Over the past few years, support for the small-business entrepreneurship sector in developing countries has boomed. Major development finance institutions have launched significant new efforts to support the sector. For example, the IFC launched the G-20 SME Finance Challenge in 2010 to drive innovation in financing to support small-business enterprises. It has since committed $528 million to scale the 14 winning proposals.

Mainstream traditional investment banks such as J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs now consider the impact-investing sector as an asset class and are tracking the space with consistent analyst reports. A number of firms have developed impact investing funds, and a few—such as J.P. Morgan’s new collaborative venture with USAID, The Rockefeller Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others, in Pearl Capital Partners’ sub-Saharan Africa fund—have completed investments in funds focused on serving small and growing business (SGBs).

Happily, both the SGB space and my organization, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), have also seen significant expansion. ANDE’s growth reflects the rising tide of entrepreneurial support—and we’d like to think our efforts have helped build the wave. The network launched in early 2009 with 34 founding members and a goal of ultimately making a meaningful contribution to reducing poverty.

We’ve made notable progress in building the organization. Earlier this month, ANDE hit the benchmark of 150 members more than a year ahead of our projections. Our members work in virtually every developing economy in the world and represent a wide variety of investors, capacity development providers, charitable foundations, research institutions, corporations, and development finance institutions.

More than 35 percent of our members are based in emerging markets, demonstrating our reach. In addition, we’ve recently seen increased interest by large, multinational corporations focused on building value chains with small businesses or seeking investment opportunities. Macquarie, a global asset management firm, MasterCard Worldwide, and Walmart have recently joined ANDE. We are actively seeking additional bank and large corporate members because we believe they have a great deal of leverage in driving business opportunities and public policies that strengthen entrepreneurship.

ANDE’s staff has grown from 1.5 to eight full time employees, and we now have regional chapters operating in five regions (Brazil, Central America/Mexico, East Africa, India, and South Africa) with at least two more chapters expected to launch this year.

Over the past three years, our Capacity Development Fund has distributed more than $1.3 million to support the creation of new knowledge and tools to support the SGB sector. These grants, made to ANDE members, are designed to spur collaboration and innovation in the service of the sector as a whole, and have already supported a diverse range of initiatives—including market segmentation research, financial management training curricula, and web-based platforms for mentorship programs.

Increasingly, we are working with members and outside funders to drive additional resources to this space. To that end, today, we are announcing the Argidius-ANDE Finance Challenge (AAFC). The AAFC is a two-million euro challenge designed to scale innovative ways of providing early-stage capital to small businesses in emerging markets. This challenge is focused on six countries—Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Honduras, Mali, Moldova, and Nicaragua—where access to early-stage finance is incredibly difficult. We’re looking forward to the selection process and to finding scalable models that can be applied in multiple countries.

So, we can safely say we’ve created a credible institution. Our membership is growing; our activities, expanding; and our influence, building. 

And it feels good—but also very incomplete. We started ANDE so that we could build prosperity in emerging markets. And despite the recent good news from the World Bank about the reduction in abject poverty in the world, we’ve got a long way to go. ANDE’s members have created a vehicle to drive market-based solutions to poverty forward; we’ve even filled it with the fuel—the human capacity and financial wherewithal—to move ahead. We’re pleased about where we are, but even more excited about the impact we might have in the future.

Read ANDE's 2011 Impact Report and Executive Summary.

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