From Santchou to Alter: Why scalable business is the key to addressing global poverty
At Alter, our theory of change is predicated on the belief that, in the developing world, one company’s success can spark a ripple effect of positive growth that extends beyond just the success of the company; a scalable venture can be the foundation for socioeconomic growth in ways traditional aid cannot. I witnessed a localized example of this a few years ago while living abroad in Cameroon. The experience instilled within me the belief that supporting private sector endeavors in the developing world is the most promising way to address global poverty.
About four years ago, I lived in Santchou, a rural village in Cameroon. Santchou is an agricultural town where nearly everyone farms to feed their family. If a family grows more than they can eat, the opportunities to sell outside of the immediate village are limited because it requires navigating long and often muddy roads to surrounding markets. It’s unimportant to the villagers, though, because enough surplus seldom exists to justify the long trek. The economy is confined to the sleepy village, which has little more than one main road with a few stores and people selling bananas or meat from wooden tables.
Several years ago, Santchou received an economic kickstart when a huge rice processing factory was built there. When the factory opened, farmers could bring their rice harvest for threshing, hulling, packaging, and transport to surrounding markets. The factory allowed for a shift away from just subsistence farming to a focus on rice as a cash crop. A ripple effect of growth began as families from around the region flocked to Santchou to farm rice. With the influx of new money and disposable income, new stores and schools opened, commerce and interaction with neighboring villages grew, and the quality of life began to climb for the first time in Santchou’s history.
After 10 years of operation, the rice factory in Santchou shut down for somewhat mysterious reasons related to a loss of government funding. The factory was the epicenter of commerce for Santchou, and with its closure the blossoming economy starting to decline. When I visited a few years later, I found the abandoned factory blanketed with dust and the machinery sitting there, rusting and deteriorating. Since the closure, non-profit organizations and government institutions have tried to resuscitate Santchou’s economy through philanthropic programs like in-kind agriculture donations and micro-loans. Unfortunately, none of these attempts have matched the comprehensive impact of the rice factory’s ability to ignite growth in so many facets of life for the community.
When I was in Santchou, I learned that one business can affect the development of an entire community, industry, and ecosystem. It’s why I believe in Alter, too. Alter identifies businesses that are poised to spur the economic opportunity that creates jobs and has lasting impacts on the quality of life of a whole community. Unlike Santchou’s rice factory, though, Alter identifies ventures that can be scaled to have a similar impact on an entire country’s ecosystem. Alter’s ventures are employing thousands of locals and creating immeasurable impact of the quality of lives of millions of people.
Alter focuses on opening the doors to economic development through sustainable and scalable job creation. We believe in the ability and potential of the talent that exists within these frontier markets to lead the game-changing ventures that transform ecosystems. Like the machinery waiting to be used in Santchou’s rice factory, these countries hold the potential to create and sustain their own growth. We’re lucky to support them.