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Leading the refill revolution

This article features José Manuel Moller, the founder and CEO of Algramo. José is an Ashoka Fellow and a participant in the fourth edition of the Dela programme, a global systems change accelerator co-created by Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship. 

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In the world of social entrepreneurship, José Manuel Moller, an Ashoka Fellow from Chile, contributes through his enterprise Algramo, an organisation that aims to revolutionise the way people consume by fighting against single-use packaging. How exactly? Through reusable packaging and dispenser machines installed in retailers and universities, reducing in this way the price and waste for the consumer and the planet.   

Driven by a passion for social change, José Manuel Moller founded Algramo in 2013. The organisation's name, which translates to "By the Gram" in English, reflects its core mission: to lead the refill revolution, in which every gram counts.   

They address the issue of plastic waste by promoting a zero-waste lifestyle. Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable containers, reducing the environmental footprint associated with traditional packaging.   

José Manuel wishes to embrace the concept of circular economy and make it desirable and accessible to everyone. Today, through their refill dispensers and returnable system, they are present in more than five thousand neighborhood stores, several retailers and university campuses in Chile and the United Kingdom.  

Throughout his changemaking journey, José Manuel Moller has won many accolades including Fast Company Most Innovative Company in Latin America, Chile’s 2017 Top Social Entrepreneur (Schwab Foundation), and he was also designated a World Economic Forum, Young Global Leader.  

But these many awards and recognitions have not happened by chance. Back in 2011, José Manuel made a decision that ended up molding the social entrepreneur he’s become today. 

Along with three other college friends, he moved to one of the poorest areas in Santiago, located in the peri-urban community of La Granja. He wanted to experience the realities of these communities to understand how to help improve their life circumstances.   

For over a year and a half, he lived a very humble life and was accepted as a member of the La Granja community. José Manuel oversaw cooking for his household with very limited funds, which he earned from part-time, evening employment that fit into his schedule after university classes.   

He faced the same problems as most of his neighbors: the budget was not sufficient to cover the household’s basic daily needs. He quickly realised that due to these limits, he was forced to buy products in smaller portions, and was therefore paying a higher price than he would if he were able to afford to purchase larger quantities. He and his neighbors were excluded from economies of scale. This realisation led him to design Algramo.  

“These nearly 14 years in the circular economy have been a journey filled with lessons from painful failures, thrilling pilot projects, and the development of real scalable solutions, all focused on combating the packaging crisis”, José Manuel points out. 

“I believe that our pioneering vision has stretched the limits of what's possible and inspired others to join the fight against waste”, he adds.    

His latest recognition was designated by the United Nations, naming José Manuel Champion of the Earth, the UN's highest recognition for sustainability achievements, in the Entrepreneurial Vision category.   

This recognition comes at a pivotal moment in my career, as I've chosen to focus on systemic change rather than just a mono-focused on one solution”, José Manuel says.   

In 2023, he joined the Dela programme, a systems change accelerator co-created between Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship that is now running its fourth edition.   

Since then, José has been working closely with IKEA thought partners in the hopes of unlocking his strategy and scaling his impact. “I’m exploring how to transform entire industries with all their stakeholders and how to leverage my years of expertise in areas that are gaining momentum, such as reuse, refill, and upstream solutions. “  

While "Algramo" has made significant progress in reshaping the landscape of social entrepreneurship in Chile, challenges persist. Jose Manuel Moller continues navigating the complexities of the industry and advocating for policy changes that support sustainable and socially responsible business practices.  

Curious to know more about José and his work? Click here.   
Meet the current Dela social entrepreneurs here