Aiding the Poor By Making a Profit: Impact Investing


How would you like to aid the poor while by making a profit? The typical model of helping the poor involves giving aid, which has proven a massive failure over the past 55 years. Newer models of helping the poor are arising that dignify the poor and empower them as the subjects of their own development. Impact investing is one of those models.

Impact investing is investing for profit but also for social and environmental returns. Money to invest comes from individuals, governments, or organizations. The money is not given as a charitable handout, but with the expectation that the investor will make some profit on it while also improving the world for a given society.

Impact investors take social metrics to measure progress. These metrics can include the number of employees, their monthly income, the number of contractors and their income, the number of employees’ beneficiaries, total taxes paid per year (more tax revenue means less need for foreign aid and more accountability of government to their people), the percentage of those who live in standard housing, the number of children in tertiary education, the number of employees owning houses cars, and the number of pro-poor products produced and services provided. Social metrics from many impact investors demonstrate an improvement in many or most of these categories. Stats on housing and number of meals a day is a good indication of health.

Dr. Dato Kim Tan in a recent lecture provided several examples of impact investing in various countries and industries. Each of the following type of investment has helped the investor make a profit, which in turn helps them better promoting human flourishing.



  1. Toilets. Dr. Tan himself builds toilets in slums where waste is typically thrown out onto the ground. He leases these out to an owner, who charges people to use it. Tan’s company then then takes away the waste to make organic fertilizer with it. Investors make a profit while those in the slums get clean toilets for a small fee, which results in a cleaner environment and income for the owner of the toilet.
  2. Stoves. Some in Africa spend 20-30% of their income on wood and charcoal. The smoke is damaging (equivalent to about 40 cigarettes a day), and the setup is a fire hazard. The Paradigm Project’s EzyStove saves 40-60% on fuel cost, reduces smoke and toxins by 85%, are manufactured in Ethiopia, and 464,000 units have been sold. The company has saved 886,000MT CO2 and sells the CO2 credits to companies, which largely funds their business.
  3. Computer Literacy. Luvuyo Rani founded Silulo, which runs computer training centers and internet cafes. More than 20,000 students graduated a 6 month course, which gives them the computer skills they need for many jobs that require them. They have 39 outlets with training centers and internet cafes.
  4. Bee Sweet Honey. John Enright founded Bee Sweet Honey, which has 60,000 beehives, 12,000 farmers, and has produced 200+ metric tons of honey. They measure social metrics such as average increased income per worker, number of workers’ children in school, and the percentage of employees eating three meals a day.
  5. Hagar Social Enterprise Group takes in women and children who are trafficked and employs them. Hagar is an umbrella for the 4 businesses that employee these women and children. They employ 530 people, have $3.9 million in annual revenue, and have investors including IFC and other VC funds.
  6. Shopping. PT Paloma is a catalogue business in Indonesia with more than 80% sales outside Java. Founded by Djunaidi Lie, Paloma targets women, especially single mothers, to help them become more independent. Their social metrics include 207,000 sales agents, 51,750 active agents, 150 employees and 1,133,372 annual rupies per agent. The company uses their own money to run marriage counseling weekends to strengthen the marriages of their employees.
  7. Agape Call Center operates in the largest men’s prison in Singapore. They employ convicts to try to rehabilitate them. They have helped inmates with remaining sentences (12-24 months) to re-build their self-esteem and confidence. They help offenders on their release to integrate back to society and the marketplace and reduce reoffending. The prison is now releasing inmates 6 months earlier on parole if they have good behavior and if they work in an Agape call center.
  8. Family Care. PT Family Care provides one-stop bereavement and funeral services to Christian families that includes transportation, casket supply, embalming and other ancillary services through a low cost insurance scheme. For a premium, the family is guaranteed to have everything taken care of upon the death of a family member.

If you want to learn more about impact investing and how you can get involved, check out Dr. Tan’s Transformational Business Network.

About Todd Scacewater

Todd is a Teaching Fellow in New Testament and PhD candidate at Westminster Seminary in Hermeneutics. He holds a Th.M. in New Testament and a B.A. in Political Science, and has served the church in music, college, youth, children, and discipleship ministries.