Microfinance Venture Zopa Raises Another Round of Venture Capital Financing

I’ve written about Zopa before on this blog— it’s a microfinance venture based out of London that enables person-to-person lending. Zopa just announced today that they have raised $12.9 million dollars from several VC firms, including Bessemer, Benchmark, and Wellington Management. The extra money will be used to enter the US market. Zopa isn’t focusing on the developing world (like Kiva is), but I think the US is a good market to test a proof of concept microfinance model.

Microsoft shares a portion of the program’s advertising revenue with charities

i’m is a new initiative from Windows Live™ Messenger. Every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program’s advertising revenue with some of the world’s most effective organizations dedicated to social causes. We’ve set no cap on the amount we’ll donate to each organization. The sky’s the limit.

So any time you have an i’m™ conversation using Windows Live Messenger, you help address the issues you feel most passionate about, including poverty, child protection, disease, and environmental degradation. It’s simple. All you have to do is join and start an instant messaging conversation. We’ll handle the donation.

We’ve seen Microsoft do something similar with search in the past. I’m a bit suprised that they’ve kept it going.

Update on Freepledge

Several months ago, I featured a social venture called FreePledge on this blog. Here is my post: FreePledge Lets You Donate To Non-Profits While Shopping At Your Favorite Online Retailer

Since then, they have made big strides to enhance their product, including an updated design, new reporting functionality for non-profits and registered users, and a nifty donation estimating tool.

I recently received an update from FreePledge and found out that they now have 150+ nonprofits signed up, and have partnered with 160 retailers. FreePledge is clearly in its growth phase and eager to do a big push for Valentines Day.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and a big online shopping time. We believe that FreePledge is a great way to “Send Love Twice” – Please check out our Valentine’s Day Store at www.freepledge.com/Valentine.aspx!

Give to ninemillion.org with every search

Just saw this on a text ad from an email sent from hotmail.

For every search performed from this page between January 17 and March 31, 2007, Microsoft will make a contribution to ninemillion.org. All contributions will benefit ninemillion.org to support educational programs for refugee youth.

Microsoft doesn’t provide any details on how this really works but paid search traffic generates revenues, and a percentage of these revenues will probably be donated to NineMillion.org, a UN Refugee Agency led campaign to raise awareness and funds for education and sport programs for refugee youth, many of whom are forced to spend years of their young lives away from home with little hope of returning.

A Digg For Articles About Social Responsibility– dotherightthing.com

TechCrunch, blog that reports on new Web 2.0 organizations just featured a new one called DoTheRightThing. I haven’t had time to check it out yet but it sounds interesting. Here is what TechCrunch writes:

I took a look at new startup DoTheRightThing this evening. This is a Digg-like site where people submit stories about companies acting in ways that can be considered “good” or “bad.” Other users then vote on the goodness or badness of those actions, add comments, etc. An overall “goodness” score, ranging from “severe” on the negative end to “pioneer” on the positive end is calculated and displayed.

See TechCrunch for the full article.

How The Technology World Is Changing Philanthropy

Douglas McGray writes an interesting article in West (the new Sunday mag for the LA Times) about how Omidyar and Skoll, the founders of Ebay, are changing the face of philanthropy.

Since EBay went public in 1998, Omidyar, now worth about $8 billion, and Skoll, worth about $5 billion, have become two of the nation’s leading philanthropists. And they have done so in ways that seem likely to shape their generation’s philanthropic legacy—first poking at the firewall between the nonprofit and business worlds, then punching through and building a network of investments that cross back and forth.

The article documents the transformation of philanthropy in the United States and details how the technology boom is not only increasing charitable contributions, but also incorporating more ROI-driven methods to improve the way resources are allocated. It’s a great read– check it out for yourself.

Ebay Giving Works Helps Nonprofits Raise Money

Ebay Giving Works
Ebay Giving Works is a program that allows non profits to use ebay to generate revenues and a way for consumers to support non profits by buying on eBay.

Giving Works is powered by MissionFish, which is the exclusive “charity solutions provider” of eBay.

MissionFish helps you support your favorite causes through trading on eBay! Since 2000, we’ve been providing our technology, tools and support to thousands of organizations and donors, and raised millions of dollars through online auctions. MissionFish is the exclusive charity solution provider for eBay Giving Works, and a service of the Points of Light Foundation.

