The tragic development of the global Covid-19 crisis makes elea’s purpose to fight absolute poverty with entrepreneurial means ever more important and urgent.

31 December 2020

Several hundred million people are currently being pushed back into absolute poverty as poor countries are hit the hardest by the global Covid-19 crisis. The absence of sufficiently equipped government institutions and health care systems means that these countries have been confronted with increasing human suffering, economic turmoil, and widespread unemployment.

“The unexpected and dramatic developments that have dominated the year 2020 make elea’s purpose to fight absolute poverty with entrepreneurial means ever more important and urgent. Innovative entrepreneurial ideas are now sorely needed to make up for the lost progress, and philanthropic impact capital can help realize those ideas on the ground” concludes Peter Wuffli, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

When asked about the effects of the crisis on elea’s existing partnerships, Andreas Kirchschläger, CEO of elea, replies: “The crisis affects our portfolio companies in significant ways” and explains in more detail: “Core activities had to be closed with the result of losing entire revenue streams, supply chains are being seriously disrupted, direct interactions with beneficiaries are severely restricted, and organizations are forced to adhere to home office requirements under difficult technological and logistical conditions. In spring and summer, elea’s main focus was more than ever on supporting our impact entrepreneurs. A small number of them were fighting for mere survival, particularly those with training facilities that had to be closed. Most had to make substantial adjustments to their enterprise models and their organizations. Some, namely those active in informal retail and last mile distribution, were thriving and could provide essential goods, services, and information to their customers that were in special demand because of the crisis.”

Pertaining to the elea entrepreneurs, Adrian Ackeret, CFO of elea, states: “We partnered closely and intensely with our entrepreneurs to help them develop and implement measures for resilience, deal with complicated strategic, operational, organizational, and personal issues and reimagine a successful post-Covid future. Often, it was just about being available as an empathetic listener and loyal sounding board. In addition, we also provided our investees with emergency funding where needed, thereby motivating other investors to contribute as well, and thus could sometimes prevent the worst.” So far, all of elea’s 19 active investments have survived. And, while exhausting and sometimes depressing, elea noted with satisfaction that its model proved its value particularly in these stressful situations. “Our substantial upfront investment of time and energy in the evaluation and selection process as well as our approach to collaboration with our investees leads to strong trusted relationships. These allowed us to work together effectively on critical tasks despite the disruption of travel.”

In recent months elea was able to shift its attention again toward making new investments despite the enormous challenges of due diligence under current conditions. elea is pleased to report that it could add two innovative companies to our portfolio. East Africa Fruits, an agricultural company in Tanzania, sources fresh produce from poor smallholder farmers and sells it directly to the local markets in urban centers, thereby cutting out middlemen and ensuring higher prices for the producers. With Ricult, the second addition to our portfolio in 2020, elea expanded its reach in Southern and Southeast Asia. Ricult has built a digital platform that connects smallholder farmers to agriculture companies and financial institutions in Pakistan and Thailand, giving farmers better access to local markets as well as financing opportunities. Stefan Kappeler, COO of elea, remarks: “We look forward to partner with these new exciting social ventures and to contribute to their further development and impact value creation.”

Co-authored by Peter Wuffli and the holder of the elea Chair for Social Innovation at IMD, Prof. Vanina Farber, “The elea Way – A Learning Journey Toward Sustainable Impact” was published this November. “The book builds on elea’s almost 15 years of experience in the impact investing sector and examines how social entrepreneurship and impact capital can lead to a more inclusive capitalism” explains Peter Wuffli and adds: “We very much look forward to receiving your reactions and comments.”

elea also continued its engagement for awareness building through physical lectures, remote presentations, and by regularly sharing insights and updates through our social media channels. Prof. Vanina Farber launched the very successful “elea Webinar Series” in which impact investors, academics, and social entrepreneurs discuss how private capital can be mobilized to spark social innovation. “To further emphasize our commitment to this thriving global sector, elea became a signatory to the global IFC Operating Principles for Impact Management, joining a group of over 100 impact investors all over the world who are committed to a purposeful integration of impact considerations throughout their investment process” remarks Peter Wuffli.

According to Andreas Kirchschläger: “The pandemic also changed the way we work at elea.” Searching for and assessing new investment opportunities, meeting existing and new potential partners, as well as working together with its entrepreneurs all had to be done primarily remotely. While this required flexibility and much additional effort, the elea leadership team was positively surprised with the results achieved. “We are proud of the elea team’s effectiveness and resilience during this challenging time, and we are grateful for the commitment, the energy, and the hard work that our colleagues are demonstrating on a daily basis” underlines Andreas Kirchschläger.

Following last year’s success of the elea Talent Program, elea had its second intake this year with an overwhelming number of applications of young talents from many different top universities. After a comprehensive selection process, elea was delighted to welcome Katya Duncan as a new Associate to its team. Stéphanie Abels joined as a Senior Associate after her prior work experience in investment banking and a temporary assignment to support our partner FUNDES in Costa Rica. Furthermore, elea strengthened its senior expertise with Florin Lanz who – after several years of working in business development and business building roles in entrepreneurial environments – joined elea as an Executive Director.

Looking back at the achievements of the past twelve months, Peter Wuffli highlights the role of elea’s supporters: “This has only been possible thanks to our Philanthropic Investors’ Circle and our Comité de Patronage” and adds: “Their unwavering support strengthened our resolve not to be disheartened by this unprecedented crisis but continue with our mission.” elea spent an inspiring evening at the Landesmuseum Zurich for this year’s elea Philanthropic Investors’ Circle Event, with several new circle members. Regretfully, elea had to take notice that Paul Geissbühler announced his intention to retire from the Comité de Patronage due to personal reasons. “We cannot but thank Mr. Geissbühler for his many years of engaged and active participation in this committee and we are grateful for his continued contribution to elea.” 

Andreas Kirchschläger summarizes: “The high level of commitment and support we could enjoy from our investors, supporters, and friends in this extraordinary year means a lot to us and enables us to continue and further increase our commitment to our cause. It also helps us to address new challenges ahead, as – unfortunately – the crisis and its consequences are far from over.”

elea fights absolute poverty with entrepreneurial means. As a professional and active philanthropic investor, it supports social enterprises and entrepreneurial organizations in creating sustainable and measurable impact. Guiding its partners towards achieving self-reliance and autonomy, the foundation not only invests financial capital but also provides them with business know-how, coaching and access to its network. As such, elea is a growing community of committed entrepreneurs and philanthropic investors.

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