“Built to Last” Agora blog entry on CO2 Bambu

I met Ben Sandzer-Bell, founder of CO2 Bambu, a few weeks into my internship with Agora when he dropped by our office between meetings with potential funders and USAID representatives.

What struck me instantly about Ben was the sheer enthusiasm with which he tackled my questions. When asked about CO2’s partnerships with local microfinance organizations, he hopped up and grabbed a marker and started rapidly diagramming on a nearby whiteboard. When asked for details on how bamboo actually functions as a building material, he pulled out a slab of flattened bamboo and told me we could keep it for the office. When asked about projects in the pipeline and what might be pursued were funding available, he really went to town; Ben rattled off five fully-baked project ideas in minutes; I ultimately had to stop him from going on. Each, be it related to schools in Nicaragua, warehouse infrastructure in Haiti, or otherwise, was undoubtedly necessary and would surely address urgent community needs.

So impressed were we at Agora with the ways CO2’s efforts could materially affect local livelihoods, and so impressed were we with the scope of Ben’s vision, that when we learned Global Giving – a platform which enables tax-deductible donations and facilitates project progress reporting – would be running a fundraising challenge this August, we were quick to turn to Ben and ask if he was up for partnering with us.

Global Giving hosts nonprofits exclusively, so Agora is acting as CO2’s sponsor (given the company’s for-profit status). In the arrangement, the majority of funds raised (97%) will go to CO2 for the proposed project, and the balance (3%) will go to Agora to cover support costs. CO2’s goal is to raise $15,000 to build a battered women’s shelter in Muelle de los Buyes, an impoverished rural region of Nicaragua from which many of CO2’s best workers come (CO2 is responsible for bringing jobs to areas of Nicaragua with over 80% unemployment). CO2 would complete the project for free because the area desperately needs this safe haven and because CO2 needs its bamboo buildings to be visible to the community and local government in order to prove their structural viability. Why the emphasis on bamboo? Bamboo’s exceptionally strong and flexible poles are able to withstand the extreme forces of hurricanes and earthquakes, so it’s an ideal material for the disaster-prone region. And bamboo can be harvested and replenished with low environmental impact, a key point for an area facing significant deforestation.

If CO2’s project hits at least a third of Ben’s $15,000 goal from 50 unique donors, Agora will gain a permanent spot on the Global Giving platform. This would be incredibly strategic for us: in our quest to improve our entrepreneurs’ access to financial, human, and social capital, we’ve come to recognize that there are an increasing number of platforms through which our entrepreneurs could be raising lower amounts of funds, more quickly, in smaller increments. These platforms present an opportunity for social engagement (with the online ‘crowd’) unique from what we offer through events like our Entrepreneur Retreat and Investor Conference. An ongoing Global Giving spot for Agora would position us to do spot fundraising for other entrepreneurs in the future, as well as potentially raise funds for Agora-run initiatives.

For more on CO2’s project, please check out their Global Giving listing. And please consider donating to the cause. CO2 is about building for the long-term: creating jobs that last and contributing to Central American development in a meaningful way. Help CO2 move forward with their vision, and help Agora gain a permanent position on Global Giving so we can move forward on our promise to increase the flow of capital to our talented entrepreneurs.

Written by K.Keating, August 9th 2011

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