Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One Acre Fund Growing

One Acre Fund was highlighted today in Financial Times. As my long time bleeps know, this venture is scaling, having impact, and closing the gap financially. According to this article, it is now serving 130,000 customers after just a few years.

This is venture gapitalism at work- One Acre Fund is recouping 85% of its costs from loan repayments (from its customers).  In this virtuous cycle, the farmers are largely supporting the business that allows them to double their productivity. Which increases their income and reduces their food insecurity. A new wrinkle on "helping those that help themselves." Does One Acre Fund still need donations? Absolutely, but they are able to have a bigger "impact" footprint with their model, than if they merely used these donations to buy seed and fertilizer and gave it to the farmers.

A recent report by Acumen Fund and Monitor discussed the needed role for early philanthropy to prime the pump for social ventures. My colleague, Tom Dean, has written on the entrepreneurial opportunities that result from market failures. And the Blue Ocean framework helps analyze opportunities to create and exploit new markets by reimagining an industry, and then reinventing it.

The One Acre team has mashed up these ideas, added more than a dash of intolerance, and created an enterprise that is changing lives in rural Kenya. Their recipe: "We use markets to eradicate hunger permanently."

They aren't discussing it, analyzing it, or considering it... they are doing it today.

Monday, August 20, 2012


In a politically correct world, tolerance is valued. And much of the time, it is a valuable skill for entrepreneurs. If you are tolerant, you get exposed to more people and ideas, and you have a more diverse group of people to discuss them with.

But there is also room for intolerance. At your core, I hope you are intolerant. Not of other people, races, or religions. But of something that sucks. In fact, I'd say you are unlikely to be successful if you aren't intolerant at the core.

Some stories I heard one day not so long ago.

"I had a professor that died from AIDS at [Ivy League School]. How could that happen? I didn't look at the world the same way after that day."

"How can it be that whether or not a child gets an education depends on where they were born, and whether they are a boy or a girl? I can't live in a world where the answer to a person would be 'you are uneducated because you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time'."

"There are thousands of refuges each year, and the US doesn't even fill it's quota each year. How can we live with ourselves if we don't do this work."

Every one of these speakers has started a leading social venture, making real impact. The setting was private, so I won't share names. But for every one, finding something intolerable prompted long term action. What is it that you find intolerable and unacceptable about the world as it is? What won't you tolerate?

Intolerance is the cold fusion of the imagination... a source of perpetual entrepreneurial energy. There are no laws of thermodynamics for your imagination. The only limits are those you put on it. And intolerance pushes you through the limits that have kept society from solving a problem.

The irony? It is only from intolerance that the world will become more tolerable.