Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Diana Ayala Gomez Of Aygo Organic SAS Is Helping To Change Our…

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Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Diana Ayala Gomez Of Aygo Organic SAS Is Helping To Change Our World

Time is precious and self-discipline is important: Be smart with your time, and do not invest too much effort in convincing someone who is not in your target market. Select well the people with whom you share your precious time. There are many activities you are going to miss out on, so be focused on your main goal.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Ayala Gomez.

Diana Ayala Gomez is passionate about society, education and coffee. She is an economist, an international negotiator, an MBA Graduate and an entrepreneur.

In 2015, she founded the company Aygo Organic SAS, which seeks to unite Colombian organic farmers and support them by exporting their products under fair and direct trade principles. Skilled in both intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship, Diana has developed a wide range of expertise in export markets, logistics and negotiation.

Diana is an MBA graduate from the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She studied at the business school in 2019–2021, and as part of their collaboration with MIT Sloan, had the opportunity to study at the US business school too.

Diana was also recognized by the US in their Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) program in 2018 due to her focus and dedication to innovation and community. We spoke with Diana to learn more about her experience.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Back in 2013, I was the commercial representative of a community formed by more than 1,470 families of indigenous, farmers and Afro descendants in the south of Colombia. During this time, I had the opportunity to learn about their culture in depth and their main crop: Arabica Coffee.

Although this coffee had the perfect balance between fragrance and aroma, a good body, plus a specialty coffee score of more than 85 SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) and organic certification, the community was struggling to sell it at a fair price.

My mission, as a fresh Graduate of Economics and International Business, was to find international markets for their coffee and help them to capitalize on all their hard work. I started my adventure as an entrepreneur in the coffee business. With the support of German institutions such as the GIZ (The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH) and the IPD (Import Promotion Desk), I travelled to Germany to understand the market potential, learnt to negotiate with companies of different cultures and to develop the first deals with importers.

Back in Colombia, I experienced first-hand many of the challenges in the world of coffee, especially as a woman in a male-dominated sector. There are many market failures, wherein intermediaries exploit producers’ limited knowledge, pay them low prices and resell at extraordinarily high prices or, in some cases, not even pay them. Hence, I concluded that value is unequally distributed across the coffee supply chain.

The majority of coffee producers live below the international poverty line of $2.15 a day (World Bank, 2022). They cannot cover basic food security, education, health and clothing, while many rely only on the sales of green coffee beans. Their farms are usually smaller than 5 hectares and the possibility of diversifying with other plantations, different from the subsistence crops, is difficult. During my career, I also realized that these issues are not exclusive to the coffee business, but also show up in other agricultural sectors.

Since I was 9 years old, I dreamt about having my own export company. But it wasn’t until 2015 at the age of 25 when I founded my company Aygo Organic, which focuses on the fair trade principle. We strive for producers being paid transparently for their work and our company only supports the supply chain part of which they are not used to: the sales and export process. We work with prices that we agree upon with the producers for the entire chain, emphasizing and guaranteeing that producers will be paid fairly for their part.

Aygo is a company that created strong and lasting partnerships with producers from different Colombian communities and importers from several countries. We are a bridge for those who are in the organic production and specialty coffee market and want to do direct and fair trade. We support producers through the process of certification, evaluation up to commercialization. Without commercialization, the organic productive projects would not be sustainable and this was the way I found to correct some of the market failures: serving the communities that I love the most.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you founded Aygo Organic SAS?

Our first coffee export from Colombia to Italy was quite a roller coaster, and one of the greatest learning moments of my career and a litmus test as an entrepreneur. I thought that getting my first big client would be the biggest challenge for my company, but I couldn’t be more wrong.

This client was the subsidiary of one of the four most powerful coffee companies in Italy, so I wanted the export process to be perfect. But as the expression says “man plans and God laughs”. And that’s how I met the general manager of the Buenaventura Port, the most important port in Colombia. This is a person who works with more than 912K containers per year, and who personally had to support me as a young entrepreneur to get her first 20-ton container out.

Since I was a young entrepreneur, and my company was still very new, I triggered certain alarms in the shipping company records, which denied us permission to board the coffee. The aggravating factor was that my 20,000 kgs of coffee were already at the Buenaventura port waiting to be loaded! I admit I took several risks, but that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about, right?

Immediately, I began to contact all the institutions in Colombia with which I had worked to become the entrepreneur that I am now. They all sent me a letter of endorsement to indicate that I was a trustworthy person.

My business mentor and current partner was the import manager of one of the most important retail companies in Latin America. She contacted me with the general manager of the Buenaventura port. So, after receiving these references from all the entities and thousands of extra documentation, I was able to show that despite being new, Aygo was a reliable and existent company.

Everything ended well, my client was very happy to see how we handled the situation and the fact that we were always very transparent with the information. Today, we are still shipping coffee for them.

I learned a lot about how important it is to do things right and how effective a strong network can be. I am very grateful to all of the people that have been in my path.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting Aygo Organic SAS? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Once I had to be the bridge between a German and Italian company, where I was trying to negotiate with the Germans with the same style as I do with the Italians and vice-versa.

Communication did not flow easily and the negotiation seemed like a big mess. In the end, I managed to breathe, calm down and analyze the situation. Although I resolved the problem by providing a coffee sample to both companies, I worried that the German company did not forgive me for the mistake.

After the MBA at the Asia School of Business, I realized that this mistake could be due to a lack of cultural awareness on my side. I have learned to better prepare my negotiations using tools obtained during the MBA program. In one of my favorite classes with Professor Jared R. Curhan we practiced a lot of verbal and non-verbal communication. We also obtained very useful frameworks such as the seven elements.

