In 2009, Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie moved to the Ecuadorian Amazon, days after graduating from college, with the dream of using business to create livelihoods for indigenous farmers.
While conducting ethnolinguistic research with indigenous communities in South America during college, Tyler witnessed firsthand the tradeoff indigenous communities face. While they want to preserve their cultural heritage and the protect their environment, they also have an immediate need to earn cash and feed their families in an increasingly globalized world. After long nights of storytelling and ceremonies, he would awaken the next morning to the crisp sound of a chainsaw cutting down hardwood trees nearby. Tyler was struck by the stark choice communities are forced to make between their values and their immediate economic needs. Later, he tasted guayusa in the early morning hours of the rainforest dawn, and was amazed by the clean energy it gave him and the great flavor. Together with the communities he began imagining how a Fair Trade business could share this rich-tasting tea with a global audience, and pioneer a proactive and culturally valuable way for the Kichwa people to participate in the global economy.
Dan, meanwhile, traveled to Ecuador for a semester and observed many development projects that had the best intentions but little financial stability or buy-in from communities; subsequently, he dedicated himself to study high impact non-profit management and envisioned bringing a business ethic to social work.
With their long-time friendship at heart and these experiences and insights in hand, Dan and Tyler teamed up in an entrepreneurship class at Brown University in the Fall of 2008 to write a business plan for their dream. After graduating in December 2008, Tyler turned down a Fulbright grant and Dan turned down a job offer in consulting so they could move to Ecuador to start Runa.
Their parents, needless to say, were skeptical…
After moving to Ecuador, they drank many many gourds full of guayusa with different Kichwa communities, focused on building partnerships as our main growth strategy, and slept very little.
Tyler and Dan are thankful that two years later Runa now supports 2,000 farming families, employs more than 40 people, and is proving that sustainable, high-impact businesses in the Amazon can support producers and connect consumers to ancient traditions.
(And yes, their parents are less skeptical now)
- Tyler and Dan