New York, New York
What: Global venture catalyst. Scouts out entrepreneurs in emerging economies, then pairs them with advisers, mentors, and investors. The aim is to create hundreds of jobs at a time and highlight role models to inspire others to think big.
Who: "Entrepreneurship should be America's best export," says CEO and cofounder Linda Rottenberg, 36. Endeavor was the result of a conversation she had, while working for Ashoka, with cofounder Peter Kellner on entrepreneurship, private-sector development, and the lack of either in Latin America.
How: Endeavor ensures the success of its inherently risky bets by building strong private networks in countries first and then applying a rigorous selection process that, among other factors, assesses a candidate's willingness to give back. It helped an entrepreneur in Patagonia set up a financial-services company by connecting him to capital, finding a COO, and developing a growth strategy. Later, his firm was bought for $300 million. He donated $200,000 to Endeavor, started a bank for the poor, and now sits on Endeavor's board.
Data point: The businesses of over 195 Endeavor Entrepreneurs support an average of 125 jobs and have collectively generated revenues of more than $655 million.
-- Jennifer Vilaga
What: Book broker. First Book has built a powerful, technology-driven supply chain to deliver children's books from publishers to literacy programs to poor children.
Who: President Kyle Zimmer, 44, a former corporate attorney, says she has always had a public-sector heart with a private-sector brain. In 1992, she and two friends mapped out a "private-sector way" to get books into the hands of children being left behind by inadequately funded public programs.
How: First Book goes beyond merely donating books. Instead, it awards grants to child-care programs to buy from a catalog of discounted books. It also handles actual distribution. The idea: Align the interests of everyone -- from publishers, who sell to a market they otherwise wouldn't reach, to kids themselves, who develop a lifelong love of reading.
Data point: In its first year, First Book purchased and donated 12,000 new books to underprivileged kids. In 2004, it expected to deliver more than 30 million books. And kids served by First Book are two to three times more likely to have a high interest in reading.
-- Ryan Underwood
Grameen Foundation USA
What: Microfinance engine. Provides microlending institutions with financial and technical resources to increase efficiency and help expand outreach to the poor. Its plan: to reach 5 million of the world's poorest families within five years.
Who: As a student at Cornell in the mid-1980s, president Alex Counts switched from physics to economics after realizing that economics was critical to overcoming world poverty. On a Fulbright Scholarship, he studied Dr. Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank in Bangladesh; he later spent six years working there.
How: The foundation raises millions to support the next generation of Muhammad Yunuses -- but it also provides technologies to support their operations. Its Technology Center, based in Seattle, borrows from some of the best minds in computing and business, including former Amazon.com CTO Shel Kaphan. "People want to engage their minds, not just their pocketbooks," says Counts, 37. Currently in the works: open-software technology to facilitate more efficient delivery of microcredit to banks.
Data point: Grameen has raised over $21 million in philanthropic capital, helping more than 850,000 poor women.
-- Jennifer Vilaga
Housing Partnership Network
What: Housing financier. Building affordable housing is a tough job -- from raising funds to insuring the project. An ambitious group of 80 nonprofit housing groups decided to pool skills, money, and policy influence.
Who: Thomas Bledsoe, 48, former Massachusetts deputy secretary for housing, says he likes building things. "Not just houses, but putting together fairly complicated deals, transactions, and organizational structures." He has overseen the incubation of HPN from a loose member-based organization that helped brainstorm ideas to an innovative cooperative that structures complex financing deals.
How: Getting access to capital and financing for closing large real estate deals is tough under the most ideal circumstances. Securing reasonable real estate insurance rates is nearly as difficult. Try doing it as a nonprofit providing affordable housing. So HPN created its own instruments -- a new lending company and insurance institution, both backed by the nation's leading banks -- to ensure its members could be as competitive in their markets as private-sector real estate companies.
Data point: In 2004, HPN distributed $20 million, which leveraged more than $280 million in capital to finance 4,300 homes.
-- Alison Overholt
New Leaders for New Schools
New York, New York
What: School-leader factory. Recruits and trains entrepreneurial leaders to become principals of urban public schools.
Who: CEO Jonathan Schnur, 38, believes that great principals empowered to make decisions make great schools. Working on education policy in the Clinton administration, he was disturbed by low reading and math scores among low-income and black children -- a function, he came to believe, of a dearth of quality teachers and principals in urban schools. He went to Harvard Business School to learn how to make his idea real and, with four fellow grads, founded New Leaders for New Schools.
How: NLNS selects individuals who have teaching experience, know kids well, and demonstrate leadership potential. It gives them 10 weeks of intensive training and support, plus on-the-job coaching during a yearlong residency program. "The proudest moment for me," Schnur says, "will be when we can say we've got 2,000 schools serving a million kids."
Data point: NLNS hopes to have 411 grads in schools serving 300,000 students by 2007.
-- Anjani Sarma
= repeat winner