Philip Gregory Van Kirk

Community Empowerment Solutions

Community Empowerment Solutions (CE Solutions) uses its innovative MicroConsignment Model (MCM) to create first-time access to vital technologies, products and services for isolated villagers.

Focus: Health, Business development
Geographic Area of Impact: Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, South Africa
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 935,000 (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 65%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Latin America, 2012

Villagers in developing countries continue to live in poverty. Rural communities face a profound and sustained lack of access to vital technologies, products and services to address problems such as pulmonary illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses, visual problems, malnutrition, energy deficiencies, educational resource gaps, productivity loss and income generation. Microfinance can improve access to services and products, but credit carries inherent risks, especially when demand is unpredictable. There continues to be a need for an efficient and effective model that is less risky than micro-credit, but more sustainable outside relief solutions.

Innovation and Activities
CE Solutions fills the vacuum between relief solutions and credit-based solutions using its unique MicroConsignment Model (MCM). Through consignment rather than loans, CE Solutions trains, equips, and supports first-time women entrepreneurs to create greater access to vital technologies, products and services at prices affordable to the rural poor in the developing world.

MCM entrepreneurs offer a growing number of appropriate solutions, such as eye glasses, water purifiers and improved cookstoves, which address the real and perceived needs of populations at the “base of the pyramid.” Such products are well suited for MCM because there is no existing market for them and awareness about them can be extremely limited. The MCM entrepreneurs travel to different rural communities for two-day campaigns where they publicize and explain products during the first day and focus on sales during the second day. The MCM is a highly scalable local distribution network of entrepreneurs, and is thus uniquely positioned to provide essential products to rural villagers in their communities. This distribution network is a sustainable mechanism for solving myriad healthcare and income/expense obstacles that confront the most vulnerable rural populations.

An advantage of the MCM is that it intervenes at all levels by creating a symbiotic “ecosystem” whereby needs are diagnosed and solutions are identified. Through the MCM, individuals who lack experience but possess entrepreneurial qualities can start their own business through “sweat equity” and earn profit within the first month. There is no financial downside or risk to the entrepreneur.

The Entrepreneur
While working in rural Guatemala in 2003, Greg sought a sustainable means to delivery high-quality, improved cookstoves to rural villagers. He recognized there was a need for a new, entrepreneurial solution due to a development/market failure. He identified a vacuum between donation and credit-based solutions. This was the genesis of the development of the MicroConsignment Model. Over the next few years he saw that this new model could work for myriad solutions. Based on proven success he concluded that MCM was an approach that could potentially improve the lives of million.