Wendy Ruiz Cofiño has turned her creativity and technology into solutions for real life problems.
If you where to learn that one of the top apps of the last ten years to be honored by the United Nations World Summit Award was not from Palo Alto, but from Guatemala, would you be surprised? Many are, when they discover that a digital and marketing agency MilknCookies, run by founder Wendy Ruiz Cofiño, is behind the educational app for kids called Mini Mundi (Little World), an educational game that teaches kids about recycling (shown above).
The app is already in use in classrooms across Spain with many teachers using it as a teaching aid. The kids in class learn while playing and many times are unaware of the positive, subliminal messages that are suggested to them about caring for their planet. The game consists of a round, bubbly, “baby” earth, full of life and bright green. Kids need to care and nurture Mini Mundi and follow daily tasks. If Mini Mundi is neglected, the world starts to develop real enemies and turns grey, sad and unhappy.
The idea for the game came about when Cofiño was working with one of the largest recycling companies in Spain.
“A problem they had was the great cost they had to pay to reclassifying all the waste they received,” says Cofiño. “People didn’t know what color-coded bins to use for disposing their waste. We came up with an idea to educate kids, because as we all know, when a kids gets to know something, their father is sure to hear about it too.”
Cofiño is a firm believer that future generations should be adequately prepared to go out into the world and take care of it. She also believes that parents need to know it too, and become part of the solution. Most children in Guatemala go to school as part of a normal school program, but many found it impossible and unsustainable to learn many topics in the curriculum. The idea of the digital platform came about and became a great success.
“Mini Mundi has won many awards and has become a showpiece for us to promote our message about the environment. The app proves that real life problems can be solved through technology,” says Cofiño.
Much of the other work produced by MilknCookies follows a similar path. Not content to just produce creative solutions for clients, the agency believes in helping to change the world for the better.
Cofiño came from a world of tech development and software platforms, surrounded by people pursuing digital solutions. She found it boring and knew that she wanted to be different, to stand out from the crowd. Four years ago she embarked on a new identity for her venture.
“We wanted a name that was not related at all to the tech industry,” says Cofiño. “We also wanted it to be something that appealed to non-tech marketing managers, still involved in traditional media. Yes, the name MilknCookies is a funny one, and was mostly chosen to acknowledge that many people we would deal with would not understand everything we suggested to them,” explains Cofiño. But when clients feel they’re not understood or are frustrated, we’re going to become that place from your childhood, at your Grandmother’s house, getting milk and cookies, as if to say ‘everything’s going to be alright.’
“We know we’re the generation that can change the world, that can make a difference,” says Cofiño. “In short, what we try and convey to our customers and the people around us is that you can create the greatest apps or the greatest creative work, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Guatemala, because you can let the world know about it. That’s the great thing about technology – it has no international borders. When we speak at universities and institutions we try and steer away from saying that we only do websites, apps and content. We try and inspire others to see the global possibilities.”
Many young Guatemalans invite MilknCookies to talk to them because they have achieved international exposure, and people like to see that.
It gives them hope, that they too can achieve the same. “We’re trying to be contagious,” explains Cofiño, with a touch of humor.
Guatemala is a mere 40,000 square miles with a population of around 13 million. This sense of geographic intimacy is played out in the offices of MilknCookies everyday, with staff and clients. “Every single day, we try and establish a relationship with our clients, to let them know that we’re doing the best we can. In addition to doing our respective jobs, and making money from our customers, we’re also interested in promoting good. Good things can take our country out of poverty, and change it from being a dangerous place,” says Cofiño.
MilknCookies have shown people that if you believe in what you do, and do it well, that you can become whatever you want to be. Cofiño started the business by sharing one desk between them and because they were passionate about what they wanted to do they’ve now become a globally recognized company.
When Cofiño went to the World Summit Awards to be honored for being one of the eight best digital developments of the decade, it was very emotional for her. “For us it was an award for the whole country, not only for MilknCookies, and that’s how we communicated it to everyone, and in all our interviews,” says Cofiño.
She also believes that if you want to attract investment for a country, the focus should not only be on MilknCookies for their great work, but also on the people of Guatemala.
Proving to the rest of the world that they exist, can find great tech development, great design and responsible people who are fluent in English is something Cofiño wants the world to know about.
With the business thriving from a winning recipe of social and environmental awareness, Cofiño has developed a new business unit called MilknCookies Recipes. Here the team makes business assessments of their customers and try and make them socially aware. Cofiño strongly believes that her generation is focused on issues beyond just being familiar with companies, brands and products. When a brand campaign is launched and they’re fully aware that they need to talk to people as if the brand is a real person.
“You need to show them what good you’re doing in the world,” says Cofiño. This aspect is integrated into our assessments all the time. We try and build a consciousness into the companies we work with. If a consumer can buy something that is, at the same time, creating good for the environment, the world and the community, they will buy it for sure.
“We are fond of using the example of TOMS shoes, the socially inspired shoe with a purpose, that has sold over 10 million pairs worldwide. They’re not very nice to look at, they’re not very fashionable, but everybody wants them. This is the idea that we try and put into each of our customers minds. If they’re not doing something good – they need to start,” asserts Cofiño.
As a creative agency of 45 people, MilknCookies need to bill their clients, like any other business, to stay profitable and to create these social strategies for their clients, but have found it impossible not to become a part of it themselves.
They also explain to their clients that looking good is only one part of the campaign, they need to believe it too.
Other ingredients in the MilknCookies recipe include storytelling. A good, social story is considered a key part of any campaign and included in any strategy. Cofiño has yet to hear a customer say they don’t want to implement it.
“Many companies we work with have some great stories, which would help them grab attention in the market,” says Cofiño. “Yet many don’t want to communicate these stories, because it feels like they’re trying to be pompous, and they don’t want to look that way.
We create a look for them that allows them to feel comfortable enough to communicate their stories. We spend much time studying the younger generation. They care about far more than you’d imagine and we try and communicate with them as a priority. You need to prove to them that you’re doing something else, aside from just selling them a pair of jeans.”
MilknCookies have also been collaborating with Wakami, a social enterprise that markets products from the rural areas in Guatemala. Indigenous, and largely uneducated, women create bracelets, necklaces and accessories for sale in a network of Wakami shops around the world, even reaching the shelves of a Ralph Lauren store. Wakami educates the women on how to make the items and also educates them on ways in which they can educate their kids.
MilknCookies have been working with Wakami on developing strategies for content and promoting their products, but in the process, learned a lot themselves. Cofiño and her team are getting paid to help Wakami and they’re in turn getting paid to help other people.
“Wakami have changed entire communities,” says Cofiño. “The women work together and the money they earn, they put into schools. A couple of years ago, they even had their first generation of graduate students.
Cofiño has clearly developed a winning recipe with MilknCookies.