We first met Samuel at the 2018 Harvard National Model United Nations when he first pitched his venture Nutriendo El Futuro to Resolution judges. Four years later, and Nutriendo is now providing nutritious meals to hundreds of children in Caracas, Venezuela. Read on to learn more about Samuel and his mission to improve the quality of life for families in his community.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Samuel A. Diaz Pulgar, Venezuelan, 28 years old, and I have a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Oxford. I am currently one of the Co-Founders and General Director of Nutriendo El Futuro. I love football, I’m a huge Marvel enthusiast, and nothing beats a good sunrise at a beach in Venezuela with some empanadas.
What inspired you to start your social entrepreneurship journey?
I was raised under the principle that if you have the opportunity, the means, and are blessed enough to make a difference, then you should do it without hesitation. Furthermore, seeing that the humanitarian emergency in my country was escalating and children were one of the most affected and vulnerable sectors, my team and I decided to work toward improving their quality of life; understanding that at the end of the day, they are our country’s future.
How did you launch your social venture?
Four friends (Ana Luisa Ciordia, Laura Morey, Ana Cristina Romano and Monica Zambrano) and I sat down at our university’s food court and started discussing the possibility of implementing this project. We wanted to empower the community to take responsibility for the success of the project: providing meals that covered the minimum calorie intake a child needs to have proper physical and cognitive development. Once that was settled, we went to the community to involve them in the design and implementation of the project. Two and a half months later on February 5th 2018, we launched Nutriendo El Futuro.
The Nutriendo El Futuro Team
What is the challenge your venture seeks to address?
We started focusing on two aspects. The first is nutrition: providing a meal to 100 at-risk children that covers the minimum daily calorie intake. This is followed by quarterly anthropometric measurements to measure our impact and make sure the children are thriving. Second, the model relies entirely on the community. Since day one we understood that if we wanted this project to be successful, the community needed to be involved from the ground up. Amazingly that message percolated and it is the reason why our fourth anniversary is right around the corner. This has also allowed the venture to evolve and become more multidimensional. Thanks to alliances with other NGOs; we now have:
- An afterschool program for preschool to high school students.
- An expansion of our program to feed 20 beneficiaries from the elderly population who live by themselves.
- A water purification unit to purify water and sell it at a more accessible price to community members, making the venture more sustainable.
- Model United Nations classes for high school students.
- Quarterly anthropometric measurements, pediatric, ophthalmology, dentist, and medical support.
- Private sector support to provide skilled training and employment to community members.
What does your venture hope to achieve?
Simply that we transform ourselves from a necessity into a commodity. In other words, we hope that our country changes so that parents are able to provide three meals for their children and not rely on a social venture to be their only source of daily food.
What has surprised you about starting your venture so far?
Many things! Since the beginning, we have been extremely lucky and blessed. The community has always embraced the concept of co-responsibility and has engaged with us in an honest and transparent manner. At this point, they have taken ownership over the project and no longer look at it as an external project. Also, it has been shocking how hard it is to work on nutrition and how many obstacles you can come up against. You may progress for 6-8 months, but then a child gets diarrhea, a bacterial infection, or hepatitis due to poor water sanitation, and in two weeks you can lose all progress.
What do you think makes your solution unique vs. what others have tried to do to address the problem you are working on?
I wouldn’t qualify it as unique—it is not like we invented a new model—we just simply made some adjustments alongside our community. Here are some reasons why I believe we have been successful so far:
- Having a clear theory of change.
- Prioritizing quality over quantity—it is better to grow in depth rather than in numbers.
- Making sure to clearly distinguish our product from our impact and defining our impact measurement mechanisms and personnel. It is better if you have an external ally who can help with impact measurement because it guarantees transparency and accuracy.
- Not hesitating to share our failures. This has increased our trustworthiness and reliability. Plus, failures are inevitable.
- Planning so that if things don’t go as expected, it is easier to adapt and respond.
- Involving the community since day one in the ideation, design, and implementation of the project. Hammering home the message that the project depends on them and not us, empowering them and listening to their observations and recommendations. Additionally, consistency has helped us build trust with the community.
- It is not always about raising funds but it helps to cut costs.
- Having a multidimensional team—people who have different skills and mindsets but share the same common goal. This has enhanced our strengths and complemented our weaknesses.
What was the reception of the community like to starting this program? What surprised you, either positively or negatively?
The community was skeptical at first, because they did not know what our motives were. They even confessed they thought it was just some spoiled kids idea and that we would not last longer than three months. They were wrong and they could not be happier about it! Everyone embraced the co-responsibility and understood that they also had to do their part to make this venture successful.
Also, we appreciated how honest and collaborative they were. They all would agree on the families and kids who would benefit the most from the venture, and had a strong sense of community. They owned their mistakes and biases, which allowed better and more fluid communication. The project belongs to the whole community; that is the sole reason why we have been able to thrive and grow in the midst of the pandemic. They showed resilience and the ability to adapt and overcome all obstacles. Now, they don’t just come to us with problems, they provide solutions.
How does Nutriendo El Futuro support women in the community and enable skill acquisition and job creation?
We are transparent from the beginning that we do not offer a salary because we believe it alters the co-responsibility model. That is why we search for alliances with private sector partners, who provide capacity-building workshops (coffee making, cooking or bakery) to train the community members and then hire them, increasing the per capita income of each household without compromising the functionality of the venture.
How can others potentially adapt your model for use in other communities of need?
We believe in building more alliances with other NGOs to expand our impact within the community and tackle other issues that are out of our scope.
In regards of adapting our model, the two main pieces of advice that we share are:
- Listen, empower, and involve the community from day one in the planning, design, and implementation of the venture. If it was not for them we would not have become a nocturnal community kitchen and we would not have been able to tackle school dropouts and malnutrition simultaneously. Also, be transparent and clear about what you can do and don’t promise anything that is out of your reach. Transparency and honesty are key elements to guaranteeing community involvement and dealing properly with expectations.
- Be clear about the impact you want to achieve and how you are going to measure it. Also, have your impact evaluation methods ready prior to your intervention to be able to determine the impact you are achieving as you go.
How do you define a “nutritious” meal? What nutrients do you believe are most vital for consumption and are currently lacking within the community you serve?
Luckily, we have the support of a nutritionist from a private clinic who designs our menu and provides us with several options to account for ingredient shortages or high prices. We try to have a balanced meal throughout the week that covers all the dietary groups, but I would love it if we could provide more fruits and more water to our children.