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Building Blocks of Opportunity

July 30, 2011

The wooden block is probably one of the simplest and most played with toys.  However, this iconic block did something unexpected: it has been promoted amongst the complex toys of this generation and sure to last for many generations.  With a little entrepreneurial conservation, Tegu has created a block that surpasses most expectations of a toy.  It is educational and stimulates children’s creativity and unscripted play (as I mentioned in one of my previous posts), is heirloom quality, helps the planet and its citizens, and is so much fun that adults sneak off and play with them.

Tegu’s magnetic blocks are built to leave a legacy.  They are complex, yet they don’t require any batteries or instruction manuals, just an imagination.  The uniqueness of this toy is not just the functional (and inaccessible to children) magnet, but the series of events that follow each block purchase, called the Tegu Effect.  Tegu gives every buyer the choice to either donate dozens of trees or donate schooldays for Honduran children.  But it is not only the environment and children that benefit; as Tegu grows, the company creates living wage jobs for the Honduran factory workers, and with 65% of the population living currently below the poverty line Tegu offers the people a great opportunity.

Unlike many of their modern-day, plastic counterparts, Tegu blocks are made of FSC-certified, sustainably-harvested natural Honduran wood and are finished with non-toxic, water-based lacquer.  As of date, the company has planted over 6,000 trees and sent over 1,200 children to school.

The company began with an innocent question, “Could a for-profit company foster a positive social impact through business?”  Chris Haughey, one of Tegu’s founders, posed this question to his brother, Will, during a work trip to Honduras in 2006 where he reconnected with Tegucigalpa friends dedicated to a humanitarian project.  This question jump-started the creation of Tegu, founded to address unemployment, neglected natural and human resources, and the need for entrepreneurship.  At first, they had no inclination of what product they would be selling, but they knew they simply wanted to open a business that could improve the lives of some of the poorest people in the western hemisphere.

With wood being the most abundant resource in Honduras, the brothers knew this resource was to play a pivotal role in the business.  They scoured the country for the most sustainable harvesters and managed to find several woodcutting cooperatives.  So in essence they took the country’s most valuable raw export and created a finished product that could then be exported at a much more valuable rate.

The inspiration for wooden blocks came from a trip to Germany where the brothers reminisced of the simple toys of their past.  After serious testing and prototyping and observations of kindergarteners, the magnet-embedded blocks came to fruition.   Despite the over-saturation of the toy market, Will and Chris marketed their high-quality product that bolstered children’s education to discerning parents.

This video briefly overviews the company and its roots.

Over the past five years, the company is growing towards more success as it inspires the concept of paying forward.  Tegu has teamed up a NYC creative development agency, Poke, to head their social campaigns and spread awareness of the unique product, and one such effort is the Tegu Live Genius that allows interested consumers to watch streaming videos of Tegu blocks in action.  The future looks optimistic for this integrated company and in their words, “Tegu has gone from the seed of an idea (2006) to a budding sapling (2011). Now [they]’re watering and nurturing, so that [they] can see this tree flourish for the benefit of children everywhere and for the people of Honduras. These are the little toys that could…”

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