Thank you to everyone who phoned in to the The Food for All Summit last Wednesday, which was co-organized by the Bottom Billion Fund.

It was a pleasure and honor to host pioneering individuals and organizations from around the world as they work on solutions to end hunger and extreme poverty.

The summit featured policy makers, journalists, advocates, analysts, survivors and critical relief workers in the Horn of Africa famine, each of whom provided their first-hand perspective on the short-term and long-term solutions bringing about meaningful change in the fight to end poverty.  The takeaway from the summit was that ending extreme poverty is not only possible, but it’s happening: Extraordinary progress is being made, and all of us can help.

Getting involved to help end extreme poverty can be transformative work.  Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture & Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, shared a story from when he was working as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, covering the 2003 famine in Ethiopia:

“For me as a journalist, covering that famine was really a transformational period.  One of the workers from the World Food Program who I came into contact with on my first day in Addis, Ethiopia, was outlining what we would be seeing as we went to visit some of the hunger zones.  He told me something that has really stuck with me… and has been haunting in a sense.

What he said was, ‘Roger, looking into the eyes of someone dying from hunger becomes a disease of the soul. What you see is that nobody, particularly in the the 21st century, should be dying of hunger.’

And it was true.  That then and there infected my soul as a being, as a person and as a journalist.”

I agree with Roger that no one, especially in the 21st century, should be dying of hunger. That’s why my team and I developed the Bottom Billion Fund, to bring a long-term solution to the industry that is focused on ending extreme poverty; we’re advocating for and fueling microfinance specifically tailored for bottom billion people.

Microfinance is already reaching 150 million families in the world, many amongst the bottom billion.  The beauty of microfinance is that it can help people, even the poorest, become self-sufficient without the need for constant charity.

The Bottom Billion Fund helps microfinance keep focused on the poorest people with the greatest needs (who are also the most expensive to serve).  We lend money, rather than spending it, and reinvest repaid capital (and paid interest) over and over again in proven Bottom Billion microfinance programs with documented social results.  Our investments are not only long-term in their depth (that is, the ability to change a single life), but in their breadth, too (our model is replicable and scalable, capable of impacting change in communities around the globe).

Stayed tuned as we work to post to our website the audio recordings and transcripts from our Food for All Summit discussions with Roger Thurow, Ambassador Tony Hall (former US Rep. from Ohio and 3x Nobel Peace Prize Nominee), Adrian Lovett (ONE), Fran Equiza (Oxfam), Larry Reed (Microcredit Summit Campaign), Ken Patterson (RESULTS), and others.

In the meantime, this holiday season, consider giving a little to those who who have little and maximizing your impact.  Bottom Billion Fund invests money over and over again in microfinance solutions for the world’s poorest people, investing to make extreme poverty history.

Invest small change today to bring about big change tomorrow.

Thank you for your support in helping to launch the Bottom Billion Fund and make our initiative a reality in 2012.

With Best Wishes,







Tomorrow Wednesday, November 30, Bottom Billion Fund and other international organizations will be speaking via teleconference to discuss innovative and long-term solutions for the global hunger crisis… and you are invited to join, for free! To register, listen in & learn, register now at

Featured speakers include:

  • Ambassador Tony Hall, former US Rep. from Ohio
  • Adrian Lovett, ONE Campaign Europe Director
  • Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture & Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal
  • Larry Reed, Director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign
  • Fran Equiza, Regional Director for Horn, East and Central Africa for Oxfam
  • David Beckmann, World Food Prize laureate and President of Bread for the World
  • Ken Patterson, RESULTS Global Grassroots Manager
  • Thon Moses Chol, Educational Resource Specialist / Member of the Lost Boys & Girls of Sudan
  • Ron Schultz, Founder and Executive Director of the International Social Action Film Festival
  • Tom Coleman, Founder, Bottom Billion Fund

Take the initiative to engage with the ideas shaping a new generation of hunger solutions.

Looking forward to an insightful and inspiring summit!

Megan and the rest of the team at the Bottom Billion Fund

This is Thanksgiving week, a week in which we are reminded, anew, to give thanks for our blessings.

