Guest Articles

October 28

Scott Anderson / James Militzer / Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup: Pondering Vice President Bill Gates (Thanks, WikiLeaks), How Buyers Lag Sellers, and FICO Going Big – Real Big

Such is the esteem of the U.S. vice presidency that Daniel Webster once turned down the job by saying, “I do not propose to be buried until I am dead.” But that didn’t stop global health purveyors from wondering “What if?” when WikiLeaks recently revealed that Bill Gates was on Hillary Clinton’s short(ish) list for VP.

What if Gates took his knowledge of public health – not to mention his connections, problem-solving ability, technology skills, etc. – to Washington, D.C., the center of the political universe, and worked outward from there? For a man who’s turning poop into potable water, changing the vice presidency into a position of influence would have been child’s play.

Alas, he didn’t get (or even want) the gig, and said yesterday he has no interest in being on the ballot in 2020.

Clearly, Gates through his philanthropy already has tremendous influence on global health. But it’s still fun to imagine how, working in day-to-day politics inside the Beltway, he might have helped reshape the health care policy of the U.S. government and others around the world.


Social enterprise sells, but who’s buying?

In the past six years, public awareness of social enterprises and their efforts to reach profits with purpose has grown exponentially. But when it comes to buying goods and services from those enterprises, consumer habits aren’t moving forward as quickly, according to a new survey. The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) and NUS Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy conducted a survey of more than 1,800 people. They found 65 percent of respondents there were aware of social enterprises (five times what it was in 2010). But of those respondents, just 35 percent had purchased something from a social enterprise, versus 22 percent who said the same in 2010.


FICO Ups the Ante

Earlier this month, we covered the arrival of U.S. credit-scoring behemoth FICO in India, as it announced a partnership with Lenddo to develop a score for Indian consumers with limited or no formal credit history. Turns out that was the tip of the iceberg, as the company announced this week that it is launching an initiative to increase access to credit for over 3 billion people around the globe. Part of that will involve leveraging alternative data sources to assess otherwise unscorable consumers, starting in Turkey, Russia, Mexico, India, China and the Philippines. To that end, along with Lenddo, FICO will partner with EFL Global to leverage its consumer-contributed psychometric scoring technology. We’ll have more coverage of these developments in the coming weeks.


A Lesson Relearned

The WHP-Sky Program, which launched in 2011, was primed for success. It got $23 million in funding from the Gates Foundation. It won a Schwab Foundation Award and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. It was, according to those in the know, a brilliant idea, providing telemedicine in rural India where doctors are scarce.

The only problem was it didn’t work. According to a report published this month by a team of independent scientists commissioned by Gates, the project basically had no impact whatsoever. Turns out, patients didn’t like it and rural health clinics didn’t want to join a franchise.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere, and it has to do with the unwillingness of people to pay for something they don’t want, no matter how many others tell them they should want it.



“I started my career in Morgan Stanley in New York. I left Wall Street to take my learning to the dirt paths of my country, Bangladesh. During my time at Grameen Bank I came across borrowers who were defaulting on their loans because they did not have access to markets to produce their goods. I wanted to solve this problem, leading me to establish an organization called oneNest, which served to link artisans to the market. oneNest is what is now known as a social enterprise. But back then, I became a social entrepreneur without even knowing it.” – Durreen Shahnazm, founder of Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX), as told to the Asia Society blog.


Ecobank Goes Big

Almost three dozen countries in Africa just got a new banking option. A new mobile app launched this week by Ecobank will provide “an instant and convenient way of banking via the mobile phone,” the company said, letting customers across 33 African countries open a new digital account with no more than a few clicks, and no paper references. Besides enabling mobile payments between users across these countries, it will allow customers to pay in-store with their mobile phones, “allowing them to shop, transact and do business without cash,” according to Ecobank’s CEO.


Sign of the Times …

The Chronicle of Philanthropy released its annual rankings of the 400 largest charities in the U.S., and not everyone’s happy about who’s number one. This year’s biggest charity by donor contribution is Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, a nonprofit spinoff from one of the world’s largest financial services firms. The charity bumped The United Way from the top spot. At its present rate, the fund could soon outpace the Gates Foundation in annual grantmaking. But the trend toward donor-advised funds is angering some who see a shell game.

“They’re not charities; they’re conduit organizations,’ Robert Sharpe, a veteran nonprofit consultant told The Chronicle. “It’s money in holding tanks.”


Ripple Effect

Last week saw another breakthrough for the use of digital currencies in finance, as the U.S.-based startup R3, along with 12 global banks, completed a successful test of an international payment system developed by fintech company Ripple. The banks used Ripple’s digital currency, known as XRP, to provide liquidity for cross-border settlements, avoiding the need to hold various currencies across multiple accounts in different countries. According to the company, the system could cut settlement costs by 60 percent, and lead to further efforts to introduce new technologies into the financial system. It bodes well for efforts to lower the costs of international remittances.



A number of significant new reports have made headlines recently, including:

  • The GSMA’s The Mobile Economy: India 2016 report, which found that 616 million unique users had subscribed to mobile services in India by the end of June of this year, and predicted that number will increase to almost 1 billion by 2020.
  • Global Microscope 2016: The Enabling Environment for Financial Inclusion, from the Inter-American Development Bank, the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the MetLife Foundation. It highlights gains in financial inclusion and digital finance, and found that “more than half of the 55 countries studied improved their enabling environment for financial inclusion in all areas in the past year,” with India joining Peru, Colombia and the Philippines at the top of the rankings.
  • The World Bank’s Monitoring Global Poverty report, released last week, which made recommendations on how to better measure and monitor global poverty in support of the goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030. (Interesting: Some analysts have interpreted the report as encouraging the World Bank to move away from the concept of a global poverty line.)      


Photo: Bill Gates speaking at the UK Department for International Development, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and DFID.



Social Enterprise
financial inclusion, poverty alleviation, social enterprise