Entrepreneurs around the world are addressing the most critical challenges of our time. They are working to end hunger, to improve healthcare, to ensure good quality jobs, to address climate change and so much more. Given the right tools and resources, they can transform entire economies for the better.
Randall Kempner, the Executive Director of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), introduced ANDE’s State of The Small & Growing Business Sector: 2017 Impact Report with this quote. His words were top-of-mind for me as I traveled to Tarrytown, New York earlier this month to represent FINCA International (“FINCA”) at the ANDE Annual Conference. During the meeting, I met with other organizations supporting development entrepreneurs, exchanged ideas and discussed new and innovative ways that we might work together. I was also invited to speak on a panel that explored the role of international nonprofits, like FINCA, in supporting small and growing businesses (SGBs) that are solving critical development challenges.
Of course, FINCA has long recognized that entrepreneurship is critical to driving economic growth. For over three decades, our microfinance work has enabled entrepreneurs in developing economies to access capital to help them grow their businesses. Our BrightLife program in Uganda is bringing entrepreneurial solutions to clean energy and financial inclusion for off-grid, underbanked families. And now, through FINCA Ventures and FINCA Forward, we are supporting social entrepreneurs tackling challenges in access to basic services and financial technology, respectively, for the bottom of the pyramid.
FINCA Ventures was the focus of my contribution to the panel discussion. Joining me were folks from FHI 360 and Pact International, both international development organizations. Together, we talked about ways that our teams and likeminded organizations can partner together to support innovations in development. Our collective interest centered around finding creative ways to improve access to basic service products in sectors like energy, water and sanitation and education. FHI 360 is a fellow investor in Sanivation, and Pact is a partner and co-investor in Amped Innovation. My fellow panelists and I hope that our organizations’ shared footprint and partnership can help social enterprises, such as Sanivation and Amped Innovation, to magnify their impact in helping to improve the quality of life for our customer base.
In a different conference session, Max Cuvillier of GSMA noted that mobile operators have the scale that early-stage social enterprises lack. However, he added that start-ups have the innovation that mobile operators need. In other words, social entrepreneurs are needed to enact breakthrough solutions, but they need support to achieve scale for widespread social impact. This is similar to FINCA’s approach: We partner with entrepreneurs who are solving development challenges to help them scale and, in doing so, improve the resiliency of FINCA’s global customers and their families.
Beyond these themes of collaboration and scaling innovation, the conference had a recurring focus on women. Despite clear evidence that shows supporting women entrepreneurs makes good business sense and creates outsized social impact, women continue to be disproportionately excluded from economic opportunities. USAID’s Autumn Gorman spoke about investing in women, pointing out that female-led SGBs grow revenues 1.5x faster and create jobs 2x faster than their male counterparts. Yet, women-led ventures struggle to raise capital for their businesses. Thankfully, it seems that people are finally beginning to listen. In 2017, nearly 15 percent of investors surveyed by ANDE stated a commitment to supporting female entrepreneurs. Historically, this number hovered around 5 percent. Women’s empowerment has always been a core pillar of FINCA’s mission. We are proud that, of the six companies supported by FINCA Ventures, five have a woman as a co-founder.
How we help our fellow citizens flourish, especially those most likely to be excluded, is a tremendous call to action. Those of us who gathered in Tarrytown were united in a shared belief that entrepreneurship is a critical engine for development. At FINCA, all our work—from microfinance to social enterprise—is rooted in the confidence that supporting entrepreneurs will help solve the most critical challenges of our time.