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Sound Investment


For more than a decade, Geneva Global in St. Davids has been operating under Doug Balfour’s premise that big money can cure the world’s ills through an international partnership between philanthropy and social development. And he just might be right.

Geneva Global's Doug Balfour.

Doug Balfour knows it sounds a bit corny, but one of his working slogans is: “We’ll fulfill your philanthropic dream.”

It also happens to be true.

Balfour’s upper-tier clients have dreams of worldwide proportions—and he helps make those dreams come true. At the end of the year, Balfour’s Geneva Global will conclude a three-year, $2.8-million program in East India’s providence of Bihar. A client had an interest in maternal and child health and anti-human trafficking there. The result—or dividend, if you will: Infant mortality is down 40 percent, and approximately 580,000 people benefited in some of the country’s poorest villages.

“It’s anecdotal right now, but there’s no other reason for [the statistical shift],” says Balfour, CEO of the philanthropic advisory service, which is based in St. Davids. “There isn’t any other organization working there or providing care for mothers.”

Now, the same client wants to initiate another three-year funding program to invest in expanding similar aid across the Indian border to Nepal. It could cost $2 million a year.

It’s business as usual for Balfour. For more than a decade, he’s been helping donors identify international giving opportunities in what’s become a fulfilling partnership between philanthropy and social development. There’s an increased need for these funds to cure the world’s ills. And yet, the philanthropic landscape has only grown more confusing.

Geneva Global uses Wall Street terminology to attract and reward high-net investors interested in effecting social change in developing countries. Call it a targeted philanthropic investment strategy. The results are regularly reported, like any investor would expect with a mutual fund.

For clients, it isn’t so much about financial dividends as it is about helping to change people’s lives—or a backward system in a developing country. “We offer an investment in a world our clients want to see,” says Jenna Mulhall-Brereton, a program director at Geneva Global. “There’s no financial return.”

Other than the tax write-off, of course.

In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger—all in West Africa—a $4.3 million, Geneva Global-coordinated philanthropic fund has established 1,210 temporary “speed schools” to educate 34,288 children. Before that, many would never attend or would drop out to help boost their families’ earning power. In 10 months, students in the makeshift schools covered three years of material in both their own language and French, paving the way for their re-entry into the government schools. Some 75 percent (almost 26,000) passed the test to get in. The cost: $125 per child.

“For that, you can completely transform a life,” Balfour says. “We’re always looking for big, systematic change—a change in the way people think—or to create some entrepreneurial success.”

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Since its inception, Geneva Global has facilitated the distribution of $100 million for 1,500 projects in 100-plus countries. It works with more than 550 carefully vetted nonprofit organizations and has impacted an estimated 16 million people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eurasia. The company was founded in 1999 by the international investment group Legatum, which is Latin for “living legacy.”

Billionaire brothers Christopher and Richard Chandler, both New Zealanders, were searching for professional philanthropic advice kindred to the investment banking standards they knew. They were running in the same circles as Main Liner Dr. Jack Templeton, of the internationally regarded Templeton Foundation. He told the pair there wasn’t anything like what they had in mind. “Start it,” he urged.

Geneva Global began in the Templeton building in Radnor before Templeton moved to Conshohocken. Balfour arrived from the U.K. in 2006. There, he’d been running the sixth largest aid relief organization in England. A management buyout followed in September 2008. Capital for Good, Geneva Global’s nonprofit arm (of which Balfour is president), now handles all fundraising, international aid and the tax receipts for investors.

Geneva Global employs 10 staff members in St. Davids and another 35 overseas. It’s also working with a large family foundation based in the Northwestern United States, but Balfour can’t say any more than that. He notes three areas of expertise that set Geneva Global apart. Its overseas connections with grassroots organizations in every geographical area of need is rare, and its referral network of field advisors is 450 strong in 100 countries. “All are finding good, local projects,” he says. “No one has this kind of field infrastructure.”

The company also understands what wealthy donors want. “We know how they want to be dealt with, and the materials they want to see (including coffee-table photo books celebrating certain projects),” says Balfour. “They want to visit overseas and see what they’ve funded, or to see a video from a visit. We have clients who prefer to remain private, but others who are hands-on. We can facilitate either.”

A third plus is Geneva Global’s use of “metrics and measures,” Balfour says. Since 2003-04, it has kept meticulous records of all funded projects. It is constantly quantifying the number of projects that achieved, overachieved or failed. “Ninety percent achieved or performed above that level in 2009,” he says.

And there isn’t a direct competitor, says Mulhall-Brereton. “Others do different bits, but no one has our suite of services,” she says.

Geneva Global is currently managing accounts for 10 existing clients. And while none are Main Line based, Balfour says there’s increasing interest in connecting with local investors. Of the some 70 clients since 2004, he says as many as 10 have had Main Line ties. “It’s strange we haven’t done more here,” he admits.

To tap the local faucet, Balfour says you have to be known and trusted—and that takes time. “We intend to be here for a very long time, and we want investors from this area. But we don’t ever try to come across as knock-on-the-door types asking for money,” he says.

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Geneva Global’s Mulhall-Brereton had already been running a $1.2 million program in North Haiti for a third year when the earthquake hit. It was based on environmental sustainability and economic empowerment for local farmers, who were facing severe soil degradation due to wide-scale deforestation. Geneva Global worked with five local organizations to train 1,200-plus Limbe Valley students and farmers in soil conservation, reforestation and sustainable agriculture. More than 100,000 indigenous trees and plants were planted. A related health component, added in June 2009, served its first 10,000 people in its first seven months.

After the earthquake, the same investor became interested in devastation in Port-au-Prince, and Geneva Global set out on a different path—disaster relief, after partnering with the Philadelphia Foundation on a Haiti recovery fund. Due diligence led officials to believe the best use of the incoming money was for solar kits.

Smaller than a standard sheet of notebook paper, the portable, durable solar panels and LED lights addressed the critical need for alternative power sources. In addition to powering lights, the panels were equipped to charge cell phones—the primary means of communication—and power radios, enabling access to critical information on food distribution, public health and more from government officials and international relief coordinators.

Mulhall-Brereton went down to receive and distribute the delivery. “They were living in cardboard boxes or wrapped in sheets, with no electricity,” she says. “The kits not only provided light, but also comfort and security.”

In mid-February, more than 8,000 families were served for just $12 per kit. The $179,000 raised included funds from Main Line donors. And with surplus cash, another 1,500 kits were purchased and distributed in June.

In Haiti, Geneva Global’s international director, Warren Lancaster, discovered a woman living in a makeshift shelter with an infant.

“I gave her one of these lamps and solar panels, and showed her how it worked,” he recalls. “She thanked us, but she didn’t seem too excited to have it.”

That night, Lancaster helped the woman connect the lamp to the frame of her tent. “[We] turned it on, and the whole place lit up,” he says. “She was so excited that she jumped to her feet and kissed me on the cheek. So you can see that just having light makes such a difference to someone who would otherwise be living in the dark.”

To learn more, visit genevaglobal.com.

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