By John Schoonejongen on December 11 for Gabelli News.
By 2004, Patrick Struebi had risen up the business ranks to senior-level positions at Deloitte & Touche, Switzerland, and later, Glencore International. An accomplished CPA, he traveled the world for his job, stayed in the finest hotels and earned a more-than-respectable income.
One day in 2005, however, all of that changed. Struebi quit his job, sold all of his belongings, bought a one-way ticket to Mexico and never turned back.
“I had an epiphany,” Struebi explained. “It happened while I was on business in Peru and toured the mines.”
Overwhelmed by deplorable conditions there that compromised workers’ health and kept them away from their families, all for very low pay, he realized that his own career was, in fact, “making the rich richer and the poor poorer.” It was in that moment that he realized it was time to make a serious change.
Today, Struebi is founder and CEO of Fairtrasa, an organization that lifts small-scale farmers in Latin America out of poverty by exporting fair-trade and organic fruits around the world.
Also a Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Yale University since 2013, Struebi was named a Gabelli Fellow at the Gabelli School of Business, where he will serve as an adjunct professor.
This spring, he will teach How to Change the World, a course designed to inspire business students to use their skills and careers to make a difference in others’ lives and drive social change. Struebi also will mentor new entrepreneurs who are members of the Fordham Foundry, an incubator for startup companies.
“I want to demonstrate that there are alternatives to Wall Street,” he said. “I want to show students what entrepreneurship really means.”
Struebi is excited to work with undergraduates, a generation that he says is more interested in purpose than money.
“Not everyone is meant to move to another country and start an international business,” he said, “but social entrepreneurship is about changing current systems, something that can be approached internally, within organizations and government.
“Social entrepreneurs identify challenges and look for solutions.”
As for his career shift, his move to Mexico led to his interest in improving conditions for local farmers. Despite the fact that he had no experience in agriculture, Struebi dedicated himself to creating a fair-trade organization that provided new opportunities for farmers to increase their earnings while offering consumers healthy, organically grown products.
The model he established took hold, and he and his colleagues replicated the model across Latin America. Today, Fairtrasa supports more than 6,500 small-scale farmers and is one of the largest organic and fair-trade fruit exporters in that region. Struebi acknowledges that his early traditional career provided the skills and knowledge he needed to succeed as a social entrepreneur.
Struebi has been recognized with several awards, including Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation.