Words of impact

Greg Casagrande & Peti Sandalo

Greg Casagrande with Peti Sandalo of Tonga, who took out a $500 loan to purchase a sewing machine, material, threads, needles, buttons, and zippers. Today, she produces a wide range of garments. She’s replaced her home’s dirt floor with a concrete foundation and bought a bed for her three children with her profits.

Greg Casagrande ’85

  • Winner of Colgate’s 2015 Impact Award
  • Founder: South Pacific Business Development Microfinance Network, Ice Angels, and MicroDreams Foundation
  • Chairman: Biomatters and English-to-go
  • Director: Cumulo9 and Water Health International

Steps on a journey. In 1996, I moved to Hiroshima, Japan, as part of the senior management team of Ford-Mazda. I was there through 1998, and both of my daughters were born in Hiroshima. At the very end of 1998, we moved to New Zealand on a three-month visitor visa. We became permanent residents.

Driven. In 1998, I decided to take a break from Ford-Mazda. I was proud of the work — when you build an automotive plant in Jakarta, Indonesia, you create at least 6,000 great assembly jobs. You have suppliers that will create another 6,000 jobs. But, I wanted to see if there was a way to do Third World economic development more directly. During 1999, I learned about microfinance and built a business plan for my own organization — the South Pacific Business Development Microfinance Network (SPBD). We had fallen in love with New Zealand, so I decided to launch the organization in our own new backyard and selected Samoa as a good place to start. Today, we operate in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands. We have 39,000 clients and 12 offices. The organization has provided approximately 110,000 individual loans, totaling a little more than $65 million.

Stick with what you know. When we moved to New Zealand, there was a newly launched small-business technology incubator in Auckland called the ICE House (International Center for Entrepreneurship). I had started doing consulting work with its resident companies, and co-created ICE Angels to bring in money from individuals across New Zealand for small, early stage technology companies. That group, which I led for a half-dozen years, has become the largest angel investing group in all of Australasia.

I created my own little portfolio within the ICE Angels of tech companies. I got deeply involved with three of them — I’m chairman of two and director of a third.

An entrepreneur abroad. My time in Japan helped me to work in extremely different cultural environments. I got used to being able to listen and hear people for what they were saying. Auckland is very international — there’s a strong Asian influence. They have a work-hard/play-hard lifestyle that is consistent with my ethic and the Colgate ethic. Going to Samoa is a much greater cultural shift. Things go a lot slower. Patience became critical, and so I found a way to put multiple balls into the air.

Motivation. I’m trying to create permanent and scalable organizations that wouldn’t exist without my initiative — that have a profound, positive impact on the communities in which they operate.

One Response

  1. Jack Kupferman

    Now, that is a great story. Thank you for sharing. It’s always great to hear of the non-traditional paths of Colgate alums.