Global Partnerships in the news
- In Impact Investor Global Partnerships Invests in Solar to Connect the Poor with Light, The Huffington Post speaks with GP's Chief Impact & Research Officer Peter Bladin about the challenge of connecting poor off-grid communities with access to solar lights. Peter explains, "Solar lights for poor people living off the grid are likely to scale the way cell phones have in the developing world over the last 15 years. [...] The case for solar is extremely compelling but social enterprises serving the base of the pyramid need working capital to scale product development, manufacturing and distribution." Click to read more news >
- In Reaching the Neediest, OPIC interviews GP President & CEO Rick Beckett about the challenge of using impact investing to reach the poor, and about the impact of integrating credit with services. Rick says,"The challenge is that the deeper we go into poverty or the further we go into remote places, the more difficult it is to make markets work. The economics just get harder. The poorer people are, the fewer resources they have to purchase anything, and the more remote their living conditions, the more expensive it often is to reach them. But we can make progress 'extending the frontier' if we’re willing to think differently and try innovative approaches." Click to read more >
Meet KJ, GP’s new impact evaluation officer
Part of our work as a nonprofit impact investor is measuring and evaluating the social impact of our investments. To help us double down on impact evaluation, we recently expanded our Impact and Research team to include KJ Zunigha, our new impact evaluation officer. Get to know KJ in this Q&A, and tweet any questions you have for KJ @GPSocialImpact.
1. What is your role at GP and what is your background?
I have the exciting and challenging job of measuring the social impact of GP’s investments! Here at GP we are very purposeful in selecting quality partners that deliver impact, and so I work closely with the Social Investment Team and directly with our partners to collect and report data that demonstrates the lives impacted by our investments. My previous role was at the global health organization, PATH, on their Monitoring and Evaluation team.
2. Why is impact evaluation important?
Impact evaluation is critical because it allows us to understand our contribution to the lives we aim to serve.
We are constantly assessing our work and seeking ways to maximize our impact. Ultimately we aim to make impact at the household level and evaluating our work helps us to do that in smarter, more sustainable ways.
3. What are some challenges in evaluating impact?
There are so many different ways and levels of rigor in which to evaluate impact, ranging from interviews with individual clients to large-scale randomized control trials, and everything in between.
All organizations struggle to some degree in determining the most appropriate ways to evaluate impact. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Here at GP we are committed to constantly assessing and balancing the time and resources we put into evaluation, and making sure they are appropriate to the size and scale of our partners and investments.
4. What is one impact evaluation project that GP is currently working on?
Good question! As I just started at GP I am currently learning who our partners are and understanding how we currently measure impact. GP already does a great job of quantifying the lives impacted by our investments, so I aim to now identify a couple partners to do some deep-dive impact studies.
5. What motivates you to do what you do?
I think one of my biggest motivators for doing this work is the challenge it presents. It is a difficult job to measure social impact because we are tackling really complex, deep-rooted problems!
You can design a perfect study or evaluation plan, but then there are always new on-the-ground factors and challenges that keep things interesting and force you to adapt your thinking and approaches. My own beliefs and theories are constantly evolving and I can’t imagine doing a job that didn’t challenge me on a daily basis.
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2015: A pivotal year for people living in poverty
This could be a pivotal year for people living in poverty as world leaders converge at two critical summits – the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Climate Change Conference – to shape the global development agenda. Though these meetings take place annually, 2015 will be different. The stakes are higher. Why?
What's next after the Millennium Development Goals?
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight goals that were created by the United Nations in 2000 to address extreme poverty. The goals included reducing extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education and increasing access to education. Quantifiable targets for each goal were set and the deadline to achieve them is this year – 2015. The U.N. will now need to pass a new set of goals called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at their annual summit in New York this September. This new set of goals will target eradicating extreme poverty, reducing inequality and increasing our planet’s sustainability.
Why this matters:
This unity behind a common set of goals contributed to several important MDGs being achieved, including the reduction of extreme poverty by half (accomplished ahead of schedule in 2005). Though some targets will not be met on time, a great amount of progress was made across all eight MDGs. In order to maintain this momentum, a new set of goals – the SDGs – needs to approved.