Interesting background information about MissionFish– it actually began as a for profit with venture backing but switched over to become a nonprofit.

The “how it works” section on the MissionFish website offers a simple description documenting the entire process. Here is a summary of how it works from the seller’s side:

1. Nonprofit registers with eBay Giving Works
2. MissionFish screens the nonprofit to make sure it’s legitimate
3. Any seller on eBay can choose to donate a percentage of their sales to eBay’s list of screened nonprofits
4. Seller must list with MissionFish

Here is a summary of how it works from the nonprofit direct seller’s side:
1. The nonprofit registers for a sellers account on eBay.
2. The nonprofit registers with eBay and MissionFish screens the nonprofit to make sure it’s legitimate
3. The nonprofit can list items for sale on eBay, with no fees

There’s a lot more information on both the eBay Giving Works and MissionFish websites, including information about marketing, managing auctions, success case studies, and a discussion forum with lots of user generated information.

cMarket – A Charity Auction Startup

cMarket online auction
cMarket, a online charity auction site, is creating some buzz these days. The venture was recently written about in a Businessweek article detailing the company’s goal:

Having already raised $20 million in venture capital, Carson says the company is out to fine-tune the charity-auction process and develop a “national marketplace.”

The article also delves into some of the challenges that the business faces, most notably, differentiating itself from online auction giant Ebay:

CEO Jon Carson says, is designed to give each group a “walled garden,” as opposed to eBay’s sprawling agora. With more items to choose from on eBay, he says bidders don’t necessarily confine themselves to charity items. He adds that cMarket gives each group its own auction Web page, where it can also gain sponsorship revenue.

How does the site make money? By taking a cut of each sale, just as Ebay does, and also collecting a fee for introducing organizations to vendors that sell discounted products or products tailored for charity “drives”.

So check out cMarket, and buy something to support a charity!

Note: Ebay has a pretty compelling charity offering called Giving Works, where buyers can buy items sellers can sell items to support charity. I’ll write a more detailed about Giving Works next week.

Acumen Investment Gives Fund Stake In Growing Technology Platform Transforming Rural India

Acumen Fund

Drishtee Kiosks Harness Technology to Increase Accessibility of Critical Information and Services Including Healthcare and Education

New York, NY – Acumen Fund, a leading catalyst for sustainable, scalable solutions addressing poverty in South Asia and Africa, announced today that it has invested $1.6 million (~Rs.72 million) in Drishtee Dot Com, a rural Information and Communications Technology (ICT) platform operating more than 1000 kiosks in India that provide computer and English education, e-governance and digital photography services. Acumen Fund’s investment of $1 million (~Rs.45 million) gives it an equity stake in Drishtee and is being used to finance the growth of Drishtee’s kiosk base and officially launch Quiver Infoservices Limited, a Drishtee subsidiary that will focus on expanding and improving the offerings of the company’s kiosks, including health-related services for the rural poor. Acumen Fund is also providing a concurrent loan to Drishtee of $600,000 (~Rs.27 million).

To continue reading, head over to the press release.

To learn more about Acumen Fund, check out their website and read their blog: Acumen Fund- Entrepreneurial Solutions To Global Poverty.

Microfinance- Making A Big Difference In The Developing World- A Plug For Kiva

Kiva Microfinance

Microfinance has gained tremendous momentum in the last year following a large infusion of venture capital. Two companies dominate the mindshare in this space: Prosper and Zopa.

However, a lesser known microfinance venture, Kiva.org, is already using the model to demonstrate remarkable social returns by focusing specifically on “loaning money to businesses in the developing world.”

BusinessWeek recently ran an article about Kiva and provided some great success stories:

For 15 years, Angel Asenov Isaev, a 29-year-old Gypsy living in Sliven, Bulgaria, worked in a bike repair shop in the center of town, struggling to save enough capital to start his own shop. About five months ago, Isaev applied for a $250 loan from a local microfinance institution (MFI) called REDC Bulgaria.

He got the loan, opened the business, and is now working seven days a week to keep up with demand. But the money didn’t come from Bulgaria: It came from America. That’s because REDC had partnered with a U.S.-based Web site, Kiva.org…

Check out this link to Businessweek for a slideshow on how Kiva is creating social value in the developing world.

I’m definitely a fan now, and will probably be purchasing a bunch of these gift cards soon.