5 Social Enterprises to Watch Out for in Latin America

Wikimedia Commons/CC/Markus Leupold-Löwenthal

By Santiago Martínez

As the social business model gains track in Latin America, entrepreneurs all around the region decide to join in the effort of revolutionizing markets and social realities. Newcomers and veterans alike have been impacting their own countries, regions and communities as they break barriers of traditional frameworks.

Here are some social enterprises to look out for, whether new or old, in the coming years as they attempt to change the realities of their surroundings for the better.


UPE Places

Wikimedia Commons/Public domain/Tarrazu
Wikimedia Commons/Public domain/Tarrazu

Be a traveller, not a tourist. That is UPE Places’ motto, a Costa Rican travel organization veering away from traditional tourism, highlighting sustainability and social impact. By staying with local families in their homes, they go to the traditional eco-tourist destinations in the country, while also immersing themselves completely in the local culture. Additionally, they developed a new concept called “Voluntourism”, in which the traveller volunteers with local organizations while getting to know the country from the inside out.

The founders, Omar Castillo, Aldo Protti and Andrés Hernández, have won recognitions back in their home country and abroad. In 2014 they were selected by I3 Latam, an initiative organized by the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development, Ashoka, Hystra and New Ventures, as one of the social startups with great promise in the region.


Martín and Natalie Acosta decided to promote healthy snacking and fair trade as their business model for Kiwa. Starting just after their honeymoon, this project began in 2008 in an attempt to further the economic development of the small farmers in Ecuador. Kiwa sells snacks, such as Kiwa’s Vegetable Mix, which come directly from farmers without intermediaries. Not only will clients enjoy nutritious snacks, by eating Kiwa they are making sure that the producers have received fair pay for their work. They have received numerous achievements over the years in operation, including the “Changing Markets Award” by Green and Inclusive Businesses, Best Project with Corporate Responsibility by the Ecuatorian-German Chamber of Commerce, and have been mentioned in the book Inovación Impacto, as one of the 15 most important agricultural projects.

Instituto Chapada de Educaçao e Pesquisa

One of the oldest organizations in this list, Instituto Chapada de Educaçao e Pesquisa (Chapada Institute of Education and Research), tackles the problem of public education in Brazil. Founded in 1996, ICEP has used a combination of teacher capacity-building and political pressure on local governments to improve the rural public schools in the country. Being born in a rural community in Palmeiras and coupled with extensive field research, the organization understands the necessities and the methodologies to approach the rural communities regarding education.

Flickr/CC/Escola Duarte Coelho
Flickr/CC/Escola Duarte Coelho

As of 2014, 3800 teachers, 370 pedagogical coordinators, 230 school directors, 61 technical supervisors and 15 secretaries of education have been involved with the program. This extensive work has affected over 61,000 students in rural communities in Brazil. The great impact garnered the organization the Schwab Foundation 2013 prize of Social Entrepreneur of the year to the founder: Cybele Amado.

Pro Mujer

Continuing with veteran organizations. Pro Mujer, an organization born in Bolivia in 1990, has the objective to empower women to overcome poverty as a social malady through a multifaceted approach, which includes financial services, healthcare and training. The organization, founded by Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco, has operations in countries other than Bolivia including Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.

The Schwab foundation also named Rosario Perez, the former CEO of the company, as a 2014 Social Entrepreneur. Other recognitions, such as certification of “Client Protection Practices” and their participation in the Clinton’s Global Initiative, have bolstered Pro Mujer as a ground-breaking organization that has had a widespread benefit to the women in the region.

Fundación Escuela Nueva

Fundación Escuela Nueva is the second education-focused organization in this list. This organization, however, focuses on a new methodology of teaching developed in the 70s by the founder, Vicky Colbert de Arboleda. This education model concentrates on the educational development of communities as unit, while also focusing on the child as the main component of the model, not the teacher. Designed initially for rural schools in Colombia, the model is developed thinking in low density populations, where the same one or two teachers can be the teachers for multigrade education.

This innovative model gained international recognition in the 80s and 90s, and even today. The WISE foundation, the Schwab foundation, the Global Citizen Award and Ashoka are just some of the organizations involved in its recognition. It even now holds operations in other countries outside the region, such as East Timor and Vietnam.

México Tierra de Amaranto

Amaranto is amaranth in Spanish, a broad leafed plant that is distinctively present in the Americas and Asia with great nutritional properties. Its seeds are rich in protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals. Also, in the Mexican market, amaranto is cheaper than other products of similar protein intake, such as eggs or milk. Mexico Tierra de Amaranto is an enterprise in Central Mexico that promotes the importance of this plant by commercializing amaranth products, investing in research and raising awareness. The company also works directly with the farmers, both commercially and training, to produce a sustainable amaranth economy.

Flickr/CC/John Lambert Pearson
Flickr/CC/John Lambert Pearson

Founded by Mary Delano, this organization also is part of the Ashoka fellows and has been involved with over 30 communities in the production of amaranth products.


Latin American efforts in the social business field have been proven to be fruitful, thus we will have to keep an eye on these to see where they will end up.



Correction                                                                                 *An earlier version of this article stated that Rosario Perez was the CEO of Pro Mujer. We’ve corrected it to reflect her position as former CEO.