An Interview with the Lavender Project President
This blog entry is an interview with Lavender Project President Aucencio Domenzain. This interview is a translation of the original interview, which was in Spanish
Q. Can you help us understand what kind of business is the Lavender Project?
A. The Lavender Project is not a charity or non profit, rather it operates as a social enterprise
Q. What is a social enterprise and what would be is its obligation towards the Community?
A. Social enterprises are those organizations with a social and economical goal; solidarity should be their main value. We must understand that the main goal of a social enterprise is not to make a profit but to achieve benefits for a larger group of entrepreneurs and the community itself.
Q. In your opinion what is the line between us being a social enterprise who supports the community and being a for profit company?
A. In my very personal opinion, a social enterprise starts with the agreement and understanding of developing a project with a leader who will be responsible for making such project successful, always keeping in mind the particular characteristics of a social enterprise. I think these characteristics should be:
Solidarity, Cooperation, Communication, Democracy, Leadership and to improve the quality of life of the partners, their families and to develop commitments with the community. If these things aren’t part of the vision, a social enterprise of this kind won’t succeed.
Q. What internal and external factors make a social enterprise successful?
A. The internal and external factors to make a social enterprise successful:
a) Organization (Participation from the partners and democracy in making decisions)
b) Entrepreneurial spirit (Change the frame of mind from being a producer to being an entrepreneur)
c) Developing of the products (Diversify an innovative line of products, presentation and the transformation of the raw material)
d) Innovation (New procedures and technology)
e) Environment (Being environmentally friendly)
f) Profitability (Lower operational and production costs)
g) Gender equality (Equal opportunities for men and women)
h) Social Impact (Being a model company to Mexico for creating jobs and benefiting the community)
i) Regional Impact (Alternative crops to promote the stability of the people in the community and to implement mechanisms to regulate process)
Q. What were the challenges of starting the lavender crops in Mexico?
A. I remember the first talk I had with St. Anthony’s Alliance who asked us, would it be possible for us to cultivate a plant we don’t know? From the beginning of the project we have had obstacles that we have cleared one by one. One of our first challenges was that no one had grown lavender before and no one knew where to buy it in Mexico. The second and perhaps most challenging was the lack of water. In the spring of 2006 we were 8 farmers who agreed to collaborate with the Alliance to buy a new pump, since the one we had had been broken for years. In exchange we planted 1 hectare of lavender all for $15,000 U.S. dollars, a few weeks later there was water again, just in time so we could start our crops, corn, beans, alfalfa and soy.
Q. What else did you learn as the project started to grow?
A. I didn’t have any experience in business or computers. As the project started to grow, out of necessity, I began to learn a great deal about business and day to day operations of a for profit business.
In addition I learned about where to find additional funds for the project. I wrote a manual on “How To Grow Lavender and Some of Its Uses”. St. Anthony’s Alliance published this manual as a booklet which served as one of the main tools to apply for a grant that would enable us get help on how to start a small company from the Universidad Tecnologica del Norte de Guanajuato (UTNG). We worked the plan with help from the Principal of this institution Andres Salvador Casillas Barajas, and that is when Azul Lavanda S.P.R.L de R.L. was born. (Operating now as The Lavender Project)
The Project also applied for monetary support from the presidency of Dolores Hidalgo. The presidency of Dolores helped us with 70 % of the funding needed for a drip irrigation system, a warehouse for the harvest, a greenhouse to reproduce the plants and a distiller to extract the lavender oil.
Q. In review, where do you feel you are today as a social enterprise?
A. It has been almost 6 years since we started The Lavender Project and I am still not sure that we have accomplished the main goal of earning the trust and credibility of the people that are part of it, this is another challenge we need to overcome. I think this project gives us a great chance to show Mexico (its government) that creating jobs doesn’t just happen by presidential decrees, but from tenacity, constant work, responsibility, respect, etc.