NextBillion Editor

Weekly Roundup 9-19-15: Impact investing gets bizarro, poverty surveys get reflective, Gates gets quizzed

The Survey as a Mirror and a Roadmap

Poverty is not homogenous. The economic, health and life conditions that lead one family into the clutches of need may be completely different from those of their next-door neighbors. And finding out exactly what makes their situations so different, and how to help them to help themselves, well, it’s no easy task for a poverty assessment surveyor holding a clipboard.

The World Economic Forum Agenda blog recently interviewed Martin Burt, founder and CEO of Fundación Paraguaya, which created the assessment tool Poverty Stoplight. The 30-minute survey, which can be administered by phone or tablet, is not just geared for NGOs considering impact or social businesses researching a market.

“… Instead of being an index for policy-makers, the Poverty Stoplight is a tool for a very different kind of decision-maker: the head of the household,” Burt told Agenda. “Once that household’s deprivations are visualized in the dashboard, the family creates a customized plan to prioritize their problems and overcome them with the help of existing resources in the community.”

The Poverty Stoplight has been used in eight African countries, eight Latin American countries, plus India and Vietnam. Burt told the publication that private-sector companies and microlenders also have approached him.

“The key is to allow each family to take ownership of their situation, and make a family plan,” Burt said. “What are my priorities? What am I going to do to rectify this? Who has resources available in the community who can help me? What is my timeframe? This plan is the family’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to share those patterns with existing service providers in the community – NGOs who make wheelchairs or agencies that do sanitation hook-ups, for example, who can lend their support without having to take ownership of that household’s overall situation.”


-Scott Anderson






Impact Investing in Bizarro World

If you’re a fan of Superman – or of Seinfeld – you’ll probably remember "Bizarro world." It was a cube-shaped planet populated by inverted versions of Superman and other DC Comics characters, who did the opposite of whatever their Earth counterparts would do. So Bizarro-Batman wore a “Futility Belt” full of chewed gum, cigarette butts and other useless items, Bizarro-Aquaman couldn’t swim – you get the idea.

Ever wonder what impact investing would look like on this crazy planet? Well, wonder no more! This week saw the official arrival of Freedom Capital, a new fund that practices what it calls “American Impact Investing.” Decrying the “left-liberal bias” in traditional impact investing, the fund aims to invest in companies involved in fossil fuels, firearms and weapons manufacturing, and other industries that social investors tend to avoid. As it says on its website, “Every week a new endowment, bank or fund announces a new Impact Investing strategy that further limits capital flows to essential industries. Freedom Capital seeks to reverse that trend by profitably investing in critical industries that support America’s prosperity, security and freedom.” The fund, whose management includes controversial former ambassador John Bolton, launched an initial public offering on Tuesday, through which it hopes to raise $500 million.

What to make of all this? Though we try to remain apolitical on NextBillion, it’s hard not to poke some fun at an initiative premised on the idea that the firearms and fossil fuel industries are somehow hurting for cash. And it’s frustrating to think that helping people and the environment are now controversial propositions. But though it’s tempting to write off Freedom Capital as a joke, or an attempt to blow off steam through pointless contrarianism, its existence could signal something important.

The fund’s rationale is a reminder that, as its website puts it (in a tone meant to be alarming), “the Socially Responsible Investment movement influences $6.57 trillion, or one in six, managed dollars in the United States.” In other words, the movement has gotten big enough to make some enemies. And therein lies potential trouble. If SRI/impact investing becomes the latest seemingly non-partisan issue to get sucked into America’s culture war vortex, it could end up driving away a sizeable segment of the population – not what a sector striving for mainstream acceptance needs. So cross your fingers that nobody mentions it at the next GOP debate.


– James Militzer






Bill Gates Headed Toward Memes?

When it comes to health care in the developing world, there’s a distinct lack, relatively speaking, of online click-bait. (What’s click-bait? This: “16 Pictures Of Beyoncé Where She’s Not Sinking In Quicksand.”)

When lives are at stake, it seems the height of bad taste to try to attract readers to your posts with contrivances like listicles and quizzes. Unless you’re Bill Gates. As the Emperor of Earnestness, he gets to have a little fun occasionally.

He did just that this week with a “World IQ Quiz” on his blog. As a way to promote next week’s meeting in New York City on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, he challenges readers to beat his score on a series of mostly health-related questions. (He got nine out of 10 correct, leaving readers to wonder when was the last time he scored only 90 percent on a quiz?)

We’re not sure whether it was just because Gates was posing the questions, or because the world of global health could use a little less austerity – but the quiz drew us in. We obligingly clicked all the way through. We didn’t beat Gates – as if that was ever in doubt – but we did learn a few statistics along the way, and were reminded how far global health has come and how far it has got to go.

What’s next for Gates? GIFs? Memes? We have to admit, if he goes that direction, we’ll probably click it.


– Kyle Poplin





financial inclusion, impact investing, poverty alleviation