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"Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it"

Marta Milkowska's picture

(c) Marta Milkowska“Every time I see a problem, I create a social business to solve it,” renowned Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus said to an overflowing room at the World Bank Group’s Headquarters in Washington, DC this summer. “Set up a social business.”

“The poor are like Bonsai trees,” the founder of Grameen Bank explained, “When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a six-inch-deep flower pot, you get a perfect replica of the tallest tree, but it is only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil-base you provided was inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds. Only society never gave them a base to grow on."

How to improve social enterprises so they can scale? eLearning

Alexandra Endara's picture

Earlier this year, we launched our eLearning course for social enterprises in January with a second installment in May. Social enterprises from across the globe – from places we didn’t even think we could reach – applied. So we began to wonder, who are these social enterprises? What are their models? What do they need most to reach the most marginalized populations? So I sat down with Charles Njemo Batumani and Arun Kumar Das, two social entrepreneurs who finished the first installment of our eLearning course in January to see what they’ve done, where they see their enterprises going and why eLearning was a way for them to improve their social enterprise. Charles is building affordable housing for low and middle income earners in Limbe, Cameroon while Arun is developing a natural plant product to combat malnutrition in Odisha, India.

Bridging the public-private divide to scale-up health solutions: the story of VillageReach

Elaine Tinsley's picture

After a day of discussions on how to scale social enterprise innovations to improve health outcomes during an event hosted by the World Bank Group’s (WBG) Innovation Labs and Health Global Practice on June 8th, one clear message emerged – public-private dialogue and collaboration, as well as collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and multilateral organizations such as the WBG is required to reach those living at the last mile.   

A prime example of this need  can be seen in a mobile phone health clinic program developed by VillageReach, a social enterprise working to provide access to quality health care to underserved communities through an integrated approach.

Collaborating to Support Small-Scale Innovations to Scale: Sankalp Africa and Global

Cristina Navarrete Moreno's picture

Fostering partnerships, relationships and collaboration is crucial to “opening the door” to scaling innovative solutions from social entrepreneurs that help people around the globe pull themselves out of poverty. This was the resounding message that came out of the 2015 Sankalp Africa Summit, held in Nairobi, Kenya on February 5 and 6.
During the course of the two days, nearly 700 participants from 30 countries came together  in Nairobi for learning sessions, networking opportunities, and idea sharing all to help end extreme poverty.
Over the years, the World Bank Group’s Development Marketplace has worked with hundreds of social entrepreneurs around the globe. Through our multifaceted process, we have surfaced and supported hundreds of social entrepreneurs, however, we have come to realize that while financial and capacity support and learning opportunities are crucial in helping these social businesses thrive, it is equally important to support and foster networking and public private dialogue opportunities among relevant actors. The challenges in poverty reduction are difficult to say the least. But, when we come together, we can solve the challenges ahead of us.

The Sankalp Africa Summit or similar learning and networking conferences/events allow social entrepreneurs, the World Bank Group, impact investors, foundations, government officials and other players to come together to share concerns, ideas, and joint solutions to the most important development challenges. During one of the sessions led by the Development Marketplace, I was able to sit on a panel with Tim Chambers, co-Founder of Enterprise Projects Ventures Limited. Speaking to and presenting with Tim, I was inspired by his innovation, but more importantly he taught me through a real life example how partnerships and collaboration are a must in scaling innovations. Let me share a bit of Tim’s story with you:

Former DM Grantee D.Light Wins Prize!

Dougg Jimenez's picture

d.light logo - photo credit: www.zayedfutureenergyprize.comD.Light design, a Development Marketplace (DM) grantee (through the Lighting Africa Program in 2008), was chosen as the recipient of the prestigious Zayed Future Energy Prize, the world’s largest annual award in the renewable energy and sustainability sector.

"We are very honored to win the Zayed Future Energy Prize," said d.light Chairman and CEO Donn Tice. "d.light represents an essential part of the future of energy: small-scale, distributed energy solutions at the community, household and individual level. Winning this prize will enable us to transform millions more lives that we would not otherwise reach as quickly. This is not just a win for d.light, but for everyone without access to reliable grid power.

From Water Pumps in Cambodia to Global Social Enterprise Support

Dougg Jimenez's picture

Combining the experience of running the DM2006 award winning social enterprise: Ideas-at-Work (IaW), the knowledge acquired with the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) program (2007), and her recent completion of an MBA (2012), Angelique Smit decided to found the Social Enterprise Support initiative, a network group that provides support and advice to fellow social entrepreneurs in a variety of areas.

Created after intense consultation with social entrepreneurs about their support needs in their path to build successful business models, Social Enterprise Support (SE-Support) emerged as a place where social entrepreneurs from all over the world find fellow social-minded entrepreneurs for a sounding board, bouncing ideas, brainstorming or advice.

