Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Planting Empowerment – Opportunities for Impact Investors

Planting Empowerment - Opportunities for Impact Investors Name of SocialEnterpriseand URL?

Planting Empowerment

What is your product or service?

Planting Empowerment’s product is called the ForestInvestment – a responsible investment based on the production of tropical hardwoods in Panama. Our investors are passionate about conservation and sustainable development, and our investment aligns with their goals by producing measurable social and environmental impacts in addition to the financial return.

Date officially launched?

We incorporated the company in 2006.

Why was this social venture created?

We started the venture to reduce tropical deforestation and help impact investors meet their social and environmental goals.

My partners and I worked in development in Panama for several years and witnessed the drastic environmental and economic effects of subsistencedeforestation in the areas where we lived and worked. There was this cycle of deforestation, exploiting the land for agriculture or cattle ranching, then selling the land and deforesting elsewhere.

When the farmers moved away, they would often sell the land to reforestation companies who planted a single, non-native species and didn’t really include the locals in the economic benefits produced by those projects. They were able to bring in lots of investors, though, because forestry investments have performed well vs. traditional equities.

We brainstormed on the success of the forestry companies and about the locals’ desire for more sustainable economic activities and decided that there was a business opportunity there. Our charter would be to leverage the increasing amounts of capital flowing into forestry investments to promote sustainable forestry and help locals gain more value from their land.

After discussing the idea with community members, we signed on our first communityforestrypartners in 2007.

How do you plan to scale the venture?

For now we want to establish our presence in the Darien region and make sure that the local communities are comfortable with our sustainable forestry model. There are thousands of acres of deforested land in Panama, and the global demand for sustainably produced tropicalhardwoods is steadily growing. We’ve already planted over 22,000 trees, or around 50 acres, with our community forestry partners. If we continue to be successful signing on more partners and can raise the capital, we plan to have around 250 acres under cultivation by 2015.

Beyond that, we think there’s potential throughout Latin America to spread the model to other communities.

Could others help you and how?

Right now we’re focused on establishing our position within the forestry investment community. Compared to our competitors we’re still small, but I think we’re starting to establish a niche among responsible investors because we offer a more socially and environmentally focused product.

People can help by seeing what we have to offer and thinking about how that might align with their investment goals.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Even though we have a low-tech product, we’re actually a very virtual company. We Skype almost every week and use Google docs to manage documents, presentations, surveys and spreadsheets. I use Google Analytics to monitor our web traffic and MailChimp works well for our email marketing.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out?

We use Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin to keep people updated and drive traffic to our blog, where we post quite often. I just started using Reddit, too. They’ve got a growing community of people interested in impact investing and social entrepreneurship.

Are you doing any type of Search Engine Optimization?

Most importantly, we want to create content that’s engaging and that encourages people to participate in a discussion. We target long tail keywords within our industry and optimize for those in our blogposts and webpages. Because we don’t have a big marketing budget, we really rely on content marketing to get our name out there. We’ve been working recently on developing more relationships with influencers to improve our offsite SEO.

Planting Empowerment - Opportunities for Impact Investors What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Start with your user(s) in mind, and make sure that you design your product or service to meet those needs. I think most successful social enterprises respond to an expressed need, and there is a lot you can learn by listening to people talk about their needs. It’s doubly hard for social entrepreneurs because we have to consider the social and/or environmental impacts of our businesses, in addition to meeting traditional business goals.

What is the best advice you ever got?

Soon after we started the business we realized some of the gaps that we had in our experience. One of the best things we did―and something I would recommend to any social venture―was to form an Advisory Board. They provide fresh perspectives and can be more objective about our business needs.

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Provides an excellent dissection of the “industrialization” of our food supply that is causing significant health, social and environmental problems.

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