were extremely rare. Not so anymore. Quite a few are flourishing in countries that are underdeveloped economically. It’s true that entrepreneurs are everywhere.
Unlike traditional businesses that are focused on creating as much profit as possible for their stakeholders, social entrepreneurs have a dual mission, one that values the impact they are having in their communities more than acquiring wealth. These businesses need to make a profit in order to stay in business, of course, but rather than profits being paid out to shareholders, that money is reinvested in the company and its products to ensure the business continues to deliver real change for people.
Hilltribe Organics emerged as the very first certified organic egg producer in Thailand. Formed as a social enterprise in 2014, the company provides an income for indigenous people in remote areas of Thailand who have not had a sustainable livelihood in the past.
The business started in Wawee Village by encouraging villagers to raise chickens for their egg production that were free from pesticides and allowed to roam free in the village. To sell these eggs, Hilltribe Organics selected a biodegradable package—a first in Thailand. Hilltribe Organics is now the #1 organic free range egg brand in the country due to the amazing quality, taste and nutritional value of their eggs. After six years of success and growth, they began exports in 2020.
Hilltribe Organics farmers double or triple their income while decreasing their labor through chicken farming. They are an inspiring example of what can be achieved when small business does good.
Catracha Coffee Co.
Honduras is famous for its coffee production, but most of the profit from the beans is at the point of final sale, not the first stages of production. Mayra Orellana-Powell dreamed of helping coffee farmers realize more income by starting a coffee business that would impact her community in Santa Elena. She named her company Catracha after a common nickname for a Honduran woman.
In 2011, Mayra made her first connections to the specialty coffee market for 13 small coffee producers from Santa Elena and by 2016, that number grew to 60. Mayra and her husband Lowell moved back to Honduras in 2017 to continue to expand Catracha and contribute to the community of Santa Elena.
Catracha Coffee’s business model is built on the concept of profit sharing through aggregating the production of small coffee producers. These small farmers are paid twice for their coffee: first, when the dried coffee parchment is delivered to Catracha (around January to March) and again when the coffee has been sold in the speciality coffee market (in July). Catracha producers earn around $2.50 per pound of coffee, compared to the Fair Trade minimum of $1.40 per pound—and that doesn’t include some of the costs incurred after the coffee leaves the farm, which Catracha producers don’t have to worry about.
Here’s why we’re excited: Increased profit for their crops means that Catracha coffee farmers can reinvest in their land, improving their wet-mills and drying capacity. They also invest extra income into their homes and families, able to buy more nutritious food and start family garden plots as well as explore other business opportunities to diversify their sources of income beyond coffee.
Most people don’t realize how difficult farming is, assuming that it’s just a scaled-up version of what they do in their home gardens. While the elements are similar, the scale at which farming an acre or more of land requires more effort and inputs than most imagine. For example, fertiliser is an expense that scales proportionally to the amount of land you are trying to cover. Saving just pennies per pound on the cost of that input can make a huge difference to the cost of farming.
ATEC is an international social enterprise that operates in Cambodia and Bangladesh that has developed a biodigester able to turn animal waste (mainly cow dung) into organic fertiliser, a much safer practice than simply spreading untreated manure onto the field. As it digests, the machine also creates biogas which can be used by the household for cooking with a rice cooker or twin burner stove that each biodigester comes with.
The best part, in our opinion, is the benefits to the family’s budget: Because it only needs two cows or buffalos or four adult pigs to sustain it, the ATEC biodigester typically saves a farming household over $500 per year, depending on how much money they are currently spending on chemical fertiliser and LPG gas.
Learn more about these small businesses doing good.
Hilltribe Organics, Catracha Coffee Co., and ATEC Biodigesters are just a few of the many social entrepreneurs who are focused on improving people’s lives through sustainable business practices. If you know of others, introduce us. We’d love to share the story of other businesses doing good!