Lilli strives to make a dent in the crisis of chronic malnutrition by building sustainable and scaleable social organizations and leveraging cross-sectoral partnerships.
She is the founder of Listo Maní+, a social enterprise that transforms scientific solutions against malnutrition, like fortified peanut pastes, into popular products that are highly accessible and affordable to all families in rural Guatemala.
Previously, she worked at the impact investment fund Pomona Impact, UNICEF Germany, and the Strascheg Center of Entrepreneurship. Lilli has an M.Sc. in Management with honors from the European Business School. She always wants to collaborate, learn, and build community.
Investment analyst turned social entrepreneur
“During my Masters degree at the European Business School, I had the opportunity to learn how social entrepreneurship can create impact at scale. So when I graduated, I did not want to become a traditional banker or consultant but use my skillset to work in the social change ecosystem. When Ann-Christin and Rich offered me a job to work at their impact investment fund, Pomona Impact, I couldn’t say no and packed my bags to move to Guatemala. I quickly fell in love with the country, local entrepreneurs and the ecosystem that I found myself in. But of course, not all was rosy. I learned about malnutrition in Guatemala. I found it unsettling that, in a country that is considered to be on the economic growth track, one in two children are severely malnourished. This particularly affects Indigenous and the low-income part of the population. I wanted to do something about this but I couldn’t find an entrepreneur who was working on it. Then I met Ted Fisher from the U.S. who was already working with this population; he had had the idea to make small foods supporting malnourished children: Over eight years his organization had fed 5,000 children by collaborating with nonprofits who purchased snacks and training them on the issue of malnutrition.
Unfortunately, the model did not prove to be financially viable and they had to close down. It wasn’t long after that that I met Ted and we had the same idea. Feeding 5,000 children was not moving the needle in tackling chronic malnutrition so we founded a new organization, Cooperacíon Listo Maní+ which I am heading up as founder and director.
Legal hurdles and the need for local ownership
“Guatemala is a small country with a small ecosystem of social entrepreneurs. Most of them are very hands-on, committed and helpful. If there is competition, it’s very friendly and always geared toward wanting to help each other to succeed in their cause.
Networks here are key.
We have some acceleration programs to help social entrepreneurs get off the ground. When you studied business like me, what you need is not so much learning business basics. You need someone helping you through hands-on support. I think there is a greater role for large established companies to play in acceleration, they have the infrastructure, channels and experts to support social entrepreneurs that are looking to grow and scale.
One issue that many social entrepreneurs in Guatemala struggle with are the legal processes. For example, we set up our company and foundation 15 months ago and we’re still waiting on the paperwork to come through, so we also had to found a Guatemalan cooperation to start operating. The easier option would be to set up a foundation in the U.S. and channel our work through that entity. But that’s not what I want. My goal is for Maní to become completely Guatemalan. I want us to pay taxes here and hire locals, I want to take it to a point where locals run it and I become unnecessary.”
Aspirin and malnutrition
“There is something so systemic about how and where you grow up. If my mother was still here, I probably wouldn’t be at university, I would be taking care of her. When I learned about the consequences of malnutrition, I recognized this window of opportunity: 90% of our cognitive development occurs during the first two years of our lives. As an infant, you have no control over what you eat and yet, it is the biggest predictor of cognitive development later on in life!
Aspirin relieves headaches right away. But treating malnutrition has no immediate visible outcomes.
On the contrary, you have to do it continuously and for a long time. And you don’t know what would have happened otherwise. This is where we spend a lot of our time: Educating mothers and caretakers about the effects of malnutrition. Unfortunately, it has become so widespread in certain parts of the country that it resembles “normal”. We – and this is true for all social entrepreneurs in Guatemala – have to be incredibly sensitive to local cultures. With 21 different Indigenous languages, we don’t only face communication barriers but need to develop a deep understanding of the inner workings of each respective society.
I wish people understood that childhood nutrition is an investment in our future. It’s the cornerstone of all development work. If children’s brains aren’t developed, nothing else will take.
That’s why we keep working on this issue trying to reach the most remote areas and change mindsets around nutrition.”
How can we support you?
“Helping hands are always welcome! I love any opportunity to go to relevant conferences to connect with people who share our mission. And obviously, we are looking for seed capital to help us bring more products to market and reach areas that are harder and costlier to access. Lastly, I’m always looking for networks of social entrepreneurs to share ideas and support each other.”
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Children’s advocate. Social entrepreneur. Impact scaler.