Climate change and poverty are linked
The U.N. Climate Change Conference is slated to take place in Paris in December, during which time world leaders will try to reach a binding agreement on measures that can curb climate change. Reaching an agreement will be critical to lowering greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent global temperature rise from breaching levels that will cause dangerous and irreversible damage to the climate.
Why this matters:
Climate change affects all seven billion people living on the planet but it disproportionately impacts the poor. The poor have fewer resources to recover from
climate events that cause crops to fail, food and water shortages and destruction of infrastructure. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has repeatedly said,
“The poor will be hit first and hardest. This means that the people who are least responsible for raising the Earth’s temperature may suffer the gravest consequences from global warming. That is fundamentally unfair.”
Kicking off this year of critical global development discussions is the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this week in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. As a nonprofit impact investor, we hope that world leaders can come together and agree upon a path to a future with more opportunities for people living in poverty.
11 hours in Yopal, Colombia with GP partner Amanecer
by Mark Coffey, chief investment and operating officer, Global Partnerships
My plane leaves Bogota, Colombia for Yopal at 6:09 am on a chilly and damp morning. I am disappointed to learn that I am seated in the last row in a window seat. However, I soon learn that I am fortunate to be in that seat.
Sitting next to me is a young project engineer from Bogota named Adriana. She travels to Yopal once a week to consult and monitor projects in this oil-rich region for her employer, Houston-based Environmental Resources Management. I tell her that I’m going to attend a 20th anniversary celebration hosted by one of Global Partnerships’ longtime partners, Fundacion Amanecer, a microfinance and training institution founded by a group of local companies. Adriana is interested in collaboration opportunities between ERM and Amanecer, and we spend the next hour talking.
The plane ride passes by quickly as we chat. Suddenly I look out the window and realize that the emerald-colored eastern mountain range of Cordillera Oriental has been replaced by vast stretches of open plains. When we deplane, the air feels completely different from that of Bogota: it is warm and humid.
I call Cesar Ivan Veloso, the general manager of Amanecer. He advises me to grab a cab, and says all cab drivers know where Amanecer is located, which I later find to be true. Since I arrived in Colombia late the previous night and don’t have pesos, Adriana gives me 5,000 pesos (less than $3) for a cab ride, and I promise to pay her back on my return, since we have learned that we are on the same flight going back to Bogota.
The cab driver drops me off in front of a beautiful brick building near the center of Yopal. I see signs everywhere for Amanecer and its 20th anniversary. In the lobby, already buzzing with people, I am greeted by Cesar Ivan and Claudia Jimenez, the director of finance and administration. I spend the next couple of hours meeting with Amanecer’s staff, supporters and board members.
Reflecting on two organizations' 20-year anniversary
Shortly after the celebration begins and Cesar has given a welcome speech, the master of ceremonies announces that I will be the first guest speaker. Since I didn’t receive an agenda, I was surprised to be the first speaker, especially since there are many dignitaries on the stand, including the Colombian Minister of Energy, the governor of the state of Casanare, and the mayor of Yopal.
I talk about the coincidence of Amanecer and Global Partnerships being established in 1994, both with similar goals of providing people with few resources with opportunity through training and access to finance. And while both organizations grow and prosper over time, the strength of the institution is not the true measuring stick of success. Rather, the progress and what we are celebrating is the hundreds of thousands of families who are now more informed and empowered to make their lives better. I see lots of heads nodding in the standing-room only crowd.
After me, there are a few more speeches, including one from an Amanecer client and communal bank leader. She is about 50 years old and a true Colombian cowgirl, dressed in a Stetson hat, long-sleeved jean shirt, jeans and boots. She is the star of the show, speaking in her Orionquian accent, telling jokes, and detailing how Amanecer has helped her with her cattle business and helped her rural community, far outside of Yopal. She says that she and those in her municipality are just humble campesinos (farmers), but she is proud of what they have accomplished.
Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Amanecer
After the event, I meet with Rosaura, Amanecer’s social manager. We walk through both their microfinance and social programs. I learn how they are integrated mainly through the 160 comunal banks. I also learn how the Action Board Committee in each vereda (small villages within each municipality) decides to create a communal bank, elects the officers, receives training from Amanecer, and then makes its own credit decisions. The theory is that the vereda officers are the ones who know the people applying for credit the best. Rosaura is also very interested in meeting with my airplane friend Adriana to see if they can collaborate.
As we get into the second hour of our meeting, we focus more on impact measurement. Amanecer has developed its own rating system for each communal bank, and an experienced manager named Alirio joins us to explain the rating system. Since Amanecer has historically focused mostly on financial performance, we discuss how more social impact measurement could be done. We all agree that focusing on three or four measures would be best, and that they should then track those measures over time.
Further, we talk about not measuring the unique things about each vereda, an almost impossible task, but rather tracking aggregate data on programs that apply to all of the communal banks, such as the holistic education they are currently providing on values and ethics, preventing violence against women, and alcohol abuse. The conversation becomes quite animated as we jointly realize that complexity is their worst enemy. We talk about the planning process for next year and the need to focus on what they can and should track.
A common bond
I end my day with Cesar Ivan and Claudia. They say that they feel differently about Global Partnerships than other financiers; they say that we are more interested in the programmatic aspects and impact of what they do, and that they feel a common bond with us. We wrap up with lots of hugs and Cesar thanks me for the alignment between our two organizations.
After checking in at the little airport, I bump into Adriana, provide her Rosaura’s card, Amanecer’s annual report, and her 5000 pesos, and we chat until our flight boards. I feel grateful for all the people I have met during my “once horas en Yopal”.
GP invests in Greenlight Planet to bring more solar lights to rural poor in Latin America
by Danny Stokley, green technology officer, Global Partnerships
In regions of the world where grid electricity is inaccessible, Greenlight Planet’s line of Sun King branded solar lights is becoming a household name. In simple terms, Greenlight Planet (GLP) makes really cool products designed for people living in poverty. They represent what many impact investors, like Global Partnerships, look for - overlap between reaching underserved families with products that improve their lives, while growing sales and maintaining margins that make them an attractive investment opportunity. Global Partnerships (GP) has been in conversations with GLP for over a year, and in October disbursed a working capital loan to support their continued growth as a company.
Why is GP investing in Greenlight Planet?
Global Partnerships has been working for some time to address the working capital crunch at the solar light distributor level in Latin America. We believe that partnering with GLP will help get more high-quality solar lights into local distribution channels, increasing the supply of products that make a tremendous impact at the household level. We learned a lot about the company through desk research and Skype calls, but visiting each partner, interviewing staff at all levels, and meeting their clients is an essential part of our due diligence process.
Visiting Greenlight Planet in India
So, after several months of pouring over financial statements, growth projections, and management bios, GP’s Chief Investment and Operating Officer (CIOO) Mark Coffey and I packed our bags and traveled to GLP’s headquarters in Mumbai, India. We spent two days on site working with GLP’s team, and then flew to Lucknow, the bustling capital of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.
Our ultimate destination was an off-grid community three hours outside the city, where we spent the afternoon interviewing families that had purchased Sun King products. However, we did get a chance to visit the GLP branch office in Lucknow. Still jetlagged, we were tired, hungry, and sweating profusely by the time we arrived. However, our exhaustion faded away when we were met at the door by the entire GLP branch team. They had stopped what they were doing to greet us, presenting each of us with a bouquet of flowers. That small extra gesture made us feel like we were already part of the family.
While this warm greeting is just one example, I believe much of GLP’s success can be attributed to their attention to little details. This ethos seems to be woven into the fabric of Greenlight Planet, and nowhere is this more evident than in their best-selling solar light, the Sun King Pro (SKP). At first glance the SKP is beautifully designed and elegant in its simplicity. Picking it up reveals that all external components are smooth, compact, and durable, made to withstand potentially rough treatment in rural environments. Beyond the attractive look and feel, the SKP offers a couple of key innovations – little details that make a big difference for families living off-grid.
