Chapter 15Toward a Universal Metrics Language

Willy Foote fondly recalls playing folk music with the leader of a vanilla farmer cooperative deep in the cloud forests of the Chimalapas jungle of southern Mexico. Foote also got to know many of the member farmers of the cooperative who labored amidst drug traffickers to improve the lives of the indigenous people, and whose failure in that endeavor ultimately inspired the Root Capital model.

A year earlier, following the 1994 peso devaluation, Foote traded his job with Lehman Brothers for a business journalism fellowship that brought him and his wife on a two-year journey through rural Mexico—a world away from his life as an investment banker. He was in Oaxaca, Mexico, to study and write about the financial crisis and its effects on the Mexican people and the environment when he met the vanilla farmers, who opened his eyes to the daily struggle of farmers who lacked the critical resources that they needed to establish sustainable practices. The vanilla cooperative ultimately failed. “It wasn't because of the drug traffickers,” he recalls. “It was because they lacked access to capital and markets and basic business skills.”

Foote's friends at the vanilla cooperative—and all of the farmers he met and observed during his time in Mexico—had a profound effect on him that led him to think more deeply about the cycle of rural poverty. Foote had plans to attend Harvard Business School upon completion of his fellowship, where his wife had ...

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