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43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
2007 Social Capitalist Winner

Grameen Foundation

Washington, DC
Year founded: 1997
CEO: Alex Counts

The promise microfinance holds for millions around the world was affirmed when the Nobel Committee awarded the 2006 Peace Prize to Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank. Their pioneering work in bringing financial hope to poor Bangladeshis has been the inspiration for Grameen Foundation since our founding in 1997. Our goal is to spread this opportunity across the globe. Through our network of partner microfinance institutions (MFIs), we provide loans, other financial services, and technology that help the poor, mostly women, start or expand businesses that will help them and their families escape grinding poverty. And in nine years, we have touched an estimated 11 million lives in 22 countries across Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East.

Grameen Foundation focuses on innovative solutions to help microfinance scale up and reach the more than one billion people still forced to subsist on less than $1 a day. Our Grameen Technology Center is a recognized global leader in information and communications technology initiatives dedicated exclusively to advancing microfinance. Founded in 2001, it is as an outgrowth of Professor Yunus' successful technology initiatives in Bangladesh. To help microfinance reach its full potential, we are driving industry-changing innovations that increase the efficiency of microfinance institutions' operations, create new microbusiness opportunities for the poor, and provide telecommunications access for the world's rural poor.

Building on the work of Grameen Telecom in Bangladesh, Grameen Foundation's Village Phone initiative is giving rural communities reliable access to telecommunications right in their own villages, and at the same time, creating micro-business opportunities for the phone operators. We launched the first successful replication in Uganda in 2003 and there are now more than 6,000 operators. In the last 18 months, we have also established operations in Rwanda, the Philippines, and Cameroon.

To help increase MFI efficiency and improve outreach, we are developing Mifos, an open source platform that will bring a new approach to technology to the microfinance industry. With Mifos, MFIs will have a simple, flexible system for managing their clients, operations, portfolio and reporting needs. And because it is open source, it will give all MFIs equal access to a system they all own and manage.

Recognizing that MFIs need more than philanthropic capital to reach the more than 400 million poor people still denied financial services, our Capital Markets Group is tapping the vast resources of the world's capital markets. One successful initiative is our Growth Guarantees Program which will make up to $50 million available in credit guarantees to MFIs. It has already helped to broker watershed deals for MFIs in Bolivia and Egypt.

We are also making great strides in the area of social performance. MFIs must show results, but many do not have the tools to evaluate how well they are fulfilling their mission of reducing poverty, reaching people excluded from financial services, empowering women, or promoting community solidarity. Our Progress out of Poverty Index, which was launched in 2005, is designed to fulfill that need and has already been successfully implemented in Mexico and the Philippines

Our innovation, efficiency and effectiveness have earned Grameen Foundation several industry awards: three consecutive Social Capitalist Awards (2005-2007); the Accenture Economic Development Award from the Tech Museum of Innovation for our technology programs; and a four-star rating from Charity Navigator in recognition of our sound fiscal management. This recognition sends an important message to others that providing financial services for the very poor is not a pipe-dream.

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