The founding of Envest was the result of a personal and professional journey that led Jon Bishop from biology to the business world. As a trained ecologist and avid environmentalist, his professional aspiration was to be part of the effort to protect the natural areas of the planet. While living in rural Panama, he came to understand that a great deal of deforestation resulted from the lack of economic opportunities for low-income people. It became clear that poverty was an obstacle to creating a sustainable economy. Further, the environment and the economy should not be in conflict with each other. Microfinance was emerging as a viable tool to provide opportunities to low-income people in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.
Jon returned to school and completed an MBA, which led to a job managing a microfinance fund focused on Nicaragua. Microfinance was the perfect fit for him. The fund he managed had an incredible impact on the lives of folks who would have had no other opportunity to gain access to credit and improve their families’ economic situations. The microfinance model worked, and there was a viable way for investors in the US to provide economic opportunity to people in Nicaragua and beyond.
The challenge for microfinance was, and remains, the inability to scale and satisfy the demand for credit globally. The estimated unmet global demand for credit was $320 billion, while the global microfinance sector was $50 to $80 billion. There were many financially viable microfinance institutions (MFIs) that were unable to borrow sufficient funds to meet their clients’ demands.
Envest was founded with the mission of bridging the gap between microfinance and capital markets. Capital markets represent the only viable source of financial resources necessary to meet the global demand for credit. An added benefit of shifting microfinance from the philanthropic sector to a business model based on capital markets is that the microfinance sector will not be competing with other environmental and social justice causes that have no revenue generating model available.
Envest was founded in 2006 and began lending operations in late 2007. It attracted a community of investors, supporters, and interns who shared the vision of using market-based business models to create economic opportunities in developing countries. Envest Microfinance Fund, LLC was founded in late 2012 to establish an investment vehicle that could raise capital from investors.
Envest disbursed its first loan in 2007 to an MFI in Nicaragua. By 2010, Envest had added MFI partners in Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. In 2014, Envest ventured outside of Latin America when it lent to two MFIs in Tajikistan. The following year, we began lending to MFIs in Kyrgyzstan and added additional partners in Tajikistan. From 2016 to 2018, we expanded into Africa and Eastern Europe, establishing lending relationships with MFIs in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, and Moldova. In 2021, Envest expanded into India.
The distinguishing characteristic of Envest is that we lend to very small MFIs on a for-profit basis. We understand that very small MFIs in countries often considered too risky for lending can be excellent lending partners who can create economic opportunities and social justice in their communities. We have built personal relationships with a high degree of trust with MFIs in 12 countries. We consider these personal relationships to be invaluable to Envest’s operations and to the global community. We strongly subscribe to the notion that borders frequented by merchants rarely need to be patrolled by soldiers.
Envest has grown in a grassroots fashion for the entire 15 years of its existence. Securities regulations present obstacles that make grassroots growth very challenging. The lack of economies of scale has made growth slow. Nevertheless, Envest has built a community of supporters committed to bridging the gap between microfinance and capital markets. It has also established a community of MFIs operated by highly dedicated and competent professionals who are using innovative models to provide credit to borrowers who would not have opportunities otherwise. We welcome into our community kindred spirits who are interested in using sound business practices to increase access to capital markets as we continue to carry out our mission.
Envest will play a role in promoting and developing an environmentally sustainable and socially just economy in which basic human needs are met worldwide. We envision a world with universal access to financial services to create the conditions necessary to empower the world’s low-income people to meet their basic needs.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
John is a management consultant with Strategy& Dubai and has an MBA from Columbia Business School. He has a long track record of working in the social impact space in volunteer, leadership and research positions and is passionate about understanding how to better link capital markets to social and environmental impact outcomes. Prior to business school, he worked at Dasra, India’s leading strategic philanthropy firm, providing capacity building support to sector-leading social entrepreneurs and non-profits as they approached transformational scale. Prior to that, he worked in the Aerospace and Defense sector and has an undergraduate degree in Mechanical engineering.
Justin is the Relationship Officer at Calvert Foundation, a nonprofit provider of innovative financial products and services that channel affordable capital to underserved communities and markets. Justin managed the Community Investing Program of Co-op America and the Social Investment Forum, where he was instrumental in helping build the overall demand for community investing. He has worked in Hong Kong on labor issues, spent time in Central America with economic development projects, and has a degree in Sociology and Statistics from James Madison University.
Justin currently serves on the Board of Co-op America, a national nonprofit dedicated to creating a just and sustainable society by harnessing economic power for positive change.
Read Eldred retired after a forty-year career in sales, customer service and marketing. His career was characterized by his success instigating and implementing various aspects of these disciplines. He takes special pride in knowing that good hiring decisions were at the root of his success. During his career, he worked exclusively for family owned businesses, most of them small and several of them start-ups. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1972. Read has traveled in West Africa as well as Central and South America giving him the opportunity to see the economic challenges faced by much of the world’s population. Envest is an organization with an exciting and compelling mission that presents an opportunity to participate in addressing these challenges.
