The Upaya Story: The Fight to End Extreme Poverty
Note from the Editor: This is a guest post written by Steve Schwartz, Director of Strategy & Operations for one of Jolkonaâ€™s newest partners, Upaya Social Ventures.
From the U.S., it is easy to see images of households in far away countries living in a way that looks different than our own and to assume that the differences â€” a tin roof, a barefoot schoolboy, a pot cooking over an open fire â€” fit neatly within a universal definition of â€œpoverty.â€ But scratch the surface and youâ€™ll find some families never worrying about where their next meal will come from, while 100 yards away others search endlessly to find enough work to eat again tomorrow. Not all poverty is created equal, and that relative difference is what Upaya Social Ventures was founded this year to address. An estimated 1.4 billion people worldwide are classified as â€œultra poor,â€ living on less than $1.25 a day and struggling to find work that will pay them enough to afford stable shelter, clean water and three meals a day. The ultra poor often speak of feeling trapped in miserable conditions, with such meager earnings that any progress they make satisfying one need comes at the expense of meeting another. At the very heart of the problem are informal livelihoods â€” a cluster of irregular activities like shoe-shining, begging, day labor, hawking of second-hand items and trash picking that generate highly unpredictable incomes for those working in them.
The Upaya Approach
Thatâ€™s where Upaya comes in. Taking its name from the Sanskrit word that means â€œskilled meansâ€ and connotes a creative solution to a challenging problem, Upaya is working with local social entrepreneurs to build businesses that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for the ultra poor. Itâ€™s a deceptively simple solution â€” increase a familyâ€™s earning potential through steady employment, and pair those jobs with access to affordable healthcare, education, housing and financial services so that the family makes sustained progress out of poverty.
But it is not always that simple, as the ultra poor are marginalized even within their own communities and skeptical of outsiders with â€œtoo good to be trueâ€ opportunities. For the entrepreneurs, too, there is a struggle to balance social responsibility with running a profitable business, and to attract funding to test their ideas.
This is why Upaya has created the Life-changing Interventions for the Ultra Poor (LiftUP) Project, a 24â€“36 month social business accelerator program that provides management support and financial resources to entrepreneurs who create jobs or improve access to basic services for the ultra poor. As a nonprofit organization, Upaya is able to make modest, longer-term equity investments â€” between $25,000 and $75,000 â€” in local entrepreneurs with early-stage ideas (any financial returns generated by investments are re-invested in future LiftUP Project partners). In addition to providing business development support, we also help these entrepreneurs create a â€œsocial accountingâ€ system for tracking and analyzing the impact their activities are having on the lives of their employees or customers.
An Ideal Partner
And that is what brought Upaya to Jolkona. As Upaya works with businesses to monitor their social impact, we also have a unique opportunity to give donors a forum to track the progress of the causes and businesses they support. Through the Jolkona platform, donors will be able to see quarterly updates on employeesâ€™ quality of housing, improvements in the number and nutritional value of meals, status of childrenâ€™s education and access to affordable healthcare. Upaya is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling the problems of extreme poverty, and Jolkona allows supporters to be active participants in that process.
In part two of this series, we will profile Samridhi, a community dairy initiative in one of the poorest states in India that is creating jobs and providing regular salaries to women in households without any other form of steady income. Upaya has already raised $45,000 for Samridhi since the beginning of August and is looking to double that amount by the end of September.
About the author: Steve is the Director of Strategy & Operations for Upaya Social Ventures, and is one of the organizationâ€™s co-founders.Â In a career that has run from Wall St. to the footpaths of smuggling routes in West Africa, Steve has long held the belief that all people deserve the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and means.