Enterprise-based Solutions to Poverty

Enterprise Solutions to Poverty:

Research, strategy, new institutions and direct programs

Vision-Five has special experience and expertise in developing high impact philanthropy via investment in enterprise-based solutions to poverty.

Ten examples of philanthropic projects variously inspired, developed or catalyzed by Charles Harper:

1.Conceptualized and initiated IFC (International Finance Corporation) research study developed by Dahlberg Global Development Advisors and Steve Beck of Springhill Equity Partners evaluating franchise and microfranchise business strategies as enterprise-based solutions to poverty.  (IFC report not yet publicly released.)

2.Co-conceptualized and obtained initial capital funding for the Seven Fund.  (http://www.sevenfund.org/)

3.Co-conceptualized  and obtained initial capital funding for The “Pioneers of Prosperity” entrepreneurs competitions series in Africa and the Caribbean.  See: 






4.Played a key catalyst role in the development of The Legatum-MIT Center for Development & Entrepreneurship.

( http://legatum.mit.edu/ )

5.Conceptualized and initiated the “What works in enterprise-based solutions to poverty” grants competition.


6.Initially developed Geneva Global  (http://www.genevaglobal.com/ ) on behalf of its earliest-stage philanthropic supporters and served as founding chairman.

7.Conceptualized and developed a major expansion initiative for William Easterly’s Development Research Center at NYU:

“Free the Poor:  The Untapped Sources of Entrepreneurship.”  (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/show_profiles.asp?p=12576&b=3|61)

8.Conceptualized and initially developed Columbia University Business School Program on Indian Economic Policies: Free Trade, Democracy and Entrepreneurial Development.  Directed by Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya and Glenn Hubbard.

(http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/show_profiles.asp?p=14578&b=3|61 )

9.  Identified and obtained capital for James Tooley’s ground-breaking research on For-Profit Schools Serving the Educational Needs of the Poor.     (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/show_profiles.asp?p=10382&b=3|61)

     10.  Developed a major expansion of research and advocacy focused on Land privatization in China by the

Rural Development Institute.  (http://www.templeton.org/funding_areas/show_profiles.asp?p=11511&b=3|61 )

A note on our philosophy-for-success in this area:

Vision-Five looks to business entrepreneurs who have created viable growing firms as a key to the development of especially successful strategies, agendas and institutions to help the poor through enterprise-focused approaches.

In this area of philanthropy, Vision-Five counsels: first, “do no harm,” second, “don’t follow the herd,” and  third, “be willing to pursue unfashionable strategies” such as connecting with for-profit businesses. 

Vision-Five also believes that one useful goal is the contrarian task of changing the mindset of the majority away from sentimentality on various perceived solutions to mass poverty.

The persistence of mass poverty in the world remains one of the great challenges for people seeking to use their resources to help others less fortunate than themselves.  Efforts to assist poor people, communities and countries have been many and varied in human history.  Attempts to “stop poverty” by philanthropic methods in the 20th century are especially illuminating, mainly due to failures to accomplish enduringly positive outcomes.  Many failures of well-intended assistance, especially in Africa, are now known to be associated with unintended negative consequences, so much so that one particularly skillful analyst, Simeon Djankov, who has studied the impact of close to a trillion dollars of aid, finds it to have contributed overall to a worsening of poverty. 

It is far too easy for anti-poverty philanthropy to be about intentions rather than results.  It is easy to become honored and celebrated for seeking to decrease mass poverty.  It is hard actually to succeed in doing it.   

People tend to think of mass poverty as an abnormality that requires a “cause” to be identified and remedied.  From the perspective of the long view of history, however, it is the other way ‘round.  Poverty is ordinary.  Persistent growth in economic productivity generating increasing wealth for the average person is novel and unusual.  It is wealth, not poverty, that requires understanding of special ‘causes.’ 

Societies that have accomplished long-term economic growth have developed a highly complex ecology of progressive transformations in “human capital,” institutions, technology innovation and business competition that generates a long-term upward spiral of productivity enhancement and of wealth creation/accumulation. To understand how a country like Rwanda might be transformed from poverty to wealth, it may be more important to know how a country like Singapore came to be wealthy over the past 65 years than to know how Rwanda suffered over the same time period (though that is very important knowledge nonetheless).  

Identifying effective “enterprise-based solutions to poverty” therefore requires understanding both ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ conditions supporting long-term economic growth, in addition to on-the-ground situations in poor countries, and insights into local economies and possibilities for productivity.  No countries that have experienced long-term economic growth did so as a consequence of external philanthropic charity. None.

There are many worthwhile possibilities to act by philanthropic or direct business investment to help poor people enter into economically productive activities, even in countries that are not on an economic growth track. Top solutions-creators in difficult environments tend to be the successful entrepreneurs who have developed businesses that are growing and that are providing quality to consumers, value to owners, high and rising wages to workers, and growth prospects of a better future for many over the long term.  Even in a chaotic and violent situation like Congo, hyper-talented entrepreneurs have done great good on a mass scale creating jobs and livelihoods for tens of thousands of people, (as has Alieu Conteh, the entrepreneur-philanthropist founder of Vodacom-Congo)*.

Philanthropy and philanthropic investing focused on increasing the pool of profitable entrepreneurs offers the most promise for long-term positive outcomes in seeking to alleviate mass poverty.

* On Alieu Conteh:



Alieu Conteh, 57, 25 years an entrepreneur, is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Congolese Wireless Networks, the first GSM cellular provider in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Born in Gambia, Mr. Conteh’s story begins in the 1980’s when, after a business and law education in London and California, he became a commodity trader in the London coffee, tin and gold markets. In 1986 he received the first cable TV license in DRC, which he built into a successful business. Then, in 1997, seeing the potential of cellular communication and its limited implementation in the DRC, he fought against civil war, corruption and technical difficulties while investing his savings. He successfully negotiated the first GSM license in 1997 and launched the network in 1999. In 2001 Vodacom purchased 51% of his network and today they serve 2 million customers and provide affordable coverage nationwide. Mr. Conteh continues to invest in the African wireless infrastructure and is back in the trading business with his latest venture, Kanuma Resources, which is seeking to establish import links with Thailand. He is married with four children and currently lives in Johannesburg.

(From: http://www.mitgsw.org/conference2009.php?id=12#Conteh )