This Small Funder’s Holistic Approach to Global Poverty

The Peery Foundation has supported a number of organizations improving the lives and livelihoods of women and girls, but making grants exclusively for female empowerment is not an express priority. The foundation’s global grantmaking program also favors organizations that boost the world’s poorest people, but it does not have an explicit focus on lifting the ultra-poor out of poverty. Sound confusing? It’s really not.

Peery is one of the more flexible global funders out there. So while extreme poverty and women’s empowerment aren’t specific areas of grantmaking focus, this is a foundation that looks at the big picture in global poverty rather than operating within overly narrow program priorities.   

Related: Scale and Sustainability: An Inside Look At the Peery Foundation’s Global Giving

When we recently spoke with Peery Executive Director Jessamyn Lau, she said, “There’s a really great story that’s built around funding girls and women at this poin.,” But since Peery does not exclusively fund global projects focusing on women, we asked her about the pattern of female focused grantee projects in the foundation’s global portfolio.

As it turns out, that gender-specific pattern wasn’t deliberate. As Lau explained, “We think of that (women’s empowerment) more holistically. Is that a service that benefits the woman and the child, and the husband or the partner? So that concept of supporting a family I think is, perhaps, more prevalent for us.”

And example of that holistic approach to lifting whole families out of poverty can be found in its support of Boma.

The Peery Foundation only recently began supporting Boma, having awarded it a $35,000 grant to help women "graduate" out of extreme poverty. Boma runs a “poverty graduation” program that provides women with the money, skills, tools, and knowledge they need to start small businesses within their own communities.

Since 2009, nearly 8,500 women have enrolled in Boma’s poverty graduation program to the benefit of over 50,000 women and children. The organization hopes to reach 100,000 women and children by 2018. And a recent scientific study is showing that poverty graduation programs like Boma’s, are working.

Related: Peery Foundation: Global Development Grants

Overall, Peery does use a business-like approach in its funding, but earning revenue is not a prerequisite to funding from the foundation, as evidenced by its support of Boma. Lau explains, “They (Boma) definitely have a 'market-based' approach, but they actually give money to the women they’re training and working with, so they’re not actually charging the women, there are no loan repayments.” She further clarifies Boma’s model: “There’s actually a cash transfer to the women that is couched within training to start their own businesses, so the markets play a different role in that case.”

The term "market-based approach," though widely used, isn’t really well defined. In the development world, it’s often associated with a social enterprise model—like, say, Water.org’s WaterCredit program—in which the aim of earned revenues is to sustain a program, not turn a profit. But it can also refer to addressing problems through more familiar for-profit business models.

Things are definitely in flux, especially as impact investing takes off, and while the international development community determines just what it means to use a market-based approach, Peery is remaining flexible in its funding model.