Can you describe how Aygo Organic SAS is making a significant social impact?

The impact has materialized through the empowerment of the farmers with whom we have the opportunity to work with, knowledge transfer, transparent communication, and the fair value of their products. We have directly helped more than 50 families and 4 communities.

Additionally, we recognize that each of the farmers are capable of obtaining better revenue from their products and the ability to make their projects sustainable through commercialization.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by Aygo Organic SAS?

David, Alejandra and their two beautiful children are part of the Kunagua community and the Retoño farm. This family leads a permaculture project to protect the Kunagua River basin in Colombia.

I arrived at this farm 6 years ago and saw the great potential of their main product: organic yacon syrup. But at that time the family didn’t have the license to sell food to the national market, nor the organic certification. Therefore, they were having trouble making a profit from their production. They used to sell the raw root to a trader but sometimes the price paid by the trader was much lower than the production cost.

To help them, we started a joint project, reviewed the business model and started obtaining the sanitary permits for the product and the factory. We had the financial collaboration of an angel investor, Aittza Urrego, and renovations were made to infrastructure and utensils.

In less than a year we already had prepared to launch the syrup to the market with all the legal permissions. Sales grew by more than 90% and the production area by 40%. We facilitated the collaboration of Bogota’s Chamber of Commerce to obtain organic certification and the support of ProColombia to have foreign investment.

With the improved product, Aygo introduced the yacon syrup into the largest premium supermarket chain in Colombia (Carulla — 156 stores). Sales went up again by more than 180% and we paid a fair price for yacon to David and the entire community around him, trying to make it fair for the entire chain, even thinking of the end customer.

Now David and his family have a more robust factory and export yacon syrup to the United States, Mexico, and other countries in South America. The factory and the project are growing, impacting neighboring communities — for example, they are hiring women displaced by violence and empowering them to better adapt to their new environment and rebuild their lives. David and his family obtained a new round of investment from the government and continue to grow nationally and internationally. I’m very proud of them.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Economically support the projects of farmers: Buying directly from the farmers is a good starting point to make their production a more sustainable project. Don’t forget to pay them a fair price for their products.

Prioritize impact over output: After COVID-19 we are experiencing a global change that brings a new social consciousness. A mentality with values like sustainability, inclusion and equality should transform the supply chain of the coffee business and other sectors.

Transformative policies: Government and private sector should agree on the need of new sustainable corporate governance. Policy initiatives like the European Green Deal is a great example of how to set new legislation and strategies regarding the circular economy, zero-pollution, ecosystems & biodiversity, Farm to fork strategy and more.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I share the view of leadership that once my dad, a master in human development and transcendence, shared with me: “Leadership is the capacity to influence other people towards the achievement of a common goal. Leadership must be based on principles and values to augment the common effort and raise the point of view of the leader and the people who follow the leader”.

Leadership is a process that involves a lot of responsibility. The definition talks about influence, in contrast to power or authority, and it is a very socially oriented point of view.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“The single necessary and sufficient condition for a business is a paying customer” taken from the Disciplined Entrepreneurship, 24 Steps to a successful Startup by Bill Aulet. I had the pleasure of taking classes from Prof. Bill Autlet during my MBA at Asia School of Business. This entrepreneurship course was a key aspect of the curriculum. Mainly, he taught us how to take a customer-driven approach by defining an unmet need and how to build our business around it.

Develop a clear marketing strategy: I didn’t pay much attention to marketing, but now I understand the importance of online presence and having a well-defined marketing strategy. I am still working on it!

Power of Networking: Building relationships is a key component of entrepreneurship. It’s also a good way to learn from others and share interests. For me, networking is a part of the long-term success strategy of my projects.

Don’t be afraid of debt and learn about managerial accounting: I started Aygo with my own savings and reinvested all the profits in the company. I didn´t take debt for several reasons — one of them was due to fear. But now that I understand better how leverage works, I recommend entrepreneurs receive financial advice from the start and learn about finance and managerial accounting.

Time is precious and self-discipline is important: Be smart with your time, and do not invest too much effort in convincing someone who is not in your target market. Select well the people with whom you share your precious time. There are many activities you are going to miss out on, so be focused on your main goal.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

Women perform an estimated 70% of the labor in coffee production. Despite this, they remain an invisible, less empowered, workforce. Women earn less income, own less land and have fewer training and leadership opportunities.

One of my current focuses is on the empowerment of women in the coffee business and the promotion of movements towards a gender inclusive coffee supply chain. Nowadays, I’m an active member of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), Chapter Germany and exploring commercial opportunities to open the Spanish Market for the IWCA Chapter Vietnam.

I’m looking forward to materializing new commercial channels for coffee through this network, to create strategic partnerships to amplify the market visibility and empower myself and many other women in this business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Making beautiful theories is good, practicing them is even better.” Serge Raynaud de la Ferriere.

We had a poster at my parent’s office with this quote. My sister and I grew up in a wonderful family with well-established values and principles. I learned a lot by example from my parents, so I think that in life being consistent and coherent is essential.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Angela Merkel. I believe she is an extraordinary world leader with an unconventional path. To me, she is an authentic, intelligent, strong, analytical, and skilled person.

I think she stands for her values and principles. Furthermore, she was very clear about the future she wanted to shape for her country and the whole European Union.

I would like to talk with her, to know about her dreams, how she sees herself, and what has driven her all these years. She is a great inspiration and role model for me.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Of course, they can follow along via my website, or they can connect with me on LinkedIn, and finally, they can follow via Instagram.

Thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Diana Ayala Gomez Of Aygo Organic SAS Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.