From Bed Nets to Bottom Lines

Doesn’t a long-lasting, low-cost, anti-malarial bed net that can be manufactured AND sold in Africa seem like a good idea? It’s not just a smart invention that will help save millions of lives—it’s a sound investment. And investors like the Acumen Fund are bound to take notice. The Acumen Fund has invested more than $11 million in social entrepreneurs since 2001, including the founders of A to Z Textile Mills, the manufacturer of anti-malarial bed nets.

Acumen is an example of an investment fund that uses strict business practices to create financial and social returns from small to medium-sized enterprises. These types of organizations offer loans at near-market rates and provide ongoing strategic consulting to ensure the investment is a success and the business continues to grow. Just as in any for-profit business venture, revenue from sales of the product is used to pay off the loan.

In this case, A to Z produced more than seven million nets a year by the end of 2006. With Acumen’s help, they were able to decrease the cost of each net from $7 to $5.  A to Z would be a shining example of business success by any measure, but thanks to the double bottom line of social entrepreneurship, A to Z and Acumen can reap the social returns as well: their partnership has helped to protect more than five million people in Africa from malaria.

Businesses like A to Z Textile Mills are on the frontlines of the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship, where great ideas with a social conscience are paired with strong business practices. Loaning money to these enterprises with corporate giving dollars promises long-term impact because money from repaid loans can be reinvested and thus continuously generate returns. Meanwhile, start-up businesses reap the benefits of invaluable knowledge that will help them succeed. To put it simply, everybody wins.

-Leah Gutstadt, Former Assistant Account Executive, Cause Branding


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