Innovations in solar light design
By way of example, the SKP includes a solar charging gauge, a simple display showing the strength of charge while the panel is in the sun. This acts as a built-in guide to assist with panel placement decisions during the day, helping users determine which direction to face the panel and learn the effects of shading. Allowing each customer get the most out of their light not only increases user satisfaction, it ultimately increases impact through additional hours of light.
Attention to detail and focus on improving the user experience has proven to be very disruptive in technology markets in the developed world, and GLP’s Sun King solar lights are beginning to have the same impact in off-grid communities. Families living in extreme poverty are some of the most discerning customers on the planet, and companies that want to sell them new technologies must design intuitive, aspirational products.
Having a great solar light product is not enough to succeed
Most people working at the last mile will tell you that having a great product is just the beginning, and during our visit we also learned about a number of GLP’s innovations in building out distribution channels. In order to support GLP’s expansion in Latin America, Global Partnerships will provide working capital that allows them to offer more flexible credit terms to select partners in the region. These small social enterprises are acutely affected by cash flow challenges inherent in importing products manufactured across the world, yet are a key part of the value chain reaching off-grid consumers. We hope that a small grace period on payment terms will allow these companies to import greater quantities, avoid stock outs, and begin scaling their impact.
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Speed dating with purpose in Ecuador: 3 themes from the annual FOROMIC conference
by Nathalia Rodriguez Vega, financial and economic analysis officer, Global Partnerships
Earlier this month, I was one of seven members from the GP team that flew to Ecuador to attend FOROMIC, an annual conference held by the Inter-American Development Bank. It’s the largest event about the financial inclusion industry in Latin America and the best occasion to meet – in just 3 days – most of our partners as well as other organizations that help us do our work in the region.
For me in particular, this event was a unique opportunity to step away from the spreadsheets and lengthy reports, fly all the way from cloudy Seattle down to sunny Guayaquil, and get a first-hand impression about the people we work with, what excites them about their latest achievements, what worries them about the future, and most importantly, hear how we can help them.
How to speed date at FOROMIC
I met with representatives from 20 of our current 46 partners, in meetings that lasted about one hour on average. If you want to know how this works, picture an area in the middle of a convention center called the “Meeting Point”, which is filled with about 50 tables that are conveniently numbered and that can seat about four people at a time. Before the annual conference begins, the FOROMIC website allows you to see who is attending and gives you the option to schedule meetings with as many people as your agenda and body can take. Therefore, once the conference starts, you just need to go to the meeting point and someone from the team running the event will take you to your table. Every hour either this same person will come to tell you your time is up, and that someone else is meeting at that table, or you can just walk to the next table where you have your next meeting. It’s basically speed dating with a purpose.
These meetings could go in many different ways depending on the type of partner and how many years we have worked together. However, most of the time we would ask them to highlight the most important things that happened over the past year, the challenges they anticipate for the next couple of months, and their funding needs.
To sum up, here are three broad insights from my conversations with our partners:
1. The marketplace is very crowded:
Likely reflecting ample global liquidity, I was surprised to see so many lenders offering funding at very low interest rates. Although this “buyer’s market” probably makes many of our partners happy, it’s worth noting that current market conditions are unlikely to be like this permanently.
Furthermore, this abundant liquidity worries me, as it might create the wrong incentives and cause our partners to deviate from their mission. Therefore, as an impact investor we need to do an even stronger screen of the people we work with in the region. We need to follow up closely on any changes in their strategy, including the type of products they offer and how they care about raising the quality of life of people living in poverty.
2. Paradoxically, over-indebtedness co-exists with low financial inclusion rates:
Over-indebtedness is one of the key concerns addressed by many of our partners. This reminded me of my last trip to Peru, when I visited the small town of La Merced that had streets lined with all types of financial institutions. Even though Peru ranks as the leading country enabling financial inclusion (prudent regulation, agents and branches, and dispute resolution), financial inclusion is still relatively low (only 20 percent of the adult population held an account at a formal financial institution in 2011, according to the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database (Global Findex).
