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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

March 15, 2010 at 11:34 AM

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Elevar raises $70 million to invest in microfinance

Posted by Kristi Heim

An equity fund focused on poverty? Sounds odd, I know. But Chris Brookfield, who managed funds for Unitus, and his partners at Elevar said today they have raised $70 million to invest in companies providing services to people at the bottom of the economic ladder. Elevar told me a bit about the fund last June.

Seattle-based Elevar will invest in companies involved in microfinance and other services targeted at the working poor in countries such as India, Mexico, the Philippines and Peru.



KEN LAMBERT/SEATTLE TIMES

Chris Brookfield, left, then Unitus Equity Fund's investment director, with Veena Mankar, director of Swadhaar FinAccess, at a 2007 reception in Seattle.

Elevar is the second fund of Unitus Equity Fund, initially run as a for-profit arm of Unitus, a Seattle-based non-profit organization. Elevar is now independent of Unitus, though it remains a strategic partner, Brookfield said.

Besides microfinance, Brookfield said Elevar will also seek to invest in financing low income housing, agriculture and information services. The idea is to bring more commercial capital into development.

Improving incomes of billions of poor people -- the so-called "Next 4 Billion" -- has benefits for companies here, too. Economic growth in developing countries "is the strongest opportunity for long-term business growth," according to this report by the IGD, since the poorest two-thirds of the world's population represent $5 trillion in purchasing power. The more development can be supported through investment, the less dependent countries will be on foreign aid. The majority of poor countries don't attract much private investment, so it will be interesting to see whether a socially motivated fund can create a path for it.

"Our strategy is to challenge discrimination and democratize the distribution of opportunity by investing in companies providing high volume, low cost services to the poor and their communities," Sandeep Farias, managing director at Elevar, said in a statement.

The anchors of the new fund are Legatum and Omidyar Network.

Elevar's portfolio includes microfinance institutions SKS Microfinance, Ujjivan, Grama Vidiyal, Madura Microfinance and Swadhaar in India; Grupo Crediexpress in Mexico and FINSOL in Brazil.

Elevar has also invested two non-financial services companies in India: Moksha Yug Access, which builds trading infrastructure and market links between rural communities and larger commercial markets, and Comat Technologies, which provides Internet connectivity in rural areas for government services and education.

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