Tuck’s Broehl/Hornsby Social Innovation Fund sponsored a First-Year Project in which a group of students traveled to Nicaragua to assist in an effort to improve food security for the farmers.
The vagaries of agriculture are as immutable as the law of supply and demand. Neither has changed much since biblical times, when the parable of Pharaoh’s dream—in which seven cows “lean of flesh” foretold a coming famine—was first committed to writing. Three thousand years later in the Nicaraguan highlands, coffee growers endure a period of hunger each year because their harvest income comes at a time when they are most in need and prices of other commodities are at their highest. The growers call this three-month hungry season the vaca flaca—the skinny cow.
Now, recent gifts from alumnus Gene Hornsby T’73 may help to ease their hunger. Tuck’s Broehl/Hornsby Social Innovation Fund sponsored a First-Year Project in which a group of students traveled to Nicaragua to assist in an effort to improve food security for the farmers. Leading the innovative program is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, a Vermont-based coffee importer that supplies, among others, Tuck’s Byrne Dining.
The Hornsby gifts include an endowment to generate funding for similar programs in the future, as well as money to directly fund this year’s project. The gifts are named for Hornsby’s late father, E. Monroe Hornsby, and his mentor, Tuck Professor Wayne Broehl, who died in 2007.
“After Professor Broehl passed away, all of a sudden it clicked that we might name this gift for both him and my dad, and that it should be a social innovation fund,” says Hornsby, an executive with Massachusetts-based Analog Devices.
Broehl’s lifelong interest was using business as a way to help people help themselves, and E. Monroe Hornsby knew a thing or two about bootstraps, and cows. “He grew up in Georgia on a very modest dairy farm,” Gene Hornsby says of his father. “He was a self-made man who never forgot where he came from.” Broehl once wrote a book called The Village Entrepreneur about fertilizer collectors in rural India, and in 1973 hired the young student Gene Hornsby to help with a project supporting small-town businesses in New Hampshire.
“I think they would look very approvingly on this,” Hornsby says. “It’s right along the line of trying to help people. Let’s face it, this is not going to change the world, but it’s a chance to do something small—and it’s a chance to get students involved in this kind of a project.”
Six Tuck students chose the Nicaraguan food security effort as their First-Year Project (part of the core curriculum for all first-years, in which they tackle a hands-on entrepreneurial or consulting project). With Broehl/Hornsby funding, four of them traveled to the highland villages around Matagalpa. “Seeing the people and their farms put into perspective who would benefit from our work. It really put a human face on it,” says Bradley Lang T’09.
The project is still in its infancy, but the returning Tuck students say it will have a significant influence on the Nicaraguan villages, and soon among Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ suppliers across Central America. The effects of this and future Broehl/Hornsby projects will also resonate in the halls of Tuck, Hornsby says.
“Not only did the students have a great experience, but they can bring some of that back to the Tuck School,” he says. “And hopefully that will inspire others to do similar work, either actively or by funding something similar.”