This signals that our work is not done. Vulnerable populations – women, indigenous groups, etc. – remain without access to financial services. However, not all organizations have the cost structure to fulfill their needs. We need to work with them to find ways they can reach vulnerable populations and at the same time have the right policies, risk mitigants, and controls to prevent over indebtedness among their clients.
3. Changing legal climate:
Most of our partners are changing their legal structure; some are looking to become regulated entities while others are planning on converting into cooperatives. In Bolivia, the 2013 Law of Financial Services, still undergoing implementation, requires that all non-governmental organizations or Instituciones Financieras de Desarrollo (IFDs) obtain their license over the next two years. With this license, our partners will have access to additional sources of funding, including deposits from the public, which is likely to reduce the need for international investors.
Given this context, we discussed with our partners what the future of our relationship would be. Overall they highlight that we have worked with them for many years, even in periods when funding was scarcer and they were just starting to run their operations. They value our role in helping them be the type of organization they are now and we are exploring other ways to keep our partnership in the future. We’re going to need creative ways to achieve this, for sure.
After three days of “speed dating” my brain felt somehow bigger with all these new learnings. I felt re-energized from all the conversations I had and impressed with the talent I met. This trip gave me a new sense of responsibility; we have a strong commitment to our partners and they see us as people that can provide them guidance and advice beyond funding. I can’t wait to go back to FOROMIC next year.
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IMPACT Newsletter: GP’s past, present & future, Luncheon highlights, and Investing in coffee co-ops
Here in Seattle, the days are getting shorter, the air chillier, and stringed lights are beginning to appear throughout the city. The holiday season has arrived. Next week, many of you will spend Thanksgiving with loved ones, sharing a meal and reflecting on all that you're thankful for.
We have also been doing quite a bit of reflection; 2014 is Global Partnerships’ 20th anniversary, and we’re thankful for your support of our work, and belief in our mission of expanding opportunity for people living in poverty.
At our annual luncheon last month, we looked back on our 20-year journey, and provided a glimpse into our future. In this issue of IMPACT, we round up highlights from the luncheon, and take a deeper look at our work with coffee cooperatives. Those who were unable to attend our luncheon may watch it online here.
GP'S PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
GP’s President & CEO Rick Beckett reflects on GP’s journey – from our start as a family foundation making grants in the pioneering days of microfinance to our current work as a nonprofit impact investor. Rick also recently shared his insights in interviews with Forbes, Humanosphere and GlobalWA.
Read more >
Last month, you helped us raise an astounding $643,000 at our annual luncheon! Our special guest speakers Elizabeth Littlefield, president & CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and Frank Fuentes, general manager of our partner Crediflorida in Peru, also shared powerful speeches. Read more >
INVESTING IN COFFEE CO-OPS
Karina Vadillo, GP’s legal services and fund operations officer, talks about her visit with Colombian co-ops earlier this year, and sheds light on the challenges that farmers face, and the ways that GP’s investments help. Read more >
Expanding opportunity for farmers in Paraguay
by Mark Coffey, chief investment and operating officer, Global Partnerships
Last week I traveled to Paraguay to meet with social enterprises, agricultural producers and a government official as part of our research into new investment opportunities. Nearly a quarter of Paraguay’s population lives below the poverty line, but the country’s underdeveloped economy is currently experiencing rapid economic growth. With this kind of growth comes the chance to catalyze and expand opportunity for people living in poverty. As I flew over much of the small, land-locked country in a tiny Beechcraft plane, I noticed the flatness of the land, its many rivers, and the countless tracts of well-watered but unused farmland. It is evident that Paraguay’s agricultural sector has tremendous potential for growth.
