Innovative business models driving impact at scale

Giving, lending or investing money is the most actionable way we can contribute immediately, and one of the most impactful.

It makes sense simply because the distribution of money in the world is increasingly imbalanced. You and I are bloody wealthy, we are among the 1% to 5% richest population in the world (if you don’t belive, check it here). 

What makes it easier to give is when you are sure that this money has an impact. I have studied the question, and many brilliant solutions have emerged over the last few years that not only ensure you have an impact, but sometimes even give you a return (that you can reinvest to multiply your impact)! 

In this page, discover what are the innovative ways to contribute financially and have an impact at scale.

1) Invest in responsible companies, ETFs and funds

Social Responsible Investing is the best way to support a move to more sustainable business practices while expecting a good financial return, and therefore have an impact at scale. One of the first Social Responsible Investing indexes, designed to help conscious investors weight social and environmental factors in their investment choices, was created in 1990 by Amy Domini and called the Domini 400 Social Index. It has been renamed the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index in 2010.  Amy founded Domini Impact Investments to offer funds based on that index. She was named to the Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people in 2005.

Another milestone in Social Responsible Investing was in 2004 when former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote to over 50 CEOs of major financial institutions, inving them to participate in a joint initiative to find ways to integrate ESG ( environmental, social and governance) into capital markets. Since then, publicly traded companies have been encouraged to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.

The popularity of ESG stocks accelerated in 2013 and 2014 when the first studies were published showing that good corporate sustainability performance is associated with good financial results.To help investors select high impact stocks and funds, ESG rating and research agencies have flourished over the last decade, and multiple acquisitions have led to just a few influential players in the field, such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, Vigeo Eiris, ISS, or RobecoSAMThey innovate using machine learning and big data to help gather more data on businesses’ ESG practices.

To check the ESG ratings of ETF or funds, MSCI has made available this useful tool available to any individual investor. The Non Profit CDP has also its own tool, Climetrics, to rate funds which are contributing to the energy transition.  

Domini Impact Investments

A women-led investment advisor which specialized exclusively in impact investing.
Business model innovation :
Pioneered impact investing for individuals as well as institutional investors with a range of impact equity and bond funds, based on the Domini 400 Social Index.

Impact : Driving a shift towards sustainable business practices, engaging companies through various collaborations and partnerships to address sustainability issues…

Scale : Nearly $10 million invested in green and sustainability bonds, and over $500,000 invested with Community Development Financial Institutions 175,000 phones sold (2019)

2) Invest in social enterprises and innovation

We strongly believe that social enterprises are driving impact at scale. Investing in social enterprises does make sense when you look at having an impact with your money.  As an institutional investor, impact investment is a growing field, but as an individual it is usually called « crowdfunding » or « crowdlending« . For example, the cooperative Oikocredit or the non profit Calveart Impact Capital have decades of experience in promoting sustainable development through investments, allowing individuals to invest in portfolios of organizations operating in financial inclusion, agriculture or renewable energy. Investors can expect to earn an interest or a dividend.

More recently, a few tech companies are leveraging on digital platforms to offer individuals the possibility to support specific social enterprises or initiatives of their choice, with their money. That’s how StartSomeGood is born in 2011, on the same reward based crowdfunding model as Kickstarter (you fund projects and get a reward). OnePlanetCrowd (2012) offer a crowdlending model with return, while (2015) offer an equity crowdfunding model, making you a shareholder of the company you invest, with the possiblity to invest even just 100 euros. Equity crowdfunding is a nascent financial sector pioneered by UK-based Seedr in 2009, Crowdcube in 2011 and US-based Crowdfunder in 2012.

Equity crowdfunding platform for investors who want to make their money matter.
Business model innovation : combines the equity crowdfunding model and social responsible investing

Impact : Funding enterprises driving impact at scale.

Scale : 34 million euros invested (2020)

3) Fund a farm or a solar energy project in emerging countries

Investing in farms to empower farmers in the developing countries while expecting promising returns after harvest has been made possible with crowdfunding platforms. There is a few platforms offering this opportunity, such as Cropital in the Philippines, Fedgroup Impact Farming in South Africa or FarmCrowdy, ThriveAtic and eFarms in Nigeria. As an investor of the farm, you would usually get regular real time updates for farm progress on your dashboard.

On the same model, Fedgroup Impact Farming, The Sun Exchange or Trine allows you to invest in solar panel projects, provide electricity for underserved people in emerging countries and expect returns from the electricity it generated.



Crowdlending platform for small scale entrepreneurs and students.
Business model innovation :
Trine allows you to choose solar projects to fund from €25. When the loan is fully funded, your money is transfered to the borrower (solar partners). They will sell and distribute solar products to their customers.  If the solar partner succeeds to repay the loan you’ll get back your investment with interest. You can keep track of your repayments and impact progress in your dashboard.

