November 6, 2013
Spark Ventures is a Chicago based non-profit organization that partners with grassroots organizations in developing countries to provide children in poverty with healthcare, education, and training. Their director of partnerships, Lucy Jodlowska (MPA ’10, MBA ’11) was intimately involved with finding their first partner in Latin America, the Asociación Las Tías, a non-profit dedicated to serving vulnerable children, founded by eight women merchants in the town of León 23 years ago.
This summer when it came time to move the project further, Lucy wanted to make sure to do it right. She decided to recruit students from the Monterey Institute to work on proposals for a sustainable business that would provide a revenue stream for Las Tías to pay for the expansion of their programs benefitting children in their area, providing meals, basic healthcare, and vocational training. “I came back to MIIS because I was looking for a specific blend of characteristics and skill sets,” she says, explaining further that she was specifically looking for experience working in developing countries, high language proficiency, quantitative and analytical skills, sensitivity, humility, and adaptability to working in a challenging context.
Three current students, Jose Lopez-Cantal (MBA ’14), Morgan Tucker (MPA ’14), and Monica Kelsh (MAIPS ’13, MBA ’14), took on the challenge and gained valuable professional experience. They started by analyzing the Nicaraguan legal and business environment and then worked in two teams to explore opportunities in agriculture and tourism. MIIS alumnus Andrew Leighton (MBA ’12) also assisted the team remotely. The Spark Ventures board recently agreed to move ahead with an investment into agribusiness, as per the agriculture team’s recommendation. Jose Lopez-Cantal says the experience of working closely with the boards of Spark and Las Tías, as well as numerous professionals from the academic and business world in Nicaragua, was “unbeatable.” And Lucy couldn’t be happier with the result: “I wanted the whole package and knew I could find it at MIIS.”