Village Enterprise Fund Receives GiveWell Economic Empowerment Grant and “Top-rated” Status

Microfinance organization selected because its “strong evidence-based case” shows VEF improves the lives of the poor in Africa

San Carlos, CA, March 29, 2010 — Village Enterprise Fund (VEF), a leader in microenterprise development, has received a $125,000 grant plus a coveted “top-rated” status from GiveWell, a New York-based nonprofit that researches and evaluates charities. The grant will enable VEF to expand its successful microfinance program, which provides small cash grants to ultra-poor rural entrepreneurs in East Africa . VEF also offers ongoing training and mentoring to help them build income-generating businesses.

GiveWell awarded VEF a prestigious “top-rated” status on its charity-ranking system. Only 11 charities worldwide (out of 400 evaluated) have earned 2- or 3-star “top-rated” rankings.

“We are honored to be recognized for the work we do to alleviate poverty,” said Brian Lehnen, executive director of VEF and a pioneer in the microfinance field. “We believe it is essential to track our results and document our impact. Only then can we be assured that we are positively impacting the lives of the poor.”

The Grant Criteria

That documentation was key to receiving the grant. GiveWell invited 160 organizations to apply for a total fund of $250,000. An anonymous institutional donor provided the one-time funds and asked GiveWell to identify and evaluate potential grantees that increase economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa . After a thorough evaluation process, GiveWell chose Village Enterprise Fund as one of just two recipients of this award.

GiveWell chose VEF because the microfinance organization “stood out in making a strong, evidence-based case that they are improving the financial situations of low-income people in the developing world” and because of its “clear targeting of extremely poor clients (and data collection to ensure that the targeting is working).” Of special note are VEF’s excellence in transparency of information, and strength in both monitoring and evaluation. As a January 21, 2010, article in BusinessWeek noted: “Few nonprofits have enough data or analysis to demonstrate their successes, and GiveWell recommends only those that meet that high bar.”

VEF is able to measure the impact of its programs because the organization gathers baseline data from potential business leaders before they participate. The organization’s impact assessment study quantifies how VEF has helped transform the lives of the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa, dramatically improving the standard of living for the participants. VEF, which was founded by Lehnen in 1987, has helped launch more than 20,000 businesses, each of which improves the lives of an average of 25 people (500,000 people total).

About Village Enterprise Fund

Based in California , VEF works in Kenya , Uganda , and Tanzania . VEF’s three-pronged economic development model is unusual in the microenterprise development field. The organization targets start-up businesses in rural areas that many microfinance institutions do not reach.

VEF selects local village leaders (Village Business Mentors) to provide mentoring during the first 12-18 months of the new business. VEF first provides formal training on topics such as profits, record-keeping and group cooperation. Grants of $150 are given to business groups of five people. This small sum, which does not have to be repaid, has been proven over 20 years to have a significant impact in East Africa . For more information, visit, call 1-800-785-1775, or e-mail

About GiveWell

GiveWell is well known for its rigorous evaluation process. Started in 2007 by Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, its mission is to help donors accomplish as much good as possible with their donations. The founders research and write on topics such as impact studies, evaluation of charities, donor education, microfinance, and health-related charities. GiveWell’s website ( lists hundreds of charities, what they do, and how they rank, according to GiveWell’s research.



Jennifer Nixon

Village Enterprise Fund

650-802-8891 ext 116

510-504-3595 mobile

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