Guest Articles

January 3

Scott Anderson

Announcing the Most Influential NextBillion Posts of 2017

As we welcome 2018, we’d like to pay a final tribute to the top posts of 2017. In their own way, each of these insightful pieces introduced a novel concept, approach or argument that captured our readers’ attention – and in some cases, provoked their ire. Looking back as we do this time of year, we were struck by the quality of those insights and the depth of the discussions that followed them. We’re also gratified that the twelve finalists, along with so many other authors over the course of the year, chose NextBillion as the platform to bring their innovations, initiatives and arguments to the attention of the social business community. We look forward to showcasing many more such articles in 2018!

And now, on to the results. In something of a photo finish, the No. 1 and No. 2 posts were separated by little more than two percentage points in the final vote tally. This is the closest margin we’ve had in the six years running this annual contest.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote during the last 12 days, and to all of our contributors in 2017. Congratulations to the winners, and happy new year!


First place (25.3 percent of the vote)

An Impact Investor Urges Caution on the ‘Energy Access Hype Cycle’

Ceniarth, an impact investment group, had been fairly active in the energy access sector for at least three years. But in 2017, the three principals with the firm – Greg Neichin, Diane Isenberg and Mary Roach (now at Loowatt), explained why they were stepping back from off-grid energy venture capital investments in emerging markets. Their concerns about the solar home system sector touched off the longest-running debate this year on NextBillion, as several sector investors echoed their concerns, while others, including some entrepreneurs, rebutted them.

Key quote: “… it is not easy for most investors to publicly acknowledge concerns about sectors where they have made financial commitments. It poses a risk to the capital that they have already extended in the market. As we maintain current financial exposure to the solar home system sector, it would be economically rational for us to keep our heads down quietly.

As a mission-oriented firm, however, we felt it was important to transparently share our insights even if they are in conflict with our financial interests. We will continue to try to live up to this promise as we work collaboratively to fund solutions that deliver critical and sustainable improvements in rural livelihoods.”


Second Place (23.5 Percent of the vote)

A Milestone in Innovative Finance: Exploring the First-Ever Outcome-Based DIB for Poverty Alleviation in Africa

The graduation approach is a promising solution to poverty, with proven results. But it’s difficult to scale, and traditional funding models lack the flexibility and performance incentives to drive its impact, since funding is typically tied to activities rather than outcomes. Dianne Calvi, president and CEO of the NGO Village Enterprise, discusses an intriguing new solution: the US $5.26 million Village Enterprise Development Impact Bond (DIB), which she calls “the first-ever outcome-based development impact bond” focused on poverty alleviation in Africa. Can it provide a model for future funding of anti-poverty programs?

Key quote: “Critics of impact bonds have noted that their set-up costs are high and their scale is limited. We believe this has mainly been because previous approaches have insufficiently leveraged true market forces, and instead have relied on a central and over-engineered approach. We believe that if donors come together to commit significant outcome funds and specify clear and realistic conditions for a provider to earn payments, capable service providers will have the incentive to build capabilities to mobilize the necessary working capital and negotiate terms with investors.”


Third Place (12.8 Percent of the Vote)

Digital Isn’t Always the Answer: Building Choice into Financial Inclusion Solutions for Smallholder Farmers

If each and every one of the approximately 500 million farmers who feed about 2 billion people received a mobile phone tomorrow, it might not improve their lives. For many who have to navigate spotty networks, unreliable apps and various levels of financial literacy, a mobile phone can be more burden than blessing. Alexandra Fiorillo, the founder and principal at GRID Impact, explained why financial inclusion projects need to avoid pushing technology for its own sake.

Key quote: “Although the benefits of mobile money are frequently touted, it isn’t always the best solution. In fact, research shows that many people save more and spend less when handling physical cash. … Instead of pushing technology for technology’s sake, financial inclusion projects ought to seek diverse solutions that are appropriate and accessible for customers based on their needs – which may mean providing a choice of cash modality (e.g. hard cash, mobile money and card-based solutions).”


Scott Anderson is a contributing editor at NextBillion.




Agriculture, Energy, Finance, Investing
digital finance, digital payments, graduation approach, impact investing, mobile finance, smallholder farmers