April 11, 2007 / 12:38 PM / 11 years ago

Acumen fund for poor expects investment to soar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acumen, a non-profit private equity fund that invests in basic services for the poor in emerging markets, plans to boost its funding by four times in the next three to five years, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Acumen expects the size of its fund to jump to $100 million from $24 million now, Jacqueline Novogratz told the Reuters Hedge Funds and Private Equity Summit.

The fund provides small amounts of cash to entrepreneurs with projects viewed as sustainable and serving millions of people.

The fund, which is focused on health, water, housing and energy services for the poor, helps them grow their business as an alternative to grants and donations from global charities.

“We want individual entrepreneurs that have equal part skill and will to serve that portion of the population that lives on $2 a day,” Novogratz said.

“All the companies in which we invest are for-profit ... We look for profit but we’re not profit maximizers,” she added. “We bet on winners.”

Novogratz said interest in Acumen’s activities soared after Muhammad Yunus, known as “the banker of the poor,” received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for helping impoverished women by offering micro credits through his Grameen Bank.

“That got people very interested in what we were doing,” she said.

    Acumen was created in 2001 with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation and Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO.O). Since then it has received donations from the creators of the leading Web search engine, Google Inc. (GOOG.O), and from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O) founder Bill Gates, the world’s richest man.

    The fund’s first project was helping to improve water access to extremely poor people in India, but it has also financed projects in Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania and Pakistan, among other countries.

    “I think the future of capitalism depends on a more emphatic approach to bringing the 3 billion people into the system that have been left out of it,” Novogratz said. “We are a group that says markets work,” with a “stronger focus on liberty and making your own choice.”

    Novogratz said of the 21 projects to which the fund has lent money, not even one has missed a loan payment, although she expects that to happen eventually.

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