Nick worked as Director of Operations from July 2018 to April 2019. He joined the advisory board after stepping off the management team. Prior to working with Envest, he held a number of positions in both the public and private sectors where he focused on international trade and agricultural development. He has experience in East and Southern Africa, and is committed to promoting economic opportunity in developing markets through microfinance.
Ruth Kaseregenyi is a microfinance professional with an interest in financial inclusion. She worked directly with smallholder farmers in Western Uganda as the General Manager of former Envest partner Rushere SACCO. Ruth led Rushere for twelve years (2006-2018) before moving to North Carolina, USA. During her tenure at Rushere, Ruth built relationships with development partners including Envest. She spearheaded the organizational transition from using manual ledger cards and calculators to using a computerized management information system with internet banking that a SACCO member can access from any part of the world. Ruth also consulted for Oradian, a microfinance software company based in Zagreb, Croatia, to carry out extensive market research in Uganda and Kenya. She holds a Bachelors’ Degree in Business Administration and a postgraduate diploma in Financial Management. She has also had further microfinance education from a variety of institutes around the world. She is deeply involved in and very passionate about the microfinance industry because she has seen it change people’s lives, especially the economically active but unbanked population.
Mirzo Khashimov works for one of the largest banks in the US. He has Business Finance and Banking degree from University of Nebraska Mirzo is originally from Tajikistan and is fluent in English, Russian and Tajik. His understanding of the business and banking culture in both Tajikistan coupled with his experience in international banking gives him a valuable perspective from which to contribute to Envest’s mission.
Andy is a Certified Financial Planner® and expert in community investments. Andy and his wife, Susan Taylor, run the financial planning firm Just Money Advisors in Louisville, Kentucky, which serves clients in more than 25 states. Andy is a lifelong social activist who has won multiple awards for community investment work. Andy is a member of Natural Investments, a boutique investment advisory network that is well known for its dedication to combining attractive financial returns with environmental sustainability and social justice. Natural Investments approved Envest for recommendation to clients of the network in 2013 largely due to Andy’s recommendation and diligent effort. His financial insights and passion for social justice will be an excellent addition to the Envest team.
Malaika Maphalala, CPWA®, is a Private Wealth Advisor with Natural Investments LLC, an SEC registered, nationwide Investment Advisory firm providing portfolio management for individuals and institutions using exclusively socially responsible and green investments. Malaika’s investment approach with her clients mirrors her strong personal dedication to sustainable communities, regenerative agriculture, social justice, and alleviation of global poverty.
She is committed to using sound financial and economic principals to create a positive change in the world while building a secure financial future for her clients. Envest’s focus on providing access to credit to the world’s low-income population fits Malaika’s vision perfectly. Malaika joined the Envest Advisory Board in May 2016, after years of participating in meetings and providing guidance.
Mel is Chief Economist of First Affirmative Financial Network, LLC (FAFN), a nationwide network of socially responsible investment advisers headquartered in Colorado Springs. He also serves as a member of the First Affirmative Investment Committee. Mel was the Chief Investment Officer for Heartland Financial USA, Inc. for 28 years before joining FAFN. He has recently moved to Madison, Wisconsin with his wife Marie. Mel’s deep insights into economics and financial markets, his strong commitment to social responsible investing and social justice, and his slightly warped sense of humor will be excellent additions to the Envest community.
Doug is the founder and owner of Awen Financial Services LLC, an investment advisory firm in Madison Wisconsin that focuses on socially responsible investing. Doug has built his business around the proposition that investment portfolios can be used to make the world more equitable and sustainable. Doug has been involved with Envest since 2007.
Julia Glad Pooler first became involved with Envest through a business class at the UW when Envest was just beginning. Immediately sold on Envest’s microfinance vision, she became intensely involved with Envest during its early development, leading initial marketing and communications and meeting with some of Envest’s first MFI partners in Nicaragua. Since then she has worked in the nonprofit sector in communications and earned her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. She is delighted to return to Envest to help with Envest’s expanding marketing opportunities.
Anna transitioned into the role of Latin American Regional Representative from Director of Marketing in July of 2017. She began working with Envest during the fall of 2016 as an intern. Anna is passionate about the positive social and environmental changes microfinance is creating in developing markets. Before joining Envest, Anna worked in both Brazil and Chile with a focus on market analysis and international trade.
She graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a BBA in Marketing and a certificate in Spanish.
Jennifer will be volunteering with Envest and using her financial background from Loyola University Chicago to help Envest, as we move forward. She was a US advisor with Global Brigades that worked on a water extension project in rural Honduras that helped prevent communicable diseases in communities that have limited access to clean water and has also traveled to Guatemala and Ghana.
Jennifer currently works at Madison College as a Purchasing Analyst and Accounting Specialist and is excited to continue on working on projects that empower individuals in defeating the cycle of poverty.