Impact : Provide access to clean and reliable energy for underserved communities

Scale : €36 660 000 invested in solar panels (June 2020)


A digital agriculture platform, allowing you to invest in farms in Nigeria
Business model innovation :
They identify crops to be cultivated, reach out to the farmers association or community leaders to identify experienced and committed farmers, provide input in form of improved seed varieties, training on modern farming techniques and mechanized tools, and source ready buyers for the farmers so that they can focus on farming and not on selling the products after the harvest. Through the digital platform, potential nigerian investors can sponsor one of these farms and expect returns (around 10%). 

Impact : Empowering small-scale farmers to increase their income

Scale : Over 25,000 farmers across Nigeria (2020)

4) Lend money to small scale entrepreneurs

Help small scale entrepreneurs in emerging countries to start a business by giving them loans. The Grameen Bank has been a pioneer in microfinance from 1983, with an innovative model that provides loans to the poorest of the poor (and now only women) in rural Bangladesh, with no requirement for collaterlas and no interest. The main incentives for people to repay the loans are that groups of villagers borrow together, and act as co-guarantors, and a recipient who repays for her loan qualifies for another, larger one.   The Bank is owned by the borrowers themselves.  The success of the model has led to Muhammad Yunus, its founder, to receive the Nobel Prize in 2006, and to the establishment of many microfinance institutions around the world.

More recently, crowdlending platforms such as Kiva, RangDe in India, YiNongDai in China or Babyloan have emerged from 2005 to make it possible for individuals as well to lend money to small scale entrepreneurs.

Crowdlending platform for small scale entrepreneurs and students.
Business model innovation :
Kiva is built around personal stories of entrepreneurs. Lenders pick the project they want to finance and Kiva will administer the loans on the ground through microfinance partner institutions or non profit organizations. The repayment rate of Kiva is 96%. Lenders don’t earn interest but Kiva borrowers do pay interest on most loans to its Field Partners. The platform is supported by grants, loans, and donations from its users, corporations, and national institutions.

Impact : Empower low-income entrepreneurs or students to start a business or study

Scale : $1.4 billion  loans (2020) in 77 countries

5) Donate to the most effective charities

It is very difficult to make any general claims whether impact investing or donating – social enterprises or charities – is more effective. John Halstead from the « Effective Altruism » community has done some research on the topic. He says that it really depends on each concrete case, and there are some cases in which impact investing is better than donating. But when it comes to providing public goods or goods to people who are badly off, there usually is no market viability, and these goods can’t be provided by for-profit companies.  If your goal is to ensure you have a large impact, non profits stays a really good choice because they are usually more neglected as there is no profit involved.

Donating still makes sense simply because the distribution of money in the world is increasingly imbalanced.  Furtheremore, nowadays there are innovative organizations that help to make sure your money is in good hands. To re-establish trust, organizations like GiveWell and Epic are conducting in-depth research and due diligence on charities.


Epic Foundation

A non profit analyzing charities’ efficiency and making donation easier and more engaging.
Business model innovation :
– Developped a due diligence process to build and manage a portfolio of high impact social organizations. Epic’s
selection and monitoring process covers 45 data points of analysis.
– Provides donors with a web app to stay connected and engaged with the social organizations they support.
– Created a collection of VR movies on every portfolio organization to transport donors instantly in the field and see the reality of their work.
– Leverages innovative instruments to raise funds from the private sector: from payroll giving for employers and employees to transactional giving for businesses to equity pledge for startup entrepreneurs.
100% of the donations Epic receives goes to the portfolio organizations, which is made possible thanks to the personal funds of its CEO, a succesful serial entrepreneur.

Impact : Making giving the norm

Scale : 4000 organizations analyzed to build a portfolio of 26


A non profit making unconditional cash transfers to families living in extreme poverty via mobile phone.
Business model innovation :
GiveDirectly uses an unorthodox approach – allowing the poor, and not the donor, to choose where they invest. Using the latest technology at every step, they locate recipients, integrate them into electronic payments networks, and monitor transfers end-to-end.  With 13 large scale pilots across 8 countries, including rural Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, GiveDirectly is also developing evidence about how the Universal Basic Income affects work habits, well-being and more, thanks to independent researchers documenting the impacts on recipients and on the local economy.

Impact : Reducing poverty – GiveDirectly holds the top overall rating for non-profit effectiveness by GiveWell and received the inaugural Google Global Impact Award.

Scale : $150 million delivered globally (2020)


Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank

Grameen Bank provides loans to the poorest of the poor in rural Bangladesh, with no requirement for collaterals and no interest. 97% of shares of Grameen Bank are owned by the borrowers themselves.
The main incentives for people to repay the loans are that groups of villagers borrow together and act as co-guarantors, and a recipient who repays her loan qualifies for another, larger one.

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Lenddo can predict an individul’s credit risk or “willingness to pay“ based on non-traditional data derived from an applicant’s social data, psychometric data and online behavior. The solution reduces the high cost of credit assessment and verification for lenders and help millions of applicants with little to no credit history gain access to credit.

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