Promoting ethical Latin American products in Australia

Yaku Latin Goods: Our Social Enterprise Journey

Santiago Mejia

Yaku Latin Goods - Impact Boom

At the beginning of 2018, Yaku Latin Goods was accepted into Impact Boom’s Elevate+ Program - a 12-week program strategically designed to help social enterprises create positive impact. Above all, the program sought to help further develop a social enterprise, to define the purpose, vision and values that embody the business and drive the value it creates. A sensible place to start in understanding Yaku Latin Goods’ purpose is with its founders - Gabi & Santi.

Yaku’s Beginnings

Gabi & Santi are both from Quito, the capital of the incredibly diverse country of Ecuador. While one side of the country is engulfed by the Amazon Rainforest, you have to cross Ecuador’s backbone - the Andes mountain range - to reach a beautiful coastline teeming with wildlife. Beyond lies the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, famous for the resounding influence this island group had on the formation of his Charles Darwin’s ‘Theory of Natural Selection’. Such a rich and diverse environment has made both Gabi & Santi passionate about the outdoors and travel, and it was knowledge of a particular species on the Galapagos islands that ultimately connected them. While sitting beside each other at a politics workshop in Quito, they heard an incorrect description of a Galapagos sea lion. They looked at each other quizzically, both knowing the description was wrong as they had both been working in Galapagos Islands at that time.


‘Our reactive instinct got us talking’, explained Santi, ‘and a beautiful journey began’.

Both identify that throughout childhood their parents were their main influences, who by example taught them to be kind and generous, and were an ‘endless guide for optimism and continuous professional and personal growth’. It seems that these foundations provided them with a lense that allowed them to accurately identify social inequality at many levels and in many different countries while travelling together . In their travels, they found that even the smallest contribution will have a very significant positive impact in reducing social inequality.  Finally, a willingness to take action came after volunteering for two community projects in Peru and Myanmar - the ALPANI project which assists children at risk of chronic malnutrition in Lima, Peru, and a School Support project that provides shelter and basic education to young and orphans in Myanmar.

Problem solving is a kind of curse for entrepreneurs – there is something in their environment that they cannot accept and need to change it. Gabi & Santi recognised that one way to continue supporting these projects was to create a self-sustaining business. Having moved to Australia, they acknowledged a business opportunity lay in the potential that high-quality, ethical products from Latin America could have in a thriving Australian market. This led them to combine their professional skills in business and marketing management with personal belief and a commitment to reducing social inequality. Yaku Latin Goods was born.

Since starting the business in 2016,  they have been surprised by the great response for their imported organic dark chocolate from Ecuador. Gabi & Santi have also been thrilled with the immediate positive impact that reinvesting a portion of their profits in these projects has had on children facing health and education challenges. Between the ALPANI and School Support projects alone, they have had a positive impact on the lives of 500 children.



Challenges of Defining the Social Enterprise

What’s most surprising is how comprehensive Yaku’s impact has become. 'Yaku' means water in Quechua - the indigenous South American language spoken between 8 and 10 million individuals throughout the Andes region - which evokes the ocean that connects the world. This word alone encapsulates the global impact Gabi & Santi envision - to connect their Latin American culture with the Australian market, and pass on the value created in that transaction to communities facing critical social inequalities.

At first, their holistic vision was difficult to define and communicate. This led to challenges in connecting with their target market and creating the momentum and supportive community that the business has now achieved. In addition to this, Gabi & Santi have encountered more traditional challenges in taking risks and being creative. As migrant entrepreneurs with no more capital than a decision to do good for others, their work demands tons of resilience and patience.

Learnings from Elevate+

In light of such challenges, they saw receiving an invitation to participate in Elevate+ as an outstanding opportunity. Gabi & Santi channelled all efforts to ensure a successful application. Out of 80+ participating Brisbane-based social enterprises and a really thorough selection process, they finally received a call from Impact Boom’s CEO and Founder Tom Allen - Yaku Latin Goods had been selected as one of Brisbane’s top emerging social enterprises. They were to join the Elevate+ 12-week program - representing a huge milestone in Yaku’s journey. Gabi & Santi celebrated and recognised a great challenge was awaiting them.

As a Social Enterprise Accelerator Program designed by Impact Boom and supported by Brisbane City Council, the 12-week program included face-to-face mentoring from industry leaders, digital and online resources, networking events and exposure opportunities.

Key learnings from the program included setting SMART goals. To be realistic, patient and ‘take baby steps instead of trying to eat an elephant in one bite’. The program also helped Gabi & Santi believe in the potential of Yaku Latin Goods, develop pitching skills and recognise the power of networking.

Most evident however, was the discussion around the concept of social enterprise and strategically redefining the business’s purpose. To specifically ask - Why does the business exist? How does it intend to deliver on its purpose? What specific steps are required?

After answering these questions, Yaku is now better at communicating the value it creates for its clients and its broader global community. Founders Gabi & Santi now feel not just more empowered but are also proud to share their purpose as a social enterprise with a real commitment to maximising social impact. Since Elevate+, Yaku Latin Goods has experienced a positive shift in the pursuit of its purpose to foster healthier communities.  The enterprise is now determined to set SMART goals in order to achieve specific results, and feels more confident to take risks to expand the business. A true testament to the power of clarity.

The Power of Clarity

With a clearly defined social enterprise, sights are now set to the future. Yaku Latin Goods is determined to expand and diversify by developing new business units, such as prepared cacao drinks or treats, to attract new target markets for retail.  Its founders are also striving to take the business to the next level - moving from market retailing to wholesaling across Brisbane. This has already been started by initiating a commercial relationship with TMP Organics who are now stocking organic chocolate imported by Yaku Latin Goods.

The combination of these two strategies will not only help Yaku maximise the impact it is delivering through the ALPANI and School Support projects, but also allows Yaku to identify and start supporting new health and education projects for children here in Brisbane.

Today, Yaku Latin Goods wants to foster healthier communities around the world. To do this, it imports & trades fine, ethical goods from Latin America in Australia before reinvesting a portion of profits to support projects for positive impact. By helping Yaku Latin Goods articulate this, Elevate+ has created confidence in the business’ building capacity and increased its ability to connect with its target market. Growth and profit flows. Healthier communities are fostered, and Gabi & Santi continue a purposeful journey.

 



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