AVN Wins Dubai International Award for Best Practices!

Tony Kaye's picture

Association La Voute Nubienne (AVN) LogoAssociation La Voûte Nubienne (AVN) was awarded a DM grant in 2009 to test an innovative strategy for scaling up and accelerating the recruitment and training of Nubian Vault (NV) apprentices and the growth of a self-sustaining market in NV houses in Burkina Faso. The Nubian Vault is an ancient Egyptian technique of building vaulted roofs made from local bricks without using any wood, instead of typical tin roofs that are more expensive and use scarce wood during construction. AVN is transforming traditional housing available in the harsh climate of the Sahel region by providing a sustainable housing alternative and helping to avoid further deforestation.

AVN has won one of the Dubai International Award for Best Practice (DIABP) to Improve the Living Environment. The Award, co-sponsored by UN-Habitat, specifically recognised the program in Burkina Faso for 'best practice transfer'.

The DIABP was established under the directives of late Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, during the United Nations International Conference in Dubai in November, 1995 with 914 participants from 95 countries, to recognize the best practices with positive impact on improving the living environment.

Cameroon: Working Together to Educate our Children

Victoire Ngounoue's picture

Though free basic education policy adopted by the government of Cameroon in 2000, many children remain out of school or dropout mid-way into their training program due to financial constraints.

While more than 90% of school-age children enrolled are in primary school in 2009, less than half completed education and the problem persist to date.

After a year into implementation, Goodness and Mercy Missions is sponsoring the education of 313 needy children in Belo community through its project entitled “Children Education through Women Empowerment”

Women’s Groups – Goodness and Mercy Missions

An innovative idea, surfaced at the 2011 Cameroon Development Marketplace competition, brought approximately 100 women together to embark on an income generating activity supporting the education of needy children in Belo community. These women sold 106 barrels of palm oil with a start-up budget of XAF 6,000,000 (US $12,000) and earned XAF 12,767,000 (US $25,534). With benefits made (XAF 3,881,000 - US $7762), women from the community are sponsoring the education of 313 needy children of Belo community for the academic year 2012/2013.

While it is assumed that the free education policy would stimulate greater demand for education at primary level, this is not always the case, especially for the girl child of poor family background living in rural areas. Financial constraints (such as PTA fees at primary level or tuition fees in secondary school, and high cost of textbooks, etc.) associated with education plague the success of this policy. Therefore, improving household’s income would have a great impact on enrollment rate in school especially for the girl child. How to do this remains a challenge.

Growing Book Program Gives Rural School Children Access to Textbooks

Victoire Ngounoue's picture

Thousands of schoolchildren in the northwest region of Cameroon are benefiting from a co-investment schoolbook program established by Knowledge for Children (KFC), a Cameroon-Dutch based non-governmental organization (NGO).

-Despite high enrollment rates, one in two students in Cameroon leaves school without basic literacy skills, a metric that is significantly worse among students without access to textbooks
-In the northwest region of Cameroon, a local development project has made school books available to more than 27,000 children in rural primary schools, which provides the potential to hugely enhance a student’s academic performance
-Since 2005, the number of primary school students in the northwest region with access to books has increased from 15% to 25%

if you think education is expensive, try ignoranceManjong Sixtus, Delegate for Basic Education, Donga-Mantung



During the 2010 – 2011 academic year, 95 schools participated in the program that has made school books available to children in rural primary schools. But, thanks to a US$20,000 (XAF 10,470.900) grant awarded during the 2011 Development Marketplace competition in Cameroon, KFC has been able to extend the program to 15 new schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, bringing the total number of participating schools to 110 and reaching 27,500 children.

It’s a Capital (plus Advisory) Problem not a Pipeline Problem

Aleem Walji's picture

Photo Credit: methodlogical.wordpress.comI recently returned from travel to India and East Africa where I attended a round table on social enterprise with the Government of India and met impact investors focused on Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. After listening carefully to entrepreneurs, investors, and government officials, I’m compelled to say something entirely inconsistent with conventional wisdom in the world of impact investing: there is not enough capital to support the pipeline of enterprises focused on solving our most vexing social problems. By social problems, I mean the provision of basic goods and services to the bottom of the economic pyramid where governments and markets often fail.

Take access to energy for example or access to sanitation in much of Africa and South Asia. More than 1.3 billion people on the globe still lack access to electricity and over 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds a child dies because of poor sanitation.

These are public goods and unambiguously the responsibility of public actors. But in reality, governments often don’t have the resources, the will, or the capacity to provide these basic services to many of their citizens. And purely commercial enterprises lack incentives to provide services where financial upside is limited and the ability of poor people to pay is constrained. But this is precisely where inclusive (or socially driven) businesses and social entrepreneurs, for profit and not-for-profit, are innovating and developing new business models to solve our most pressing social challenges.