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As Kayla Castañeda puts it, “When life hands you lemons, make aguas frescas.” Castañeda is Co-Founder and CEO of Agua Bonita, a growing women-owned social enterprise producing the first line of healthy alternatives to the traditional Mexican drink aguas frescas. Made with no added sugar, no chemical sweeteners and rescued produce, this refreshing product fuels their mission and dedication to give back to their community. With every product sold, the social enterprise reinvests 1% of profits back into education for children of immigrants through nonprofit partners.

We sat down with Castañeda to learn how innovation, particularly within the social enterprise’s people management practices, helped Agua Bonita grow to where it is today. Specifically, we discuss transparency in relation to authenticity, the role of creativity in intentional growth and the value of feedback in maximizing impact.

How transparency guides approach to staying authentic, approachable and affordable 

Founded in July 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Agua Bonita is led by Castañeda and Co-Founder and CMO Erin PonTell. In describing the organization’s employer brand in regards to attracting new talent, Castañeda emphasizes how authenticity enables transparency. “A big thing for us is transparency because we built this company with the intention to be authentic, approachable and affordable. Those were the three things that we always wanted to hit and I don’t think you can achieve any of those things without being transparent. We hope to attract talent that prioritizes the same type of transparency we like to embody.”

While the young social enterprise continues to explore partners to grow with long term, they continue to make bi-annual donations to nonprofits and seek a workforce that shows up authentically and creatively to contribute to the brand as it develops. “For our personal brand as an employer, we want folks that are not scared of being criticized and to use that constructively and apply it in a fun and positive way to what we’re building,” Castañeda says.

As the organization grows and adds new team members, she notes that they are always searching for people who understand their culture, “not just from the modern landscape of CPG [consumer packaged goods], but our ethnic culture.” This understanding only lends to greater authenticity in their message. “We always say our drinks are not just for hispanic consumers, they’re for everyone. We want everyone to experience this beautiful and delicious part of our culture. But to best be able to share that with folks, you have to first understand what you’re sharing,” she says. 

How creativity and clarity of goals are the key to growth with intention

Hand-in-hand with transparency, the social enterprise’s employer brand champions clarity of values, leading with those values and driving that home when searching for the best talent for their mission. So what does that talent profile look like? “Creativity is a big one. We are at the stage of growth where we are still very small, so they have to be creative with the resources at hand,” she says.

Castañeda understands that this creativity they seek in talent can take many forms. “I never finished my college degree, so that’s something, for me, that’s not a deal breaker because I know that you can bring a ton of creativity and resourcefulness to a project without a college degree.” Thus, when recruiting for talent, equity and inclusion seem to be baked into the DNA of the social enterprise, as they intentionally place value on experience and willingness rather than basing a search solely on resume credentials. “My co-founder Erin is incredibly well-educated, from some of the best Ivy League schools in the nation, so having that balance from both sides is also something we look for in talent,” she says.

In adopting an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to identifying the right talent, Castañeda highlights getting clear on what you are trying to accomplish and setting that precedent from the get-go. “I think that goes for nonprofits as well, especially for us as we look to partner with nonprofits, we always want to know, ‘What are you working to accomplish?’ What is something tangible that I can tell folks? That clarity is key to everything.”

How placing value on ideas and feedback at every level is essential to maximize impact and become a first mover in the market

As a former leader at a large beverage corporation, Castañeda expresses the difficulty she faced in having her voice heard and how it contributed to her move to the social enterprise space. “One of the biggest reasons that I departed from my position was not feeling valued. My input had to go through too many people to make any impact or to come to fruition.” Not only was the lack of feedback hindering her as an employee, but she notes the trend she saw in the company as a whole. “Sometimes in large corporations, it can take a long time for an idea to pass through the hoops that are set up and it really hinders them from being first movers in a lot of different ways.”

What is being built at Agua Bonita, she says, is very different because they focus on placing values on the ideas that come from their people and more quickly implementing those ideas. “For us, we’re doing the exact opposite in wanting to be a first mover and wanting to be ahead of a trend or capitalizing on a trend that we see happening in the market. The only way that that happens is if you are receptive to implementing ideas quicker and really assessing them as they come in no matter the source.”

Listen to the whole interview with Kayla Castañeda on The Switch!

Patty Hampton, CSP
Chief Social Impact
Officer & Managing

Nonprofit HR
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Lisa Wright Ponce,

Senior Consultant,
Strategy & Advisory

Nonprofit HR
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Kayla Castañeda
Co-Founder and CEO
Agua Bonita
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About The Switch

The Switch offers access to Nonprofit HR’s talent management knowledge presented by our expert consultants, media partners, and guests from across the social impact sector. For over 20 years, Nonprofit HR has produced content that illuminates critical, timely and insightful knowledge for leaders of social impact organizations. Insights from this podcast shine light on the full talent management lifecycle, from employee attraction to organizational culture, engagement, performance management and retention.

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