NextBillion Editor

Announcing the Winners of the 2015 Case Writing Competition: Different geographies and companies, face the question of expansion

A startup navigates the twists and turns of mobile money in Nicaragua by linking up with a municipal bus system. A joint venture between a multinational and a household name in microcredit design mobile apps for poor farmers. A company building a brand based, in part, on fairly compensating Amazon tea growers and helping them to preserve the rainforest, weighs a jump to a new market.

Different geographies, different businesses, different leaders. But the winners of the 2015 NextBillion Case Writing Competition all face the same question: What’s the smartest way to expand?

That is the overarching question in the case study MPESO: Democratizing Finance in Nicaragua, written by by students Julian Chernyk and Rodrigo Cuestas at Yale University, who took first place (and $3,500 in prize money) in this year’s competition. The students chronicle the story of Haroldo Montealegre, who saw what mobile money financial products were doing to reach underserved people across Africa. The founder of MPESO, Montealegre felt his mobile money technology business could cater to his fellow Nicaraguans in the same way. But he also knew customers would not adopt it unless they had a compelling and practical reason to do so. What could be more practical than taking the bus?

Montealegre established a partnership with several bus cooperatives to automate the bus fare collection system, creating a cashless system for those passengers with an MPESO account. Three years after inking those partnerships, the Managua-based social enterprise had attracted 700,000 users and processed over 1 million transactions worth 20 million Nicaraguan córdobas (NIO) or USD 700,000 on a daily basis.

But Montealegre faced the same dilemma that many growing enterprises face: Grow within your core competency or innovate to new territory? Specifically, he wondered if MPESO should expand to include an array of services for Nicaraguans. Or would it be more worthwhile to focus on expanding the fare collection system abroad? Expanding the bus fare system into other markets such as the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica would help MPESO grow its geographic footprint, but also presented its own risks.

Now in its fifth year, the NextBillion Case Writing Competition recognizes and publishes the best-written case studies about business strategies to alleviate poverty, particularly in the developing world. Seventy-seven people entered the contest either individually or as part of a team, hailing from countries including India, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, China, Spain, Costa Rica, Armenia, Great Britain, Turkey, Peru, Mexico and Malaysia.

The case writing competition engages students and faculty on campuses all over the world in the emerging field of social ventures. Students and student teams, under the supervision of a university faculty member, submit original cases that describe a challenge faced by a company or organization.

In addition to the prize money for the first, second and third places, all winning entries, including the honorable mentions, also will be added to GlobaLens’ Base of the Pyramid Collection. GlobaLens, which administers the contest, is a division of the William Davidson Institute, which also is the parent organization of NextBillion.

We’d like to extend our thanks to the Citi Foundation for sponsoring this year’s competition, the GlobaLens team for their hard work managing the contest and to the judges who ultimately decided the winners.

And, of course, congratulations to the winners.


Case Name: MPESO: Democratizing Finance in Nicaragua

School: Yale University


Julian Chernyk, Student – Economics & Latin American Studies, Class of 2015

Rodrigo Cuestas, Student – Economics & Political Science, Class of 2015


Case Name: Grameen Intel Social Business: Technology Solutions at the Base of the Pyramid

School: Portland State University


Jacen Greene, Program Manager, Social Enterprise Initiatives

Theodore Khoury, Assistant professor, Management & Strategy

Cindy Cooper, Director – Impact Entrepreneurs, School of Business Administration

Summary: Grameen Intel Social Business was formed to address a wide range of social challenges in the developing world through affordable technologies tailored to low-income people. The unusual tie up between Intel, the global chipmaker, and Grameen Trust, created by microlending pioneer Muhammad Yunus developed products for poor farmers, pregnant mothers and children in Bangladesh, among other potential customers. Just a few of Grameen Intel’s applications included a mobile technology that used soil-testing data to recommend seeds and fertilizer to increase yields; technology helping health care workers to track prenatal visits, vaccinations and health care; and a tool for students to learn to read and write on mobile devices.

This case focuses on the story of Kazi Huque, CEO of Grameen Intel. As the writers reveal, the joint venture was not only a completely new business direction for Intel, but also a new direction for Huque, who had left a traditional corporate management career path. Huque faces the big question of what’s next? In the case, he takes stock of all that Grameen Intel had overcome to create meaningful impact in Bangladesh, and assesses the new market challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for Grameen Intel.


Case Name: Runa: Creating Value in the Amazon

School: Yale University


Kara Sheppard-Jones, Student – Political Science, Class of 2015

Taylor Valentine, Student – Global Affairs, Class of 2015

Lindsey Hiebert, Student – Global Affairs, Class of 2015

Summary: For thousands of years, the Kichwa, an indigenous group of the Ecuadorian Amazon, have grown and enjoyed guayusa tea as a way to be “runa” (fully alive). Recent Brown University grads Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie, after drinking and enjoying the tea, developed an integrated supply chain starting in 2009 to bring guayusa to tea-drinkers in the U.S. They use their Ecuadorian operations, Runatarpuna, to supply the guayusa; their Brooklyn-based business, Runa LLC, to market the tea; and the Runa Foundation to ensure their business operations remain socially and environmentally responsible.

By September 2014, Runa had increased the incomes of its 2,300 certified organic farmers by 10 percent and invested $44,000 into its social premium fund for farmer cooperatives to pay for community development projects in Ecuador. The principals started considering expanding the foundation’s reach, specifically into Peru, and with a new business model in which Runa LLC, the foundation and an impact investor would be shareholders. Among other positives, the move could give the foundation a new stream of income – dividends on the exporting company’s profits – and contribute to sustainable forest management in one of the most degraded regions of the Peruvian Amazon. But Peruvian farmers were unfamiliar with guayusa and, while Runa LLC predicted an increase in guayusa demand as a result of its marketing activities, it wasn’t guaranteed. At the same time, company officials worried the move could harm the spirit of transparency, respect and trust they had worked hard to foster with Runatarpuna’s Kichwa employees. In short, the expansion into Peru could jeopardize the pillars of the foundation’s success. Was it worth it?


Case Name: Maya Mountain Cacao: Optimizing Operations for Buyers and the Indigenous



Ryan Strauss, MBA 2015, IE Business School, Spain

Oleksandr Svyryd, MBA 2015, IE Business School, Spain

Hassan Wilson, MBA 2016, University of Pennsylvania-Wharton

Vanina Farber Fuks, Dean, Graduate Business School, Universidad del Pacifico, Peru


Case Name: Chenetha Colour Weaves’ Karghaa Brand: Social Impact with Commercial Success

School: Times Centre for Learning Ltd., India


Vandana Jayakumar, Manager-Research

Nagendra Chowdary, Vice President, Head of Academics