How entrepreneurship is tackling global poverty

Can the world’s communities most disadvantaged by capitalism, actually be empowered through entrepreneurship?

We talk to the CEO of Village Enterprise about her mission to transform lives and economies in rural Africa.

Image: Village Enterprise

Humanity’s biggest failure

Alongside the climate emergency, global poverty remains the single biggest failure of post-war capitalism.

Despite the determination of NGOs and the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by most countries, traditional methods often fall short in providing sustainable solutions.

In recent years, social entrepreneurship has emerged as a bigger and bigger force in the fight against poverty, offering innovative and sustainable ways to uplift communities.

In a recent episode of The Possibility Club podcast, we explored how entrepreneurship, particularly through the lens of Village Enterprise and its CEO Dianne Calvi, is trying to transform lives and economies in rural Africa.

The vision behind Village Enterprise

Village Enterprise operates with a mission to end extreme poverty in rural Africa through entrepreneurship, innovation and collective action.

The organisation works in some of the most impoverished areas of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. By equipping individuals with the necessary resources and skills to start small businesses, Village Enterprise has a plan to foster sustainable economic growth from the ground up.

Dianne Calvi’s personal story is built on a life-long commitment to social change. Inspired by her father’s own journey out of extreme poverty, Calvi has dedicated her career to tackling the knottiest of problems head-on.

Following high profile stint at Microsoft, Calvi refocused her skills to lead Village Enterprise – curious about applying business principles to achieve social impact.

   

We interviewed Dianne for The Possibility Club podcast, about the Village Enterprise mission.

Rethinking impact

The core of Village Enterprise’s approach is its focus on local entrepreneurship. Instead of providing loans, the organisation offers cash grants, training and mentorship to help individuals start and sustain their businesses.

The outcomes of this was tested in two independent randomised control trials which demonstrated significant improvements in income, mental health and overall wellbeing among participants.

One study found that for every dollar invested in the Village Enterprise program, five dollars of income are generated. Unsurprisingly, this ROI has caught the attention of governments looking to adopt similar models to stimulate economic growth​.

Dianne Calvi told us that their programme targets entire communities, working with up to 85% of households in an area. This aims to not only lift individual families out of poverty but to spurs the development of local economic ecosystems.

Businesses that start as small agricultural enterprises often grow into more diverse business groups, including shops, restaurants, and technology-based services like mobile phone charging stations

Collaboration with the private sector

One of the unique aspects of Village Enterprise’s model is its collaboration with private sector actors. Through partnerships with organisations like Mercy Corps, Village Enterprise ensures that new businesses have access to markets and customers.

For example, Mercy Corps helps connect poultry farmers with larger poultry factories, creating a sustainable supply chain that creates value for both the entrepreneurs and the companies​.

This symbiotic relationship extends to other sectors as well, where Village Enterprise brokers connections between new businesses and larger market leaders. This model attracts further investment and development, building a positive feedback loop of economic development.

Beyond numbers

The impact of Village Enterprise goes beyond the basic economic metrics. Increased access to education and healthcare, better nutrition and improved housing are measurable outcomes. These benefits are especially pronounced among women, who make up over 85% of the target participants.

Calvi says she firmly believes in the importance of social capital and community connections in driving long-term success. The support structures created through Savings and Loan groups and ongoing mentoring help sustain the businesses beyond inital training.

The integration of technology, such as digital bookkeeping through the DreamSave app, helps entrepreneurs manage their finances more effectively and build the business in-step with emerging digital change​.

The broader implications for global poverty

The work of Village Enterprise shows the potential of entrepreneurship to drive significant social change. By shifting the focus from aid to empowerment, organisations like Village Enterprise are developing new models of poverty alleviation that can be both sustainable and scalable. 

A 2022 study on social entrepreneurship by Frontiers in Psychology highlighted the benefits of integrating social, economic, and ecological innovation in poverty alleviation. The research found that social entrepreneurship is a process of identifying, developing, and realising social opportunities, particularly in rural areas where traditional poverty-reduction methods often fail. 

always possible’s mission for social enterprises

always possible has supported 100s of social enterprises and enterprise charities to think big about impact.

Our direct strategic support, workshops and mentoring, has built capacity of organisations like Homeland Ghana, Big Local, Superlooper, and Matchable.

Check out our visit to the 2023 One Young World Summit – the largest global gathering of young social entrpreneurs. And our start-up programme for socially-focused businesses in East Sussex.

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