As we give thanks on Thursday with our families and friends around dinner tables, we must remember that as we eat, 1.4 billion people in our global family go hungry.

How would you celebrate Thanksgiving if someone in your family had nothing to eat?

The Bottom Billion go hungry because no matter how hard they work, they live on less than $1.25/day in extreme poverty.

For those who think extreme poverty and hunger are an inevitable part of the world we live in, it is important to recognize that extreme poverty is down over 20% from 1.8 billion people in 1990.  The world is decreasing poverty, but for the 24,000 dying everyday from starvation and extreme poverty, the current rate of decrease is not happening fast enough.

There are good programs to feed a child for a day. A short term solution.

But what if you could help the parents of these children make more income so that they could feed their own children every day? We’d have a long term solution!

Your donations to the Bottom Billion Fund help to build our permanent loan capital (whihc is lent, not spent) so that we may invest in microfinance solutions for the Bottom Billion, get repaid, and then invest the repayments over and over again in the poorest communities so that parents may increase their incomes and feed their own children. It’s a long term solution that keeps on giving!

Imagine what 10% of what you spend this on Thanksgiving this year could do for those who have nothing. Would that make your Thanksgiving more joyful?

The gift that keeps on giving… that is what your gift to the Bottom Billion Fund will do for the world’s poorest mothers, fathers and children.

Learn more and donate at

Thank you, and have a Happy Thanksgiving,

Thoughtful leaders in microfinance, like Vijay Mahajan, repeatedly ask and answer tough questions about microfinance. Because they care so much about effective results, they are the industry’s toughest critics as well as the industry’s best defenders. Lest anyone who might not appreciate this spirit of self awareness and self criticism of some of the best voices in microfinance be mistaken and only read the myths out of context, the commentary below attempts to elaborate on these Five Myths. I would argue that the context of these Five Myths is to provide an antidote to over promising and under delivering by some in microfinance.

First, please follow the link below and view the short video of Vijay Mahajan speaking in his own words about microfinance in context.  Then, read my commentary in italics, below.

Five Myths about Microfinance in India by Vijay Mahajan

  1. First is the idea that poor should be self-employed rather than work for wages. That is contrary to the whole history of successful economic development.

TC: The idea that everyone can be a successful entrepreneur through the magic of microfinance is clearly an over promise. Entrepreneurial skill is no more universal among the poor than among the rich. Financial services are only part of the solution.

Job creation or livelihoods development, which Vijay Mahajan and his BASIX companies are leaders in developing may be a better approach for many.

However, more of the poor, and especially the poorest, may have difficulty finding the reliable jobs they would prefer due to poor education, poor skills, poor health, and lack of transportation other than walking. The poorest are more likely to be forced into self-employment in their own microenterprises as their only alternative.

  1. Second is the idea that loans are the main financial services needed by the poor, whereas they really need savings and insurance.

TC: Appropriate microfinance services for the poorest may be savings or insurance led. Holistic approaches are needed that include financial services as one key part of the solution.

The simple anecdotal stories of loans that change poor people’s lives can be true. They often  over simplify the fact that other financial services and non-financial services such as skill training may be more needed or more appropriate as a first step. The best MFIs that serve the poorest clients take this into account and provide appropriate financial services to their clients and sometimes non-financial services as well.

3.  Third is the idea that credit is what builds enterprise, whereas the truth is that entrepreneurship and management are more important.

TC: Credit is surely not a magic bullet to cure poverty and increase incomes. It helps by leveraging the skills and hard work of the borrower. In the wrong hands or promoted to the wrong clients with inadequate training and preparation or in too large an amount, credit is damaging and can even be part of an addictive downward spiral of over indebtedness. Credit for the poor must match the scale of borrow cash flows.

A credit card does not make a small business succeed. It can help a good small business manager succeed.

  1. Fourth is the idea that the non-poor don’t need credit, whereas the truth is revealed in market-based banking: higher incomes can handle higher debt.

TC: Mainstream financial services primarily serve the highest income and highest wealth people in the world.

Mainstream microfinance services are accessible to many people in the 2nd and 3rd quartiles of developing country income—above the extreme poverty line of $1.25/day and usually well above $1.25/day in the $2/day range and higher.

