Mercy Corps sees complex global challenges as an invitation: to pioneer paths out of poverty, to forge new partnerships, to create solutions that break through entrenched challenges. But the traditional grant-based model of funding international development is limiting. It rarely promotes the flexibility and experimentation required to test new models — models that could deliver social benefit to millions of people in the developing world.
Mercy Corps’ Social Venture Fund provides early-stage financing and post-investment support to create and grow scalable, self-sustaining businesses that improve people’s lives in an enduring way. We do this by pairing our deep, on-the-ground insight into local customs and markets with a unique blend of capital and targeted business expertise.
Capitalized by philanthropic contributions, we structure the Mercy Corps Social Venture Fund so that our highest-potential emerging ventures receive the early-stage support needed to learn, adapt and grow. Those that demonstrate financial sustainability, social impact and scale in the proof-of-concept and acceleration phases are connected with investors for follow-on funding to reach commercial viability.
New Light Africa - Nairobi, Kenya
New Light Africa (NLA) is a direct marketing and distribution company that sells socially beneficial products to the rural poor. NLA’s mission is to improve the quality of life for millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa who primarily live off the electricity grid by offering products such as solar lights, fuel-efficient cookstoves, alternative fuels, water purifiers and water heaters. New Light Africa, operating under the local brand HEYA! in Kenya, plans to build a widely distributed sales channel through local agents, with aggressive plans to offer financing in the sales process, from local retailer to end consumer.
Vasham - Jakarta, Indonesia
Vasham leverages a closed-loop business model to provide Indonesian smallholder farms with the financing, expertise, income security and market linkage they need to achieve significantly better standards of living. Vasham aggregates and provides a bundle of services to smallholder farmers growing staple crops. Those services include input and working capital loans, farmer advisory through mobile channels and field officers, and market linkage at an above-market price premium via its off-take partner. Vasham aims to serve over 200,000 farmers across Indonesia by 2020.
FarmDrive - Nairobi, Kenya
FarmDrive expands access to credit to underserved smallholder farmers by providing modern tech-driven credit assessment tools and digital financial services. Over 60% of the population in Kenya depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, however, most lack access to credit. Traditional credit assessment tools used by the financial institutions are not built to work for smallholder farmers. FarmDrive has pioneered innovative ways to aggregate and analyze pertinent information about smallholder farmers from dynamic traditional and alternate data points - including mobile phone usage, satellite and weather data, and transactional data from produce offtakers, agro-dealers and the farmers themselves. They build innovative comprehensive credit profiles used for real-time credit assessment to then serve smallholder farmers through digital financial services. FarmDrive's solution enables farmers to access a range of affordable financial services over mobile phones from partner financial institutions.
Wobe - Jakarta, Indonesia
Wobe is a mobile platform that allows anyone with a smartphone to become a sales agent for prepaid phone credits, prepaid utilities, and other digital goods and services. 78% of Indonesians currently do not interact with financial service institutions, lacking the ability to quickly and conveniently engage in the digital economy. Wobe is focused on creating income generating opportunities for rural women in Indonesia while serving as the critical last-mile distribution network for an array of digital goods, services and financial products. Wobe endeavors to develop Indonesia’s most extensive hyper-local agent network for rural distribution, starting with 25,000 agents in 2016.
Lynk - Nairobi, Kenya
Lynk connects informal workers with short and longer term employment through a two-way, online marketplace. Much like Task Rabbit in the United States, Lynk is an online platform that connects workers with jobs that are suited to them, and connects professionals with skilled, reliable workers who can help complete their tasks. The platform currently offers job matching for work in carpentry, painting and home repair, wellness, moving and deliveries, tailoring and gardening. The workers’ identities and skills are verified by Lynk before the worker is allowed on the platform, and then their work is rated by the customer. Workers receive their fee in whole, with Lynk taking a small commission entirely from the employer.
Mercy Corps launched the Social Venture Fund (SVF) in 2015 to fill a critical gap (the “Pioneer Gap”) in the impact investing market for seed and early stage social venture startups. In its first year, SVF completed six investments, becoming one of the most active early stage impact investors in both Indonesia and Kenya.
During the same time, Mercy Corps became a founding member of the INGO Impact Investing Network, a consortium of more than 40 INGOs that are working together to generate and share knowledge about how INGOs are using private investment capital to advance their work in solving pressing global development challenges. This group believes that impact investing—the investment of capital to drive measureable social, economic, and environmental as well as financial returns—presents a compelling opportunity to achieve increased scale, innovation, sustainability, and partnerships in international development. The INGO Impact Investing Network’s first report that was released in July 2016 provides in-depth study of the current impact investing landscape among INGOs in the international development sector.
As Mercy Corps, and others, continue pioneering this approach, we plan on sharing our insights regularly with all interested stakeholders. Mercy Corps will release case studies on our investments highlighting the unique value we bring as an investor, how we’ve connected them to Mercy Corps’ larger platform and how we can improve in the future.
We hope you will join us on our journey to empower local entrepreneurs to solve big development challenges.
Partnerships and networks are key to supporting entrepreneurs and creating a thriving ecosystem for them to succeed. Mercy Corps is excited to be a member or leader in several great networks including:
Are you interested in working for a better world in pioneering new ways? We are seeking early partners passionate about employing business strategies to reduce poverty.
Email email@example.com to learn more about opportunities to invest in our Social Venture Fund and pursue a lasting approach to global development.