I am a social entrepreneur, thought leader, and the founder and CEO of Fairtrasa, a global social enterprise that empowers small-scale farmers to lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable agriculture and fair trade. I founded Fairtrasa in Mexico in 2005 after a personal epiphany inspired me to leave a successful corporate career in Switzerland and devote myself to impactful business. The company pioneered an innovative model for helping farmers improve incomes, increase know-how, and develop into self-sufficient entrepreneurs and exporters, a model we scaled to several countries in Latin America. Around 2009, the company expanded to form a vertically integrated supply chain with sales offices in Europe and North America. Fairtrasa has directly impacted over 40,000 lives (including farmers and their families) and is one of the top suppliers of Organic and Fairtrade fruit from Latin America. For my work with Fairtrasa, I have been selected an Ashoka Fellow, an Endeavor Entrepreneur, a Yale World Fellow, a Gabelli Fellow, and a Schwab Fellow, and was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, the abc* Foundation, Univision, and Visionaris. In 2014, I was named a New Champion by the World Economic Forum. I was Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Yale University for several years and currently teach social entrepreneurship as an Adjunct Professor of Practice at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business. I lecture frequently on social entrepreneurship in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America, and write essays on social entrepreneurship at HuffPost and elsewhere.
Born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, I studied business administration and accounting and earned B.Acc. and CPA degrees. I began my business career in Zurich with the global consultancy firm Deloitte and was hired in 1999 by one of my clients, Glencore, the largest commodities trading firm in the world. At Glencore, I quickly established myself as a Department Head and traveled broadly, mostly in emerging markets, brokering deals in numerous industries and sitting on the boards of diverse Group companies.
The experience deepened my knowledge of international markets, but also showed me the detrimental effects that market dynamics and business practices can have on vulnerable communities and the environment. This realization inspired me to leave my corporate career in 2004 and explore other avenues for utilizing my passion for people and business.
In 2005, after traveling through Latin America and meeting numerous small-scale farmers, I founded the social enterprise Fairtrasa. From the beginning, Fairtrasa’s mission was to empower small-scale farmers to lift themselves out of poverty through sustainable production and fair trade. The business model was essentially to provide high-quality Organic and Fairtrade products to international markets and re-invest the profits in farmer development. Building the company from scratch in a country, culture, language, and industry that were all essentially foreign to me, I quickly succeeded in pioneering Fairtrade Organic avocados in Mexico and (under my award-winning Soluna brand) Argentina’s first Fairtrade wine. I grew Fairtrasa with funds from friends and our own profits, replicating its sustainable business model beyond Mexico into Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic.
At the heart of Fairtrasa’s success was our unique 3-tier farmer development model, which improved on the fair trade norm by providing training, resources, and market exposure to farmers according their specific skill levels. The results were transformational for thousands of farmers and their communities.
To make the Group economically self sufficient, I established import companies in Europe, and partnered with another in the U.S., in order to consolidate a global and vertically integrated supply chain. High-level food industry executives joined our Fairtrasa team, attracted by my vision and devotion to fair trade principles and organic, sustainable production. As of today, Fairtrasa has directly impacted over 40,000 lives (including farmers and their families) and is one of the largest exporters of Organic and Fairtrade certified fruit from Latin America.
For for my work as a social entrepreneur, I was elected an Ashoka Fellow in 2008, becoming one of the first Fellows with a strong background in the for-profit corporate sector, and one of the first to have scaled a for-profit social enterprise globally. I was subsequently named an Endeavor Entrepreneur, a Yale World Fellow, and Social Entrepreneur of the Year by UBS (2009), the abc* Foundation (2012), Univision (2012), and the Schwab Foundation (2014). In 2014, I was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a New Champion, and was invited by the Huffington Post to write a column on social entrepreneurship. After becoming a Yale World Fellow in 2013, I was the university’s Social Entrepreneur in Residence for several years. I was named a Gabelli Fellow by the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University, where I currently teach social entrepreneurship as an Adjunct Professor of Practice. I continue to serve as CEO of Fairtrasa International, and I recently co-founded a new social enterprise in the AgTech sector.