My first field visit was a whirlwind of an experience, through which I was able not only to understand our client’s operations in detail, but also see ICSF’s process and the value we provide to our clients.
Buen Manejo del Campo (BMC) provides high-quality, low-cost biodigesters—in addition to high-touch follow-up services—to small farms in Mexico. BMC’s patented “Sistema Biobolsa” biodigesters use anaerobic digestion to process animal waste and water into nutrient-rich fertiliser and biogas.
The “field visit” is a core piece of ICSF’s process; we conduct both site visits and in-person workshops with our partners in order to analyse on-the-ground operations and develop a strategy and model for scale. Thus, we had traveled to Mexico not only to eat tacos with BMC’s team, but also to learn more about BMC and co-develop a replication model for systematically scaling the social enterprise.
Our first day in Mexico began at a BMC distribution site in Puebla, an agricultural centre outside of Mexico City. It was my seventh day with ICSF and although I had read extensively about BMC and helped to develop materials for our trip, I was still unsure what the next few days had in store.
Upon arrival at the distribution site, we realised that none of the staff spoke English and I would thus be conducting all of the interviews in Spanish. As a brand new analyst this proposed a challenge, but at the same time was an incredibly exciting opportunity. My colleagues Cho and Greg helped guide my questions as I surveyed BMC’s staff about what the company meant to them and what impact it had had on their lives — which, in every case, was substantial.
The part of the visit that most impacted me was meeting one of BMC’s customers: a middle-aged farmer with what seemed like every farm animal I had ever seen in his small yard. Of the entire trip, I’d say that he was the individual who held the most excitement about BMC and his Sistema Biobolsa.
Our new friend adeptly explained to us where he puts his hogs’ waste, where the bio-digestion takes place, and where the fertiliser is stored. He showed us how hot the biogas-heated water was that came out of his shower — a drastic improvement from the cold showers his family had taken before — and almost burned his sopa while showing us how well his BMC-provided cook stove functioned. He raved about his biodigester and BMC’s supportive staff, and alongside this praise named numerous areas for system improvement and innovation.
Back in the office, we were rejuvenated and excited to co-develop a strategy that would put BMC on track to replicate this happiness for exponentially more small households and farms. While many of our clients have big dreams, these are not always realistic in the short-term. Through the workshops we were able to convince BMC’s leadership of the importance of narrowing down a pathway to scale and designing a detailed replication model.
Although BMC was originally excited about launching numerous pilots in the first year, the team came to understand that processes need to be designed, systemised and polished before rapidly scaling. If a pilot was launched without fully thinking through the entire model, there would be underlying problems that not only could have been accounted for in the initial design, but also would be difficult to fix after operations were already launched on a broader scale. Refining a replication model might take longer, but it will in turn put BMC on a path to reaching exponentially more households and farms.