The crowd at the Take it Away deli on the Corner was typically busy during a recent lunch hour, with dozens of University of Virginia students ordering, picking out their drinks and grabbing bags of chips to go with their sandwiches. In addition to the baskets of barbeque and sour-cream-and onion-flavored snacks, customers have a healthy new option to add some crunch to their lunch: cashews. Harvested from cashew trees more than 10,000 miles away in Bali, the nuts come in mouth-watering flavors like sesame ginger, sea salt and garlic pepper. Garlic pepper is Juliet Wiebe-King’s favorite seasoning. Or at least it was.
Student Intern Support
I lived up at the factory, the women who work there found out it was my
favorite and they were sweethearts and would bring me big bowls of the freshly
cooked garlic pepper cashews,” she said. “I ate so many, a truly ridiculous
amount, that I can’t eat that flavor anymore. Now I’ve moved on to chili
crunch. They’re just so good.”
who earned her M.S. in commerce, marketing and management from UVA’s McIntire
School of Commerce in 2015, headed to Bali for a five-month internship with
East Bali Cashews last July. Forgoing a dream job at a prestigious firm, she
now works at Red River Foods in Richmond and is leading U.S. sales and
marketing for East Bali Cashews because she loves the company and the sense of
family and teamwork she experienced in Indonesia. Wiebe-King is the reason the
nuts are for sale at Take It Away. “I approached them about a month ago and
they were excited to start selling them,” she said. The cashews are also for
sale on Amazon.com and will soon be in all Fresh Markets and various Home Goods
stores across the United States.
the big deal with these cashews? In a nutshell, their production has increased
the earning power of their workers by two to three times the national average
of $2 a day, and the enterprise employs 350 people, mostly women who have never
held jobs before. That’s not the way it used to be. When Aaron Fishman moved to
east Bali to volunteer for a nongovernmental organization, he was taken aback
by the staggering poverty. The community, which has perfect growing conditions
for cashews, was exporting its product to places like Vietnam and India for
processing and losing out on a lot of potential income. Fishman wanted to
change that. Using family loans and credit cards, along with some friends and
their network, he managed to raise enough money to launch East Bali Cashews,
which buys the cashews directly from the farmers, picks and peels the nut from
the shell, and then flavors and packages them on site. The business was making
money, but there was not enough capital to expand.
revenue-raising model wasn’t holding up and Fishman needed capital to expand,
so he went looking for help. He found assistance in another UVA alum, Steve
Okun. The timing was perfect. It just so happened that global investment firm
KKR, where Okun heads public affairs for Asia, was looking for a social
enterprise to assist.
1988 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences who earned his J.D. from
the School of Law in 1991, Okun had just created a partnership for KKR with a
group called Impact Investment Exchange. The group would find a social
enterprise that was beyond the proof-of-concept stage, but wasn’t yet
Okun tells it, “KKR would bring in our investment professionals, people who do
investment ‘deals’ , who would work with the social enterprise on their
business plan, do a revenue model and help them put together the right capital
structure so that they can go out and fundraise.” The cashew company looked
like the perfect fit.
five months of work, KKR delivered its plan to a grateful Fishman, who hit the
fundraising trail and brought in $900,000 in just a matter of weeks. The
following year, 2014, the company raised another $1.5 million in new financing,
making it possible to build a second factory, buy more processing equipment and
triple the size of its warehouse.
said the support from Okun and KKR was a game-changer. “If we had to pay a
consultant to develop a revenue model, construct a business plan and put in
place a capital structure off of which we could fundraise, it would have cost
at least $100,000, and I am sure it would not have been as good,” he said.
Alumni Support from the Government
didn’t take long for the U.S government to take notice of the action in east
Bali. Robert Blake, the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, nominated East Bali
Cashews for the prestigious Secretary of State Award for Corporate Excellence,
and Brandon Possin, a 2005 UVA political and social thought graduate,
immediately got behind the bid.
political and economic section chief at the U.S. consulate in Surabaya, Java,
was so taken with the work of East Bali Cashews that he issued a press release
to tout the nomination. “In our publicity, we emphasized how East Bali Cashews
is not just a business, but offers business ethics, corporate social
responsibility and training opportunities for its employees,” he said from Surabaya.
“The more I hear about it, the more I’m proud of what Americans like Aaron
Fishman are doing to create value for Indonesia.” Fishman and the company
received the award at a ceremony in March.
work with and support of East Bali Cashews, coming in the form of alumni,
faculty and students, is far from over. Third-year student Hanna Beaver will
spend 12 weeks this summer doing marketing for the company, thanks to UVA’s
Office of Global Internships.
Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development is also engaged. Fishman said
the group has done research for its Farmer’s Education Center, which teaches
sustainable farming methods, as well as supporting marketing efforts in the
love UVA!” he said.
this summer, a group of students from the McIntire School’s Global Immersion
Experience program will travel to Singapore to meet with Okun at KKR to hear
firsthand how the firm engaged with East Bali Cashews – the third time Okun will
have met with McIntire students to share the story. Associate Professor of
Commerce David Lehman, who led the last two trips, said students are inspired
by Okun’s telling of this new investment model.
lot of them go through their education thinking about how to make organizations
better,” he said. “It’s refreshing and exciting to think about how they can
apply that skill set to help improve social conditions as well.”