$2/day is slightly below the median income level of the developing world. According to World Bank data, approximately 2.6 billion people in developing countries live below $2/day and about 2.8 billion above $2/day.

Microfinance as a profitable business will continue to grow to serve more of the “global middle class”, 4 billion people living above $1.25/day up to $25/day or more.

The bigger question is for those MFIs with experience and success in serving the extreme poor effectively with appropriate products. What financial incentive do they have to serve more Bottom Billion or extremely poor people and to make certain they serve these people in a manner that produces measure benefits for these clients?

  1. Fifth is the idea that micro credit institutions can become self-sustaining, whereas all experience shows that new enterprises in poor areas that are built on credit alone rarely emerge from dependency.

TC: The extraordinary financial success and profitability of a very few MFIs has left many believing that MFI profitability is easy and universal. MFI profitability is possible but not easy.

Of the approximately 10,000 MFIs in the world today, perhaps 500 are profitable, big and growing. They account for over 90% of all the clients of microfinance globally.

Those MFIs that seek to work only with the extremely poor or primarily with the extreme poor or Bottom Billion have the greatest challenges to be profitable. MFIs that are large, growing and profitable and serve a significant percentage of BB clients most likely serve a higher percentage of less poor clients as part of their total client mix.

I co-wrote this article for the Christian Science Monitor almost three years with Mark Lange.  The message still rings true, so  I’m taking the opportunity to repost it now. Hope you enjoy. Tom

Why give now?

Done wisely, we’ll save lives – and wind up happier.

By Tom Coleman, Mark Lange / December 22, 2008

Chicago and San Francisco

At home, social-services groups and charities face enormous budget shortfalls just as demand is intensifying. Abroad, systemic increases in food prices have pushed the number of people facing starvation to nearly 1 billion.

In normal times, American generosity is legendary. Between 65 and 85 percent of families make charitable donations every year. In 2003, the average donated was more than $1,800. But in the midst of a financial crisis, a seized-up economy, home foreclosures, and half a million jobs lost last month alone, how can Americans be expected to just … give money away?

Because helping those in the greatest need – either through private giving or public aid – is not only the right thing to do, it’s also in our singular best interest.

Research shows that people who give just wind up happier than those who don’t. In a study of survey data from 30,000 people, Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University in New York found that people who gave to any charity were 43 percent more likely than non-givers to report being “very happy.” They were 68 percent less likely to report having felt “hopeless.”

There even appears to be a multiplier effect. Katherine Carman of Tilberg University in the Netherlands found that people seated in cubicles near people who give actually become more generous. “Economic theory says I should want to free ride on other people’s contributions,” she said. “But in real life, we live in social groups. My research shows that if you give more, I will give more.”

To focus your giving on what you care about, new websites target contributions to specific causes. mobilizes giving with meaning. lets you give friends or family a stake in a wide range of effective humanitarian and environmental projects. And lets you send a gift card that can be used at any of 1.7 million charities around the world.

Now it’s time for the public sector to follow suit, by targeting American aid dollars more directly and effectively to those in the most extreme poverty – and focusing on what works.

At a time of limitless demand for federal dollars, it will be a political challenge for the Obama team to fulfill the campaign pledge to double US assistance (even though poverty-focused aid is less than 1 percent of the US budget). Yet it could change the game by pushing harder to generate more certain results per dollar spent – branding its efforts around the quality, not quantity, of funding.

Consider two steps:

•First, focus US aid on the last billion – the very worst-off who scrape by on incomes a fifth of those in mid-tier developing countries (which struggle, but where survival isn’t in question).

Seventy percent of the poorest nations live in Africa, yet only a third of US direct assistance goes there. We send as much aid to Russia as we do to 20 sub-Saharan nations combined. This lack of focus inflicts an intolerable opportunity cost, for which the very poorest pay with their lives, dying by the millions every year.

Focusing aid and development on the last billion – combined with a platform of clear, consistent metrics for project evaluation to be shared by NGOs and foundations – will generate breakthrough results. Not to mention happier taxpayers.

•Second, create a single US authority with a mandate to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. Today some 50 federal agencies own a piece of the problem, and they’re legislated into straitjackets of competing “directives,” many of which contradict efforts to end extreme poverty, and often perpetuate it.

