Digital Partners – utilizing the digital economy to benefit the poorest

Akhtar Badshah

Digital Partners (DP) is a ‘social venturing’ non-profit whose mission is to empower a new generation of social entrepreneurs working for poverty alleviation through the tools and market mechanisms of the global digital economy.[1] We do this through our Social Enterprise Laboratory (SEL) and Enterprise Fund.

SEL matches the expertise of venture capitalists, business leaders and ICT professionals with the poverty alleviation activities of social entrepreneurs, foundations and development institutions. It has led to the development of ICT-enhanced, market-based solutions that directly benefit poor communities. The Enterprise Fund provides initial funding for the projects either as equity investments, convertible loans or grants.

The microcredit industry provides a good example of the tremendous potential we hope to catalyse. The practice of providing small loans without collateral to the poorest of the poor has successfully raised millions of individuals, primarily women, out of abject poverty. Nevertheless, the scale and impact has been severely limited by the cost and inefficiencies of the lending process: a small microfinance institution (MFI) serving only 15,000 borrowers may require over 1 million handwritten entries in a single year.

Vikram Akula, social entrepreneur and CEO of Swayam Krishi Sangam, came to us with an idea for a software solution designed for small and medium-sized MFIs in India – a market growing at 37 per cent a year. His proposed solution, incorporating handheld and Smart Card technologies, would completely digitize the lending process and significantly lower costs and errors. Eventually, it could address the liquidity problems faced by MFIs, another constraint on their scale and impact, by bundling digitized micro-loans into investment derivatives suitable for investors worldwide.

Through the Enterprise Fund, DP provided a convertible loan to finance a team of experienced software developers. SEL provided a team of business and ICT professionals and graduate students to develop a business plan to launch a for-profit enterprise, SKS Infotech, to market and deploy the solution.[2] DP is currently supporting ten similar projects and will again be accepting applications for participation in the SEL in July.

The Kellogg Foundation and the Open Society Institute provided the initial funding to launch DP in early 2000. Individuals, primarily business and ICT leaders, support the Enterprise Fund.

1 DP is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, with offices in New Delhi, India, New York and Boston.
2 The business plan is one of four finalists in the National Social Venture competition supported by Goldman Sachs and eligible for $55,000 in prize money.

Akhtar Badshah is Executive Director of Digital Partners. He can be contacted at

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