Start-up: LISTO Guatemala
EBS Alumna Lilli Ebner-Stoll
How did the idea for Listo Guatemala come about?
Since the peace agreement in Guatemala in 1996, the fight against chronic malnutrition has been one of the declared main goals of every government and many major aid programs such as UNICEF. But after almost 30 years of work and millions of dollars in aid, one in two Guatemalan children is still malnourished.
One of the main reasons for this malnutrition is the lack of access to nutrient-rich food. In regions with poor infrastructure, maize is grown almost exclusively because maize is a food source and cheap to build. The poverty is enormous - even before COVID-19, 66% of Guatemalans lived below the poverty line! All other food comes - if there is money - from the “kiosk” around the corner. They don’t sell a single healthy food in these kiosks, only chips and sweets. So how are small children supposed to get the nutrients they need to develop healthily?
The idea for LISTO is therefore straightforward: We offer scientifically tested solutions against malnutrition, such as fortified peanut butter, in these kiosks. We branded all of our products with the same high-quality branding. They are just as affordable as chips and sweets that toddlers so often get here. But instead of deciding from the top down what families whose children are malnourished should do, we take these families seriously as valuable customers. We have adapted our model until we were able to offer them a solution that they want.
What makes your supplements stand out?
They have been developed in equal parts by INCAP, the nutritional science institute, and by Guatemalan families. Children love their taste, parents their price.
Why is the involvement of mothers so significant?
Our focus is on the nutrition of small children. What they eat depends (mostly) 100% on their mothers. So if we want to have a positive influence on early childhood nutrition, we have to involve and inspire mothers.
The challenge in Guatemala is that almost half of the population belongs to one of the 24 Maya peoples - with their languages, traditions and world views. Due to the social structures, women in particular often speak hardly any Spanish and have not had the chance to learn to read and write. It is essential to take this group seriously as valuable consumers and to work closely together to develop solutions that are scalable and thus actually enjoy being used by millions of families with malnourished children in the region.
With the help of mothers, we adapted the new Nutri Listo several times. Mothers in all regions of Guatemala are purchasing the product, and the children like eating it.
What are the biggest challenges on the way to starting a business?
In Germany, many people view the step to start a business often critical, and one gets a lot of well-intentioned advice to do something “safe”. But we EBS Alumni, in particular, have a great responsibility that has grown out of our privileges. We can and must explore new ways to contribute to a modern society with new possibilities and opportunities. My experience is that a smart concept, customer focus, and hard work always pay off - so dare to do so!