Growing Trees, Growing the Economy

After a long career in banking that took her to Chicago, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, Teresa Law ’79 and her husband, Daniel Spitzer, established Mountain Hazelnuts (MH) in Bhutan in 2008. For the first five years, they funded the social enterprise themselves, growing it into the largest private business in the country. As CFO, Teresa worked on financing,
eventually securing $12 million in equity investment from International Finance Corporation
and Asian Development Bank and bringing the Global Agricultural Food Security Program to Bhutan for the first time. She also obtained $1.5 million in grants from Sweden and Canada for climate resilience.

Daniel had built a successful social enterprise in China and was looking for a new endeavor when the couple identified an opportunity in the hazelnut market. They chose Bhutan for its benevolent monarchy within a democracy and social acceptance of women in business. “Bhutan brought together all our interests: education, women’s issues and social programs,” Teresa says. The government has supported them, creating a true private-public partnership.

MH seeks to double the income of 15 percent of the Bhutanese people. The firm works with the government to provide free medical testing and develops business training for its 800 staff. Only 10 percent of them attended college, so MH teaches proper business communication, spreadsheets and management skills at work. “It’s a lot of fun for us,” Teresa says. “We give people the confidence to stand up and speak for themselves.”

The company provides 10 million hazelnut trees at no cost to farmers, who commit to plant and grow the trees according to specifications. Raising them on hillsides ill-suited for other uses
allows farmers to raise their traditional crops while the trees get established and begin producing nuts. Monitors visit each farmer regularly to measure plant health and growth and provide advice.

The couple works 14 hours a day overcoming challenges such as difficult infrastructure, limited electricity, complex logistics, and people who’ve never worked in a professional organization. “It helps that I’ve managed teams of employees in different countries,” Teresa says. “People know I’m involved and interested and not just some foreigner trying to impose my will.”

With investors in Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines, the United States and Switzerland, an MH board call requires someone to get up in the middle of the night. “We have exceptional talent on our small management team,” Teresa says. “This wonderful group has been through ups and downs and brings a lot of experience.”

Teresa began her travels at Westmont, participating in Europe Semester, an Interterm class on the East Coast and a semester-long program in Washington, D.C. She went directly to Columbia Business School after graduating with degrees in political science and economic and business. “Westmont fed my intellectual curiosity,” she says. “My faith and Christian education have influenced me to look for more than just the work, to try to do something good in the world.”

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