Selected as a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, Colombia’s Carolina Medina is, no doubt, goal-oriented. She wants to ensure that urban households have access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food. A well-fed child, after all, has the opportunity to become well-educated child. Through her start-up, Agruppa, Medina is making this goal a reality – one “Mom and Pop” store at a time.
Before she takes to the podium at our upcoming Global Child Forum on South America on 4 April 2017, we asked Carolina a few candid questions.
Global Child Forum (GCF) You were selected as a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals. How are you working to engage young people in the realization of the goals?
Carolina Medina (CM): So far, my role as a UN Young Leader has allowed me to participate in numerous events that particularly target young people. Most recently, for example, I was part of the ECOSOC, held in the UN New York Headquarters; a very exciting opportunity! I am often shocked at how little people outside of the “UN bubble” have heard of, let alone, know about the Sustainable Development Goals. Hence, my main contribution during these past months has been to spread the word among young generations. That is, let them know what the SDGs are, what they stand for, what they are aiming to achieve. Most importantly, I share Agruppa’s story and how it emerged simply as a social business that today impacts the lives of many. All it took was detecting a problem around us, thinking creatively about ways to solve it, and tons of persistence. It’s in everyone’s reach to make a difference.
GCF: How does your business “invest in every child” in your country?
CM: Agruppa “invests in every child” by ensuring that fresh fruits and vegetables are affordable to everyone, no matter where they live. Nowadays, fresh produce arrives to cities at least 30% over the price at which farmers sold in the countryside. The reason: too many middlemen are taking a cut. By leveraging mobile technology, Agruppa better connects supply from the countryside to demand in the cities, supplying urban mom-and-pop shop at wholesale prices. Since these shops handle 70% of the food in our country, supplying 50 regular household customers (or 200 people) on average, our bet is that these micro entrepreneurs will pass down part of their Agruppa savings to their end consumers, who will opt for the more nutritious food options. If kids aren’t properly fed, they cannot go to school and learn the skills to become active economic members of society. Allowing for fruits and vegetables to reach low-income neighborhoods in the city, at affordable prices for everyone, is Agruppa’s way of “investing in every child”.
GCF: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as a young, female entrepreneur in Colombia?
CM: I don’t consider myself particularly disadvantaged nor advantaged by being a young, female entrepreneur in Colombia. At least not compared to other young men who are also starting up social companies in this country. However, I do believe it has been a challenge to be a woman in an all-men’s world. Agriculture, logistics, and technology are three sectors where women traditionally don’t participate, let alone, innovate. My co-founder, Verena, and I, are members of a very small group of women we know undertaking challenges through business models in these sectors. This means we are on a tough road to win recognition and legitimacy in what we do. We hope our story can help inspire many more young women to join us. There’s tons to be done!
GCF: What do you see as some of the opportunities for business in the region to advance children’s rights in their operations?
CM: I think businesses in the region have a real opportunity to advance children’s rights in their operations, particularly in sectors key to a child’s proper development such as healthcare, education, and nutrition. I don’t believe start-ups should be held as accountable as large corporations, and their Corporate Social Responsibility projects, for innovation around children’s rights. Instead, I believe we should hold ourselves accountable for the change we want to see in the world.
Start-ups have a huge potential to improve the world around us in a sustainable manner. That is, (a) the earlier-stage we are at as business, (b) the more young people coming together with experienced experts to think around a topic, and (c) the more support that can be funneled from international organizations and investors around the globe; the easier it will be to ensure that children’s rights and other social advances are core to our day-to-day operations; are core to what we do.
GCF: What’s next for you and for Agruppa?
CM: Agruppa is starting a very exciting 2017! We will open a second warehouse, continue growing our operations, enlarge our team, have concrete social impact results from our first full year of operations, and start devising our replication strategy, among many others! Most importantly, our main milestone for 2017 is to reach breakeven point; that is, to make our social business self-sustainable, ensuring our impact can be spread and maintained for many years to come.
As for me, I will continue leading the way for Agruppa, and leveraging my role as a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals spreading the word among young people in Colombia and the region. Specifically, I hope to start funnelling funds for an exciting project I have in mind alongside goal number 2: #ZeroHunger! I’m looking forward to the Global Child Forum as the right place to meet the right people to support this new, crazy, hopefully world-changing idea!
Carolina Medina is a social entrepreneur from Colombia. She is the CEO and Co-founder of Agruppa, a startup that leverages mobile phones and economies of scale to optimize the fruit and vegetable supply chain between the farm and the mom-and-pop shops in the cities. Ms Medina is a Global Shaper (a World Economic Forum initiative) and a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals
Agruppa leverages mobile phone technology to empower small food vendors in low income neighborhoods by providing them with fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices. Agruppa aggregates demand of Mom-and-Pop shops in a given neighbourhood. By compiling larger quantities, Agruppa generates economies of scale, sources produce directly from farmers, and brings it to distribution outlets in the city and on to our customers’ shops. This way, Agruppa provides small vendors with fresher quality produce at cheaper prices delivered directly to their shop.