Warren Cole Smith:
Grand Rapids, Mich.–based Partners Worldwide began as a Christian ministry that connects business leaders in the United States with entrepreneurs in developing countries. Though the goal of these connections was primarily networking and mentorship, Partners CEO Doug Seebeck said many of its U.S. partners were making financial investments with the entrepreneurs in developing countries. In 2010 Partners formed a for-profit arm, Partners Worldwide Entrepreneurs (PWE), to formalize the process.
By the end of 2012, PWE had invested $1.2 million in India, South Africa, and the Philippines. One investment, Dignity Coconut, employs 50 Filipinos who produce fresh coconut products for world markets. Seebeck said PWE recently finalized a $475,000 investment in a grain storage facility in Zambia. The storage facility will not only reduce spoilage in this food-insecure country, it will also help create rational, sustainable pricing for commodities often subject to wild swings in price due to weather and seasonality.
The patient capital movement is still in a learning mode. Many developing countries have significant political or safety risks. In some countries, the lack of a functioning court system makes it almost impossible to enforce contracts or get clear title to land. In some countries, the government owns most agricultural land. Aslan, for example, manages 7,000 acres in Mozambique under the terms of a 50-year lease. It just entered into a 99-year lease for 100,000 acres in Tanzania.
But Partners’ Doug Seebeck said the additional risks also create the possibility of additional rewards. “When you give someone a handout, you hold off hunger for a day,” he said. “But business creates the dignity that comes with a meaningful job, along with a real possibility of eradicating poverty.”