Editor’s Note, May 2: This article was updated to reflect the number of portfolio managers working at the Shell Foundation.
Last year, Envirofit — a social enterprise that develops low-cost clean cookstoves — hit a startup jackpot when it announced it had secured $4 million in financing to scale up its operations. Around the same time, another company with a mission to provide solar energy to the poor — d.light — announced it had raised more than $22 million in investment.
Both these social enterprises might have died years earlier were it not for the continued backing of a special kind of funder willing to invest in regions and sectors where traditional donors and even impact investors are often still too risk averse to tread.
The Shell Foundation — which has a $250 million endowment from the Shell Group but is run independently — has developed a successful funding model offering early-stage, patient capital to social ventures working on access to energy, affordable transport and small and medium-sized enterprises finance in Africa, India and Latin America, which would be deemed too high risk by the majority of investors and donors. Working with a team of 10 portfolio managers in London, and also through incubators like Factor[E] based out of Colorado State University, the foundation currently invests in 45 social ventures.
Sophie Edwards is a reporter for Devex based out of Washington D.C. and London where she covers global development news, careers and lifestyle issues. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.
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