According to a 2013 agricultural census, Cambodian smallholder farmers owned 28 million chickens, 5 million ducks, 2.7 million cattle, 1.4 million pigs, 472,000 buffalo and a few thousand goats which produce significant amount of organic waste. Simultaneously, Cambodia has one of the lowest agricultural yields in the region, producing, for instance, half of the rice per hectare as Vietnam. ATEC Cambodia has seized on these facts to launch a growing social enterprise that brings affordable biodigesters to smallholder farmers who make up more than a third of the total population in Cambodia.
Biodigesters use naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down manure and generate biogas and digestate. The biogas can be used to fuel cooking stoves and to generate electricity or to power machinery. The digestate is rich in nutrients and is used as a fertilizer to restore soil fertility and to increase crop productivity. ATEC’s biodigester, which was the 2016 Google Impact Challenge winner in 2016, can generate enough gas for all of a family’s cooking needs while producing over 20 tons of organic fertilizer per year. With an investment of $650 the average family can experience $521 in annual savings for decades.
Since launching in 2016, ATEC has installed over 1,350 biodigesters. The company has the ambitious goal of expanding to five countries and selling one million units by 2030. To do this, ATEC is aiming to seek the success of home solar installation with the help of Beneficial Returns. In the developing world, the home solar market has exploded. Seven years ago there were fewer than one million household solar installations. Now, the latest figures peg the total at over 24 million. While falling costs for photovoltaic components has helped, the driving force behind this growth has been the Pay As You Go (or PAYGO) model which combines mobile money with smart meters. This model provides more people the opportunity to afford the technology by letting them pay in small increments over time.
After a successful pilot program with forty customers, ATEC is now rolling out their PAYGO program in full-scale. Working with Cambodian mobile and electronic payment company Wing and US-based PAYGO platform Angaza, ATEC is offering farmers a biodigester for a $60 down payment and monthly payments of around $30 over a two-year period. Beneficial Returns provided a loan to assist ATEC in its expansion of their PAYGO program, providing capital to build and install new biodigesters in Cambodia.
A majority of Indonesians get their drinking water from wells that are overwhelmingly contaminated. This situation has led to dire health outcomes in Indonesia where 15,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrhea. It is also financially burdensome for the 8 million Javanese who earn less than USD $1.90/day and who resort to either buying bottled water or boiling well water. Beneficial Returns extended its first loan in Southeast Asia to Nazava, a social enterprise addressing this situation. Based in Bandung, Indonesia, Nazava produces affordable household water filters that are good for the environment, good for public health, and good for the pocketbook too.
With its filter, Nazava is able to provide an affordable clean water solution saving households USD $35/year compared to boiling water and USD $62/ year compared to purchasing bottled water. Since the business started in 2007, Nazava has saved its customers more than USD $14.5M. Other positive outcomes include:
Beneficial Returns extended a four-year loan to Nazava a four-year loan to finance the enterprise's growth. Continuing its track record of linking its financial terms to borrower impact, Beneficial Returns will waive the final monthly loan payment to Nazava if it sells more than 300,000 filters by loan maturity in 2023. The loan was also supported with a partial, philanthropic guaranty from a mentor and supporter of the Global Social Business Institute (GSBI) at Santa Clara University.
In Southeast Asia 15% of the population still lives on less than USD $1.90 a day while the region also has the highest rate of tropical deforestation and the most pollution from plastics. Social enterprises are a powerful antidote to these problems and at Beneficial Returns we are committed to supporting their growth.
Over 59% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line and more than one million lack clean drinking water in their homes. Before, they had two choices: boil water daily over wood fires that cause deforestation and respiratory illnesses from smoke inhalation, or buy bottled water that is expensive and bad for the environment.
Ecofiltro manufactures and sells low-cost ceramic water filters throughout Guatemala. Through distributorships Ecofiltro filters are also available in Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador. The company is a shining example of a high-impact business that earns a profit as well.
With a seven year loan from Beneficial Returns, Ecofiltro acquired new production equipment that will increase their efficiency, doubled the size of their factory, and put them on track to produce over 100,000 filters in the next twelve months, The result is that hundreds of thousands of families will soon have clean, affordable, easily accessible drinking water and better health. Demonstrating its commitment to rewarding impact, Beneficial Returns also agreed to waive the final loan payment if Ecofiltro sells more than one million filters in the next seven years.
In addition to selling tens of thousands of filters annually, Ecofiltro also equips thousands of Guatemalan classrooms with filters free of charge. If you'd like to help Ecofiltro reach its goal of outfitting all classrooms in Guatemala, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.
Seventy percent of the world’s poor are farmers. An average cow produces 100 pounds of manure a day. Globally, arable land per person has been halved in the past forty years. 2.5 billion people still rely on wood and other biomass for cooking leading to deforestation and poor health from smoke inhalation. These grim statistics are also business opportunities and Sistema Bio has incorporated all of them into their business model.
Sistema Bio is a seven-year old social enterprise headquartered in Mexico. The Company designs, manufactures and sells affordable, modular, patented biodigesters to smallholder farmers in Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, India and Kenya. These biodigesters use naturally-occurring microorganisms to break down manure and generate biogas and digestate. The biogas can be used as a cooking fuel and to generate electricity or to power machinery. The digestate is rich in nutrients and is used as a fertilizer to restore soil fertility and to increase crop productivity.
The company’s ability to deploy market-based solutions to alleviate poverty has been recognized by Ashoka, the Global Social Business Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University, Shell Foundation and others.
For as little as $600, payable over a two year period, farmers can create value from waste. The savings in store-bought fertilizer and energy plus the increased income from higher crop yields means farmers can experience a positive return on their investment in as little as 11 months. Since launching in 2010 Sistema has installed 5,000 biodigesters. In 2018 alone they expect to install another 5,000 as the business ramps up to serve their target market of 80 million small-scale farmers.
Sistema Bio’s biodigesters are manufactured in Mexico and then shipped to regional offices where they are sold, installed and serviced by trained field staff. As the business grows and serves ever more remote farmers, so too does the need for working capital. CEO and co-founder Alex Eaton said, “It can take us as long as six months between paying for our raw materials and getting paid from the proceeds of a microfinance loan. Our success is being constrained by our ability to access working capital.”
Beneficial Returns provided a $75,000 loan to Sistema to refinance four trucks that the business had bought with cash in 2017. By leveraging their fixed assets, the social enterprise was able to free up more money for working capital, keeping the business on pace with their ambitious plans for biodigester installations.
Beneficial Returns’ investors are family foundation and donor advisors who expect a financial return and deep impact as well. To that end, Beneficial Returns adds an unusual feature to its loans. The impact debt fund will waive the final monthly loan payment if the borrower surpasses 50,000 biodigester installations by the end of the fifth year (a goal that Sistema Bio set for themselves.) Ted Levinson, founder of Beneficial Returns said, “We’ll gladly forego the income if we know that tens of thousands of farmers have benefited from Sistema Bio’s products.”