During my five days in Paraguay I was able to visit four social enterprises:
• BioExport and ARASY, two agricultural organizations that provide technical assistance and access to (and processing for) export markets. They serve smallholder farmers growing sesame and chia as well as more traditional products like cotton and rice;
• Fundacion Paraguaya, which provides credit and integrated services to people living at the base of the economic pyramid; and
• Elevate Business, which provides business training to young, emerging small and micro entrepreneurs (SME’s) who have high potential to absorb and implement concepts for markedly improving their business. Some of their clients include Fundacion Paraguaya’s clients.
In the past decade, many farmers with land holdings under 8 hectares (approximately 20 acres) have realized the benefit of enriching their soil and their incomes by converting from one traditional crop (such as rice, beans, corn, and cotton) to higher priced products such as sesame and chia. Thanks to the efforts of social enterprises such as BioExport and ARASY, hereafter referred to as “outgrowers,” there is a developing export market for these higher-priced products. To scale the opportunity to more farmers, we need to build up an ecosystem where access to financing, technical assistance and markets is readily available.
I also met with a number of farmers as well as cooperative and association leaders. In a meeting in Liberacion, an area with high poverty levels, I learned that the farmers had formed an association to better allow them to:
• form ties with buyers and providers of technical assistance (such as BioExport and ARASY);
• and to purchase and share equipment.
In another meeting at Cooperativa La Nortena, in the northern state of San Pedro, I learned about the coordination efforts between the various “tecnicos” (agronomists) who provide education and technical assistance, some of whom are staff of the outgrowers.
In another meeting in the southern state of Itapua, I attended a technical assistance meeting of about 50 farmers. The topics included the rotation of crops, the weather forecast and the planting of sesame seeds, proper soil preparation, etc. I found the farmers to be very attentive to the conversations and some of them were active in asking the tecnicos questions.
Some of the farmers were new to the sesame and chia crops, while others had experienced the benefits of the development of these markets over the past few years. My hosts told me that Paraguay currently has only about one percent of the world sesame market, but a much larger share of the Japanese import market and a growing share of the US and European markets. The Japanese are particularly interested in the expansion of supply from Paraguay, since the Paraguayan varieties are considered sweeter and of higher quality, and since Japan does not buy product from India, the world’s largest sesame producer.
The farmers told me about the importance of the technical assistance provided directly at the farm level as well as at community, association, and cooperative-level education sessions. With regard to financing, some of them wondered why it is so difficult to get long term financing rather than the type of seasonal financing they receive either in the form of seeds from outgrowers or in the form of loans from cooperatives.
A meeting with the vice minister of agriculture
After these visits I had the opportunity to meet in Asuncion with Vice Minister of Agriculture Mario Ruben Leon. After a discussion of our interest in Paraguay and some of my observations about the potential for improved output and earnings by small-holder farmers, he emphasized two keys to the development of smallholder farmers in Paraguay:
(1) Greater mechanization: This doesn’t have to mean large equipment mechanization, but can be as simple as some US-manufactured products such as plastic tables or huge plastic bags that keep farm products from being damaged in the fields, or semi-mechanized planters. He also noted that because of the lack of mechanization, young people see their fathers work all day long in the hot sun, with very little reward. As a result they don’t want to work the farm, but at the same time, they are unprepared to go to the city.
(2) Crop rotation: Mr. Leon specifically focused on the value for the farmer of planting sesame and chia, and then rotating into more “old school” products for the rest of the year-long growing season. We agreed that there is plenty of cultivable land, and favorable conditions (long growing season, warm weather, water). But until greater training and mechanization occur, Paraguay will not retain young people in farming and not grow incomes and outputs like it should. Some BioExport agronomists would go further and say that mechanization is optimally effective only when accompanied by technical assistance.
I came away from my meetings in the agricultural sector with an appreciation for all the actors and tools that are required to create markets and lift a sector: cultivable land, reasonable mechanization, technical assistance, access to both seasonal and longer term capital, promotion of products in export markets, modern and low cost processing technology, government support of the sector, and investors that understand how to locate and finance the key value chain players. At Global Partnerships, our role is limited but essential to making the value chain work; without it, farmers will produce less sesame and chia in Paraguay and households will not realize the earnings potential and the extent to which their daily lives could improve.