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Great Eggspectations: Markus Dietrich’s Organic Eggs Alleviate Poverty and Taste Great Too!



“We’ve got a real story to tell,” says ibusiness consultant Markus Dietrich. “There are farmers with the motivation to send their kids to school behind Hilltribe Organics, not an anonymous industrial complex churning out eggs at a maximum rate for a minimal cost.”


Hilltribe Organics is a social enterprise based in Thailand that provides “beyond organic eggs which are naturally perfect” to environmentally and socially conscious consumers and chefs.


Hilltribe Organics defines “beyond organic” as being both free-range and organic, meaning the eggs are laid by hens with open access to the outdoors, raised from birth without hormones and fed organic feed as well as raised by hill-tribe farmers adding a social component to the value proposition.


“We have tapped into the growing understanding of what constitutes ‘good food,’” explains Dietrich, a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) since 2003. “The top chefs in Bangkok ask for our eggs, the top resorts order them and the marketing people see it’s an interesting story. They feature us in the egg station with photographs of our farms, and it makes the customers feel good about what they’re eating and supporting.”


Hilltribe Organics is a testament to the possibilities at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) – a term coined in 1932 by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt discussing those forgotten at the bottom of the economic pyramid. BoP is presently used to connote an opportunity to involve the low-income population in a trade, which helps alleviate poverty while providing business opportunities.


The idea for Hilltribe Organics is the result of the YPO Catapult Social Entrepreneur Development Program in Thailand – an eight-week social enterprise academy that Dietrich, along with Richard Blossom, member of YPO in California, set up as a social enterprise academy for young adult children of YPO members. The 12 participants set out to develop social enterprise projects with the potential to catapult communities out of poverty.


One of the projects that emerged was improving the productivity of local, community-raised chickens. When Arvind Narula, a YPO member in Thailand, joined the team the project shifted to producing organic and free-range eggs, working with hill-tribe farmers near Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand – one of the most marginalized communities in the country.


As a consultant to multi-nationals as well as organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, UNDP and World Bank, Dietrich’s broad knowledge of the BoP market and the development, financing and operation of social and inclusive enterprises helped him organize Hilltribe Organics as a for-profit social enterprise.


“A lot of my consulting involves agribusiness which is one of the main opportunities to involve the low-income population in business and provide business opportunities,” Dietrich explains. “What we learned through the process with Catapult was that in order to have a sustainable impact we had to organize it as a for-profit social enterprise.”


A year after Catapult, Hilltribe Organics worked with five YPO interns to manage and set up the farm and connect to sales channels. Two of the interns continued beyond the internship and one, Zach Gomes, is now COO of the company.


Hilltribe Organics 24 hill-tribe farms currently produce 240,000 eggs per month and have gained a reputation among leading chefs and discerning consumers as being the best eggs in the country. The “naturally perfect” eggs are available in a fast-growing number of restaurants and hotels as well as major supermarket chains and retail stores throughout Thailand and soon Hong Kong.


“This isn’t aid or government or charity driven – this is the confluence of consumer demand, companies realizing they have responsibilities and people on the ground finding a market for their products,” says Dietrich. “These are commercial entities with profit-motives that integrate the idea of financial sustainability.”


Dietrich is currently looking to diversify Hilltribe Organics by partnering with product development experts to create ready-made meals, frozen foods and items like tofu and mayonnaise using Hilltribe Organics eggs as the base.


“It would be great to partner with a product development company,” he says. “We would be able to learn from their expertise and in return, they would have a corporate social responsible project for their core business. Working with other companies to promote the idea behind Hillltribe Organics and growing the pipeline is part of our goal.”


The theme of 2014’s World Food Day was Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the Earth. In his message marking the annual observance, Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said, “Family farmers are key to unlocking global progress. They run the vast majority of farms in the world. They preserve natural resources and agro-biodiversity. They are the cornerstone of inclusive and sustainable agriculture and food systems.”


Dietrich says, “You need a lot of patience to be an early mover, but now we’re leading the movement and helping to grow the market for organic food. Our products translate directly into income opportunities to farmers if done correctly and that gives me a lot of satisfaction. Having an impact on other people’s lives really motivates me.”


YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org.