Colombia outside the Bogotá Bubble… 

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
― Paulo Coelho,

After two years working in Bogotá in investment banking for the largest international bank in Colombia, and more than 6 years as a volunteer of Junior Chamber International (JCI), I decided to do something different, something that would allow me to combine my finance background with the social impact I have always promoted.

I joined LGT VP’s iCats (Impact Catalyst) program. For those of you who are not familiar with these acronyms, LGT “Venture Philanthropy” is an impact investor supporting organizations with outstanding social and environmental impact. Client and portfolio organizations benefit from the experience, systems, processes and networks of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein/LGT Group.

As an iCat Fellow, I will work as the CFO of Mukatri, the leading producers of exotic sweets, sauces and cookies in Colombia. The products are manufactured using arazá, copoazú and cocona. These fruits are so rare and unknown (even in Colombia), that they are considered an “innovation” in the sweets industry. Trust me, , if you tried them you would love how they taste, not to mention their health benefits. (Note my marketing skills are at work already!)

Thanks to Mukatri, more than 63 families in the Caquetá region have their production guaranteed in a “take or pay” contract. In addition, the company is protecting more than 3,720 hectares of land by promoting organic agriculture and protecting the native biodiversity in the Amazon. With the LGT VP’s investment, the company is expected to double its social and environmental impact in 2013.

In the last decade, Colombia has been going through an outstanding turnaround thanks to a strict security policy driven by the Government. The “Colombian miracle” as it has been called, is attracting record levels of foreign direct investment and has triggered growth rates higher than the average in the LatAm region. The expansion of the middle class and domestic demand growth has been noticed by the rating agencies, who continue to upgrade Colombia’s debt rating.

However, not all of the regions have seen the same boom. Florencia, Caquetá, where Mukatri is located, is a small city that grows at a different pace; it is not a magnet for investment like Bogotá or Medellin, despite the fact that it is in the Amazon where most of the environmental wealth of the country lies. It is a city whose problems are representative of the challenges that stand between Colombia and the peace that it so dearly wants.

Colombia is the seventh most unequal country in the world and second most unequal in Latin America, after Haiti. Although Colombia has been growing at rates around 6% and, 4% in 2011 and 2012, the cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cali concentrate 70% of the GDP and almost 52% of the Colombian population.

Entrepreneurs in this region should be called “samurais”, warriors with honor. Here many had to face the era in which guerrillas governed rural regions with inpunity. Mukatri’s owners are not an exception, and part of their history is about leaving behind a profitable beverages business to protect their family.

Though the situation is now more secure, for Gamaliel and Gloria (founders and management team) it is still not easy. The challenges for this seven-year old start-up range from lack of infrastructure to budget constraints. However, they don’t complain. They have an admirable positive attitude, and faith in doing things in a transparent way. I feel very lucky to be part of the team in which hard work and commitment to their community are the “daily bread”.

Mukatri has an extraordinary product and an attractive market. With the support of LGT VP, they will be able to match one with the other. I look forward to learning what is really to be out of the “Bogotá Bubble” and to give my 100% to expand de Colombian miracle.

Gamaliel and Gloria at Mukatri's storeMeeting with one of the farmersMy favorite amazonian fruit!

Enjoying Florencia, CaquetáKids at the farm

Gamaliel at New Ventures' Seminar

Confectionary products Mukatri

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