Serving the poor, but operating like a business
Monday, March 25, 2013
At a time when public sector resources are limited, and every philanthropic dollar must go further, there is a robust debate in the international development community about how to achieve development goals with less money. To succeed in a resource-constrained environment, development practitioners should learn from a group that is adept at delivering cost-effective products and services at scale: private-sector corporations.
I work for a nonprofit called One Acre Fund that serves smallholder farmers, the largest group of poor people in the world. Our typical client is a woman farmer with five children, two acres of land, and a history of food insecurity. She is unable to grow enough food on her land to feed her family, and each year, lives through a hunger season, the several months between the end of the old harvest and the arrival of the new.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, we help farmers increase their incomes with an operating model that requires them to pay for all the products and services they receive from us. We are a nonprofit, but in practice, we operate exactly like a business. This is a deliberate choice, and we believe that it is why we’ve been able to grow to serve 130,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa since we started in 2006.