Investing in Businesses That Invest in the Poor


This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

In Pakistan, a company called Saiban creates housing communities for the poor. About thirty percent of the country's population is estimated to live in unplanned settlements without legal right to the land.

Siaban buys land, then sells pieces of it to families to build houses. Roads, water and electricity are provided.

In India, a small company makes and sells low-cost drip irrigation systems to poor farmers. IDE-India spent seven years researching and developing the equipment. More than seventy-five thousand have been sold.

Both Saiban and IDE-India operate thanks to the Acumen Fund. This nonprofit organization in New York helps people in developing countries build businesses to help the poor.

The Acumen Fund provides loans, equity investments and grants to entrepreneurs and existing businesses. It operates like a venture capital organization.

Acumen works with local companies to create business plans for their goods and services. Then it guides them through the marketing and production process. Expert knowledge and technical assistance are provided.

The Acumen Fund supports development in three areas: water, health and housing.

In Tanzania, it helped a company get the knowledge and equipment needed to produce chemically treated bed nets. These protect against mosquitoes that spread malaria.

Today, A to Z Textile Mills is the third largest company in Tanzania. It has five thousand employees and produces about seven million bed nets a year.

Jacqueline Novogratz, a social entrepreneur, launched the Acumen Fund in two thousand one. The Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation and three individuals donated money to start it.

Acumen has built a network of investors and experts. The fund now supervises about twenty million dollars in investments in six countries: Egypt, India, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and Tanzania.

Spokeswoman Mariko Tada says Acumen is considering several new projects. Within months, it hopes to invest more than one million dollars in a Kenyan company that helps farmers grow Artemisia. The plant is used as a compound in the malaria drug artemisinin.

And Acumen may invest in a private ambulance service in Mumbai, India.

That's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. You can find a link to the Acumen Fund Web site at WWW.51VOA.COM. I'm Shep O'Neal.