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Andrea Perez Castro On Grameen Caldas Merger with Yunus Social Business Colombia

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By Michael McLaughlin (MBA’15)

Grameen Caldas is going national, thanks in part to McDonough School of Business (MSB) alumna Andrea Perez Castro. A veteran of the Inter-American Development Bank, she volunteered for Yunus Social Business in Frankfurt to work on the social business incubator project in Albania after graduation. She joined Grameen Caldas a year ago to be the country director of the program headquartered in Manizales, Colombia. The social business incubator there currently has three main social businesses: Ruralive, which develops habitable housing, Bive which focuses on accessible and affordable healthcare, and Vitalius, which works to improve nutrition through food fortification.

Perez Castro’s background in industrial engineering, combined with her MBA, has allowed her to provide advice directly to entrepreneurs on finance, marketing, sales, investment, and expanding their networks. “I make sure their assumptions are validated and sometimes play devil’s advocate to help them reach their goals,” she said.

Within a month, Grameen Caldas will become Yunus Social Business Colombia. “You’d never think of mergers in the social sector but it does happen!” Perez Castro explained that the restructuring will help the incubation program go nationwide in Colombia, rather than focusing primarily on the Caldas region. The merger will further integrate the microfinance and social business development aspects of the organization.

Since its inception in January 2011, Grameen Caldas has had great success expanding, and has reached over 5,000 beneficiaries through its social business incubator. Ruralive connects tourists with local residents, who then host visitors in their homes and involve them in their daily work. The visitors pay for their stay, part of which goes directly to the family as income, and the other part goes to a housing fund which helps the hosts build walls or a bathroom for their homes.

Bive is designed to enhance access to medical care by connecting doctors directly to patients, at a discount. “The health system in Colombia is inefficient,” Perez Castro said. “People do have national healthcare coverage, but it can take months to get an appointment with a doctor, especially if you need to see a specialist. Bive ensures that you can get an appointment within a week, at a significant discount depending on your level of income.”

Vitalius is a social business that fortifies Panela, a sugarcane byproduct which most people in Colombia grow up eating. Thanks to Grameen Caldas’ support of Vitalius, Panela is now fortified with iron (and zinc) to combat anemia.

The social business incubator is currently working on several new projects and Perez Castro hopes that the merger with Yunus Social Business will help the incubator meet her goal of expanding into the Amazon region of Colombia. In the long term, she would like to apply what she’s learned about social business and entrepreneurship to her native country of El Salvador. In the mean time, she’s anticipating a visit from Professor Yunus during Thanksgiving in the United States. “His presence will be extremely helpful to create more awareness about social business in Colombia. I’ll be having a different kind of Thanksgiving this year.”