What in the World…

by Jim King


What in the world is a Harvard MBA doing in the poverty riddled areas of San Jose, Costa Rica?

Making a difference in the lives of children that live in those poverty riddled areas!

Champion of ChangeU Chris Dearnley, the Harvard MBA, would not have it any other way.  Chris is the Founder and President of FundaVida, a social enterprise established in San Jose “to bring life-giving hope to children and youth trapped in the destructive cycle of poverty.”  (http://www.fundavida.org/?lang=en)

Listen to the passion in Chris’ words as he talks about why he is there: “Poverty enslaves young people with a mentality of entitlement that demands: “I’m poor. You owe me!” Despair leads to desperation and desperation to violence, drugs and prostitution. At FundaVida we believe we can break this destructive cycle through caring people and programs that address the multiple needs these children face. We bring hope and opportunity within reach, empowering them to take responsibility, encounter their God-given talents and share those talents with others…Together we can break the cycle of violence and poverty in Costa Rica.  Hope changes everything.”

Watching Chris “at service” to the impoverished children of San Jose is a privilege.  Hearing him talk about them is captivating.  Hearing him describe the programs at FundaVida makes you wonder how he/they do it.  I have been there.  I have listened to Chris.  I have seen him in action.  FundaVida is making a difference.  FundaVida is bringing hope to places where none has existed for a long, long time.  Don’t take my word for it.  Read personal stories about this hope.  “See” the difference being made through Funda Vida.  Check out these stories at:


FundaVida’s stated mission is “To empower youth to overcome problems such as high-school desertion, violence and poverty through award-winning programs.”  It has a vision “To break the destructive cycle of poverty by offering God-given hope to at-risk youth in troubled neighborhoods.”  And it promotes the following values throughout all of its programs: “Hope, Purpose and Freedom”.  (http://www.fundavida.org/impact/mission-and-vision/?lang=en)

The programs at FundaVida include interactive computer centers, bilingual training, youth clubs, counseling, educational support, and meal programs.  FundaVida works in at-risk communities surrounding San Jose, Costa Rica, such as: Concepcion de Alajuelita, Cuidadela 25 de Julio and Linda Vista de Patarra.  And its programs take aim at drop-outs, drugs, violence and prostitution.  More will be shared in a future blog post about these programs. However, we encourage you to read more on your own at: (http://www.fundavida.org/?lang=en) .

As anyone at the helm of a services-based non-profit knows, keeping programs like those at FundaVida going takes money.  That is surely the case when a non-profit is in its infancy stage.  Chris and his family invested more than blood, sweat and tears into FundaVida in its early days.  They invested everything that they had.  But that could not be a long-term solution.

As I mentioned, Chris has his MBA from Harvard.  Probably his closest friend in the MBA program at Harvard was John Sage.  They shared similar beliefs and lifestyles. However, upon graduation, their careers took different paths.  A few years after graduation, while Chris was starting FundaVida, John was becoming a rising star at Microsoft and other tech firms.  While talking during a personal reunion, they found their stories converging again.  Chris had a vision for making a difference and a need for financial support.  John had money and a desire to find a passion through which he could make a difference.  Surely between them they could find a single remedy for both of their situations.  (Remember: these two guys were Harvard MBAs.)

Chris and John knew that sustainability was a necessary goal in order to achieve long-term impact.  So they put their business minds and their “make a difference” hearts together and came up with the plan for Pura Vida Coffee, basically a web-based coffee retailer whose profits went to support FundaVida.  (http://www.puravidacreategood.com/)   The business model they developed has not only been written up as a Harvard Business School case, it has also served as the basis for many new social enterprises over the past two decades.  Pura Vida Coffee not only raises some funds for FundaVida, but this business model has also benefitted hundreds of communities and thousands of impoverished people in developing countries around the world.  What a legacy!

Pura Vida Coffee has undergone a number of changes over the years.  You can read the history of the founding and those changes at:  http://www.puravidacreategood.com/history.  Even so, the focus is still on making a difference in the lives of impoverished people through the sale of great coffee.  What makes this point so interesting is that while Pura Vida does not provide as much support directly to FundaVida as Chris had once hoped, it now also impacts other parts of the developing world and remains part of the selfless legacy of Chris and his co-founder John at Pura Vida.

I wish that I could tell you that FundaVida has more money than it knows what to do with.  But that is no more true for FundaVida than it is for other impactful non-profits. While it does have creative avenues of support, the fact is that there are more kids to help than there are funds to help them.

FundaVida relies on the generosity of individuals who are willing to help in multiple ways. If you shop on Amazon, why not use  smile.amazon.com and choose The Create Good Foundation as your beneficiary. That will help FundaVida at no additional cost. Contact your church to see if they would be willing to serve Pura Vida Coffee or at least try a free sample.  Every church or school that serves Pura Vida Coffee releases a matching grant for the work in Costa Rica. Perhaps you would like to give Pura Vida Coffee as a unique Christmas gift or drink it each morning. Or maybe you could sponsor a child for $50 a month and change a life forever.  (www.fundavida.org)

Big or small, every action makes a difference!

FundaVida squeezes more output from its efforts than is feasible given the inputs.  (Sounds a little Harvard-ish to me.)  As long as Chris Dearnley is at the helm, the at-risk children and youth of San Jose will have a chance to become “something” and “somebody” in the eyes of their families and their peers.  And one day they will become the difference makers in their communities and in their country, thanks to the example of Champion of ChangeU Chris Dearnley.

Dr. Jim King is the President of Change University.  You may read more about him at the bottom of the page at this link:


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