Check Out These Low-Cost, Big-Impact Investments

The challenges we face as a global society, and as a species, are being addressed daily by social entrepreneurs throughout the world. And many of these entrepreneurs must scramble for resources and learn to stretch their funds. One lesson of these shoestring efforts — whether a school for street children in Vietnam. a night-care center for the children of prostitutes in India, or a commitment among South Africans to rewrite societal attitudes that victimize women — is that big impact doesn't have to come with a big price tag. Small strategic investments can go a long way toward alleviating wide swaths of suffering or lack of opportunity.

Examples of this low-investment impact can be found all over the world. Ruchika Social Service Organization in Bhubaneswar, India, is able to operate schools for children living in and around the train platforms in the region for roughly $1,800 annually per school. These schools provide the only access to education for the children, who share the same dreams and aspirations as do all children, regardless of circumstances. In Guatemala, Asociación Educativa Maya Aj Sya provides primary education in the local dialect to children living in extreme poverty on a total annual budget of less than $25,000. In Tanzania, Future Stars Academy uses the lure of football (soccer) to bring underprivileged boys and girls off the streets, teach them life skills, and compel them to stay in school and become role models in their communities for less than $50,000 annually.

The number and nature of cost-effective, community-based organizations is growing rapidly in underdeveloped economies, stemming from pressing social needs and few resources to combat negative social trends. These organizations rely heavily on creative, entrepreneurial leaders and armies of volunteers to keep their costs low. Most do not receive funding outside their home countries. Hard data on these types of groups is difficult to come by, but those involved in identifying and vetting small community-based organizations have indicated that their number is rising, even though most face stiff challenges during the start-up stages.

Finding these groups can present a challenge in itself for donors who wish to make cost-effective, high-impact global investments. As small organizations with thin infrastructures, these groups often are well below the radar of traditional funders. Intermediary grantmakers have networks in underdeveloped regions that uncover effective groups, and issue-based consortia such as End Child Prostitution and Trafficking and Global March Against Child Labor identify and coordinate with small groups in their issue areas. In addition, larger U.S.-based collectives such as Grant Makers Without Borders and InterAction can be helpful in finding legitimate, impactful community-based groups in specific areas. Most international grantmakers, regardless of size or focus, have come to recognize the increasing importance of these cost-effective, localized groups, and they are regularly shining more light on who they are and where they work.