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In Mexico, A Dartmouth Grad Fights Poverty Through Capitalism
Apr 02, 2013 | by Maura Pennington | Forbes
Fernando Orta '08 had remarkable drive and ingenuity even when I first met him as a freshman at Dartmouth. It’s no surprise that five years after graduation, he is making things happen. Upon receiving degrees in both economics and engineering, he returned to his hometown of Mexico City and in 2010 founded a financial services company called Podemos Progresar. Its name means “We can move forward,” its symbol is a seedling, and its philosophy is one of growth and empowerment. In an effort to solve the multi-dimensional problem of poverty in Mexico, Podemos has a mission to create products and services that change people’s lives.
Orta is trying a different approach with his business, one which measures success by the level of impact in a community. He hopes to be a model for other corporations and for young people who are frustrated by the lack of job opportunities. “There is a big disconnect,” Orta says. “Young people are not finding the jobs they want. We can challenge what’s being offered to us, reject the paths being given to us, and start our own with new philosophies of how business should be done.” His experience sets an example.
When he started the company, Orta admits he had a naïve view of poverty and that it has been a journey in understanding what life is like for the poorest segments of society. There are an estimated 45 million Mexicans living on less than four dollars a day. Microfinancing has grown in the last few years to reach many of these people, but Orta believes it can be expanded further.
“As the company has evolved, the idea has evolved because of the needs we see in the community. Microcredit is not enough,” he explains. Orta’s vision is to create an organization that betters people’s lives across the board. By establishing an economic and social center for the most marginalized classes, Podemos makes a connection with its clients that goes beyond microfinancing.
The goal is to liberate people from the cycle of poverty. To do this, Podemos aims to increase interaction between businesses and what Orta calls “the bottom of the pyramid” and to provide the poor with access to what they most need. Through its community centers and coordinators, Podemos offers social services, such as assistance navigating Mexico’s healthcare system. On the economic side, in addition to solidarity loans, the company has set up a microfranchise program that allows members to buy wholesale products to distribute in their communities.
Orta explains, “Microcredit is not just about giving people money. It’s about giving people a chance to pursue opportunities. We want to become the platform that provides the products and services that allow people to make rewarding transactions.” When people are thus brought into the formal economy, they are free to be much more productive.
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