Daniela Martinez On Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Opportunities in Mexico


Daniela Martinez specialises in business, innovation and social impact models. She has experience in marketing, project management, business and product design, and serves as co-founder and Business Development Director at Cirklo.

She is an Unreasonable Fellow and together with Julio Salazar and the Cirklo team, they accelerated Cirklo Social - the business unit focused on increasing the impact of NGOs through sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Daniela is passionate about understanding user needs and identifying patterns to generate solutions that achieve the maximum potential of individuals and organisations. She believes in the power of women as an economic engine and seeks to consolidate a day-to-day unified vision in which both, companies and organisations, work to generate sustainable business models that create positive impact.


Daniela discusses key learnings from her experience in social innovation, shares insights about social entrepreneurship, talks about collaborative work environments and discusses some inspirational impact initiatives in Mexico.


Highlights from the interview (for full details, listen to the podcast)

[Tom Allen] - Could you please share a bit about your background and what led you into founding Cirklo? [2:11]

[Daniela Martinez] - I have a background as an Industrial Designer and that gave me the basis to start a company and have a proper mindset to be able to prototype fast, fail even faster and then start all over again.

[Daniela talks about how she went to Barcelona and studied three (yes three!) Masters degrees. There was a turning point during her thesis project which aligned with sustainability and culture in Barcelona.]

What keeps us together as a society is heat, light and shade. So I designed a product around that and that's what gave me the jump start into a whole thinking process into turning my abilities in design and vision about design away from just a product and more into services, experiences and eventually a business. 

[Daniela continues to talk about her other Masters she studied and about her first lesson in entrepreneurship and how this shaped her view (in setting up an Eco-innovation Startup). She learnt about the importance of choosing your collaborators and partners. Her third Master degree was in Business research and she began to understand the importance of business modelling in each project. She then describes how she met her current business partners.] 

The keystone in any startup or project you're going to begin with is attitude and resilience.

One of the Cirklo members running a workshop.

One of the Cirklo members running a workshop.

What’s one of your recent projects that you are particularly proud of? [6:58]

Innovation is always something that has to be pushed towards action. So what we put behind the action is not only to do things which are important, but you have to be strategic and there has to be a purpose.

What is Your bigger goal or bigger intention and how are you going to change the world?

[Daniela explains further about working on meaningful projects and the types of people they work with who have strong purpose.]

[Daniela talks about the Open Government Agency in Mexico and their work in creating public policies that are aligned to the UN's principles. They worked on the innovation methodology to help the different groups involved achieve objectives. For them it was about a systemic approach to pressing social issues.]

[Daniela also talks about the Fomento Social Banamex and how they have helped them transform the way they invest in social development. They've worked with coffee and honey producers to help them create business models that increase their impact, and they're proud to work with people like Fulvia with a purpose to change the world.]

What are some of the key local issues or problems in Mexico and where do you see some of the biggest opportunities for social innovation? [10:54]

Supply chain - how can we add value to a supply chain? [She talks about Bonafont and Nestlé and how they're working with the communities they're involved with.]

One of the biggest opportunities we have seen is thinking about how can we close the gap between the corporate world and social entrepreneurship.

[She explains further.] We need to start thinking about business strategy for both of them, KPIs, benefits, added value etc.

What social impact initiatives are happening in Mexico or Latin America that you find particularly inspiring? [13:00]

Genius Food is making the most of waste in the food chain. They're using 'food waste' and turning it into highly valuable ingredients. [Daniela talks about this initiative and how it is also creating positive social change in Mexico. She believes they are creating a true food revolution in Mexico.]

[Daniela also talks about the recent Bloomberg Mayor's Challenge and the project that won called "Sao Paulo ‘Growing Farmers’ Income, Shrinking Urban Sprawl’. She talks about how it's closing the gap between organic farmers and the consumers through an innovative platform.]

How have you seen the non-profit sector transform over the last 5 years and where do you see it heading into the future? [16:36]

The sector is much more aware that there is an evolution and that change needs to happen. They're questioning their models and how they are creating impact. In a positive way because they want to do more, but they don't necessarily have more resources, so that is a challenge.

There are three key areas to consider:

  1. Integration with existing solutions. How can they collaborate with other organisations which want to create the same benefits.
  2. Moving towards a model of a social enterprise. [Daniela explains in further detail.]
  3. Still have a philanthropic model but being more strategic about how they invest in their projects and how they benefit their users.

[Daniela then discusses more about 'big hairy audacious goals', collaboration between organisations and a systemic approach].

The Cirklo team.

The Cirklo team.

In your work directing Cirklo (a consultancy with close to 20 employees), what are some of the challenges you typically experience and how do you work around them? [18:52]

As a learning organisation, we are constantly navigating different topics and methodologies and it can be challenging to get some ground sometimes. We're constantly redefining our processes, our teams, our methodologies and constantly questioning because it is part of our DNA. We want to explore, be curious and driven towards action. So definitely taking time to reflect, recharge and make sure that we are always acting. That's the challenge we face everyday.

What do you believe are the key ingredients required to create a healthy work environment? [19:42]

Here in Cirklo, culture is one of our focusses. That's what helps move us forward. The values that drive us as an organisation are transparency (sales objectives, team performance). The second point would be communication. You always have to make it flow in both directions. We are a horizontal organisation so there are no bosses and everyone is a collaborator. Trust is one of our biggest focusses because we are not experts at everything. We have an incredible team and together we know we can go further. That brings us to collaboration. We have a saying that represents us.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

The last one which I think is most important is being humble. [Daniela explains further.]

What are your favourite tools or processes you use to evaluate social, environmental and economic aspects of a company, non-profit or university? [21:38]

One of the toolkits we'd recommend would be the Nesta toolkits. [Daniela explains more.]

The other tools would be from the Human Centred Design toolkit (it's design thinking) which talks about three key areas, making sure something is desirable (human), viable (business) and feasible (technology).

The three elements that help us to understand a project are the current context, understanding the business (capabilities and infrastructure) and understanding people (what are their interests and needs). These three factors help us evaluate how we can bring value to an organisation we're working with.

Working on the project with Fomento Social Banamex.

Working on the project with Fomento Social Banamex.

What advice would you give to practicing designers or current students who are looking to focus their career on social enterprise or the non-profit sector? [23:42]

Think big and zoom out

[Daniela talks about Eames Power of Tens film and the power of a systemic approach and connecting the dots]

Start getting involved in social issues.

Not just for the sake of helping, but thinking of innovative ways to work the problem. The solution is not giving someone the fish, but teaching them to fish. 

Keep business in mind - profit and best practices.

[Daniela talks about changing capitalism.] 

Question yourself, figure out which problems move you.

You want to listen to your gut and to do that you have to get involved in a lot of things with time to reflect on that.

Fail, be resilient and try again. 

To finish off, could you please recommend 3 great books that you think would inspire our listeners? [25:32]

[Daniela talks about a recent break she had and the reflections which she had about figuring out what moves her. She found out that she wants to become a leader that is driven by happiness. She talks about the books listed below in detail.]

Working with coffee producers on the project with Fomento Social Banamex.

Working with coffee producers on the project with Fomento Social Banamex.


You can contact Daniela on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Feel free to leave your comments below.

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