Whether through a rewrite of the Foreign Assistance Act or new legislation, a single US authority should lead the world by example – focusing on the last billion and making poverty-focused economic development as pivotal to American standing as diplomacy and defense. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman has said he wants to see foreign assistance “reinvented.” It’s time.

Americans are only too happy to give when they know their dollars make a difference. As individuals, we can tap technology to make it easier to direct donations to effective projects. As a nation, particularly in hard economic times, our policy should be to prioritize and concentrate resources on the very worst-off.

It feels good to give. It feels even better when we know that what we give works.

Tom Coleman, formerly at the Chicago Board of Trade, is a microfinance consultant. Mark Lange is a consultant and former presidential speechwriter.

Paul Collier made at least two brilliant observations in his book “The Bottom Billion”.

“The third world has shrunk. For forty years the development challenge has been a rich world of one billion people facing a poor world of five billion people. The Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations, which are designed to track development progress through 2015, encapsulate this thinking. By 2015, however, it will be apparent that this way of conceptualizing development has become outdated.” — Paul Collier, “The Bottom Billion”

“A definition of development that encompasses five billion people gives them [development aid agencies and the companies that get the contracts for their projects] license to be everywhere, or more honestly everywhere but the bottom billion.” — Paul Collier, “The Bottom Billion”

The world population passed 7 billion people this week. Using Collier’s insights, we can think of

  • 1 billion rich at the top of the pyramid including billionaires in China and India
  • 4.6 billion people who are rapidly becoming the rising middle class—many quite poor by rich country standards but able to find economic opportunity and improve their incomes and their lives
  • 1.4 Bottom Billion or extreme poor living on less than $1.25/day struggling to survive without even the resources of clean water, sanitation or enough food and basic health care and with very limited opportunity

If Collier is right, most development serves the “rising global middle class” and passes the Bottom Billion by. Even microfinance tends to serve mainly the middle and less the Bottom Billion, but it does serve tens of millions of the Bottom Billion too.

If the goal is to help end extreme poverty for the worst off, for “the least of these”, then the interesting question becomes “how can we get a powerful, sustainable solution like microfinance to do more to include Bottom Billion people”.

One way is to make investment in microfinance contingent on serving more Bottom Billion people and serving them well. Another way would be to provide financial rewards to microfinance institutions that serve more Bottom Billion people and serve them well.

The Bottom Billion Fund seeks to do both to encourage microfinance to do more to reach more of the Bottom Billion and do the most it can to help them end extreme poverty.


My journey leading me to begin the Bottom Billion Fund went something like this:

After graduating from the University of Chicago with an MBA, I spent the better part of two decades leading the Research and New Product Development Department of the Chicago Board of Trade. It was a time of great financial innovations.

In the 1980’s I learned about another kind of financial innovation that counted its success in people instead of dollars. Microfinance fascinated me as a financial innovation, but even more as a tool that could help end extreme global poverty.

A decade and a half ago I left the world of commercial finance to pursue consulting in microfinance I was fascinated with trying to find ways to combine the best of finance in the commercial world with a focus on helping to end extreme poverty to make a measurable difference in the lives of the poorest people in our world.

Commercial capital and commercial finance practices have greatly helped spur the growth of microfinance in the past decade. But, I was concerned when I discovered that the vast majority of foreign investment in microfinance did not flow to the regions where the majority of the extreme poor or Bottom Billion live.  It also became clear to me that most economic incentives rewarded microfinance for serving fewer Bottom Billion people rather than more Bottom Billion people. This convinced me that a new kind of microfinance investment approach was sorely needed.

This led me to found the Bottom Billion Fund to create a way for all of us to channel donations towards investment in microfinance that reaches more Bottom Billion people and rewards microfinance that does the most to help Bottom Billion clients leave extreme poverty.

Join us. Let’s end extreme poverty. Why wait? Who knows what a determined band of thoughtful idealists might be able to do? 1.4 Bottom Billion people are already doing the heavy lifting. We can help.



The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem. — Mohandas Gandhi                                                             

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. — Mohandas Gandhi