The team of MBA students arrived on a Tuesday, tired from their overnight flight, but enthused by the energy of being in El Salvador. For our MBA capstone project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), we had been working on a business plan for a newly formed agricultural cooperative, Xinachtli, based in rural El Salvador. The team was beyond ready to meet the founders of Xinachtli- the Mangrove Association and La Coordinadora– and grasp the aha understanding that transpires from being on the ground.
Students from MIIS have worked closely with the Mangrove Association and La Coordinadora for nearly 10 years through the Team El Salvador (TES) January-term program. One of TES’s primary projects has been to evaluate the numerous services that the Mangrove Association has provided to small-scale farmers and fisherfolk in the region. To improve the financial sustainability of these services and support further economic opportunities in the region, the Mangrove Association has decided to create a separate for-profit cooperative, Xinachtli. The team of MBA students worked this past summer with the founding members of Xinachtli to develop a business plan that would enable the cooperative to support its social mission and assume financially sustainable operations.
We made a couple stops on the way back from the airport- everyone had their first taste of the famous Salvadoran pupusa and Salvadoran Spanish- before throwing them into the life and work of the Lower Lempa. The team’s first meetings with the Mangrove Association and Xinachtli were set for the next morning. We prepared for the meetings as the team adjusted to their new home- set-up the fans and tested the hammocks, checked out the latrines and glimpsed the organic community garden. I showed them the fridge to keep our stock of chocolate from melting and we worked late into the evening.
This past summer marked my fourth visit to the Lower Lempa. I’d been a team leader of TES projects for the past two years and spent my prior summer continuing work from January. During my previous time in the Lower Lempa, I worked with the Mangrove Association to strengthen its community plan for local management of natural resources and develop a network for community-based ecotourism. As they say here, I had drunk the water from the Lempa River: I was hooked. The Mangrove Association’s dedication to fight for community empowerment, environmental sustainability, social justice and intelligent policies to promote economic security compelled me to return: to learn from their expertise and experience and to apply the skills and knowledge I was learning in graduate school.
“Mejorar la calidad de vida para las familias,” or improve the quality of life for families, the founding members of Xinachtli nodded in agreement as they discussed the social mission of the cooperative. The entire MIIS-MBA team was on the ground for about two weeks in total; I was based in the Lower Lempa for the summer. We ultimately created a business plan that we felt would best enable Xinachtli to secure the sustainability of its mission and business operations. However, Xinachtli will operate in a dynamic environment, of which the team only glimpsed a small part and in which local knowledge and experience will be critical in shaping a viable business plan. Accordingly, the fun part still lies ahead: working alongside the Mangrove Association and Xinachtli to assess the proposed business model and adopt the plan that best suits the conditions under which Xinachtli will grow. I look forward to the coming months as an exciting and fruitful time in which Xinachtli will continue to work with business professionals, experts in cooperative governance and local smallholders to conceive a business model that supports socially and environmentally conscious economic opportunities in the Lower Lempa region.