Holly initially joined Envest as Director of Operations until returning to her hometown of Minneapolis in 2018 at which time she joined Envest’s advisory board. Prior to joining Envest, Holly worked in the commercial real estate industry. She is currently Finance Manager for The Nature Conservancy’s MN/ND/SD chapter and remains passionate about microfinance as a sustainable contributor to the eradication of global poverty. She holds BA degrees in Economics and French.
David is a doctoral student in the political science department at Columbia University. His research interests include comparative authoritarianism, international political economy, and democratization in post-communist Eurasia and Iran. He is the coauthor of Under Siege: Inter-ethnic Relations in De Facto Abkhazia, as well as articles in the Journal of International Affairs, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, and Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. He is currently working on several projects concerning legislative institutions under autocracy in Russia and Georgia.
Lili Tangwall joined the Envest advisory board in the fall of 2020. She started her microfinance career by helping rural families in her native Moldova form and grow financial cooperatives and find ways for the poor to gain financial independence. Lili’s previous work at World Council of Credit Unions included collaboration with credit unions, their associations, regulators and young leaders. She is currently the membership director with the International Credit Union Regulators’ Network where she builds capacity for regulators to help strengthen institutions and protect members’ savings. Lili speaks French, Romanian and Russian and has worked in 15 countries.
Ann joined Envest’s Advisory Board in the fall of 2012. An associate Professor for the Wisconsin School of Business, she is interested in resource management with a particular focus on the emergence and diffusion of clean technologies, and environmental management practices. Ann has provided invaluable input to Envest on an informal basis for several years. We are delighted to welcome Ann to the Advisory Board and recognize her contribution to Envest.
BOARD MEMBERS EMERITUS
Francisco is Assistant Professor of Forest Economics, School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri. Dr. Aguilar holds a Ph.D. in Forest Products Marketing and Economics from LSU. His experience includes working with a non-profit NGO supporting low-income communities in his native Guayaquil, Ecuador, participating in a multidisciplinary group to study the interaction of sustainability, community development and spirituality in India and Sri Lanka, promotion of the use of biogas and organic farming; and working for the Office of the First Lady in the Ecuadorian Government as a specialist in sustainable farming systems.
Co-founder of the Little Free Library movement and the Dane Buy Local network of independently owned businesses in Madison, Rick was also board chair of Sarvodaya USA, which supports grassroots development in Sri Lanka and Nepal. He has also served as chair or board member of WI SHARE, a three-state community building and food security network, WI Positive Youth Development, WI Partners for SustainAbility. He was the first board chair of Envest Microfinance.
For two decades Rick was Outreach Program Manager in Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching facilitating health and social change and providing consultation to commercial and non-profit groups.
Georgette Frazer was elected to the Envest Board of Directors at the Envest Microfinance Cooperative annual meeting in November 2012 and served in the board until 2016. Georgette has been involved with Envest since its in founding in 2006. Her role has been crucial in planning and executing the vision and strategy of Envest.
Georgette founded an investment advisory firm specializing in socially responsible investing affiliated with First Affirmative Financial Network which she operated for 21 years until her retirement in 2012. Previously, she was an associate professor of business and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield for sixteen years. She remains active as a consultant and advocate of impact investing. She has been active in numerous civic organizations in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
Kathy is a certified financial planning advisor and owner of Fiscal Fitness, LLC., a financial coaching and planning firm located in Verona, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. She is a member of The Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide network of professional, fee-only financial advisors.
Ms. Hankard holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin and worked in systems programming and software engineering before earning her Certificate of Financial Planning in 2002.
Jennifer Lazarus, CFP®, owns Lazarus Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only financial planning firm for socially responsible investors in their twenties to fifties. She collaborates with her clients to develop and manage a tailored, cohesive financial strategy based on what matters most to them. She most enjoys helping people reach a place of empowerment and financial calm.
Formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad, Jennifer especially values how Envest partners with its microfinance institutions in recognition of local management’s capabilities and insight.
Sergio is a partner with Autonomous Mind, a locally-owned communication and planning consulting firm in Madison, WI. Autonomous Mind specializes in providing communication and business planning services to small businesses and organizations, with a focus on sustainability and renewable energy.
Mr. Loureiro worked previously in the U.S. financial industry and in the consumer goods industry in Europe. He holds a degree in engineering from Universidade Católica, Porto, Portugal, and a MBA from University of Wisconsin – Madison. He has held board positions in various non-profit organizations over the years.
Paul directs the implementation and operation of SAP supply chain software at Spectrum Brands. He has managed business implementations in North America, Asia and Europe in industrial, retail and high-tech verticals for nearly a decade. A business graduate of the University of Toledo, he has expertise in the business, financial and technical aspects of supply chain management. Paul has extensive travel experience in the developing world including Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa and has seen the benefits that small loans can bring to individuals and their communities. He volunteers with the Sierra Club and Dane County Farmers Market.