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Expert view: Entrepreneurs du Monde on supporting society’s most disadvantaged

Published: 22 February 2022

Armelle Renaudin, co-founder of French NGO Entrepreneurs du Monde, explains how their unique approach to social microfinance is helping society’s poorest create successful businesses that last

MIVO energy programme set up by Entrepreneurs du Monde, Lomé, Togo. Photo: ANP, NICOLAS José /

In brief

  • Launched in 1998, Entrepreneurs du Monde operates 21 social enterprises in 14 countries and helps on average 114, 000 microentrepreneurs each year.
  • 19,57 families equipped in 2020 with solar lamps and/or efficient cookstoves
  • Average loans of €244, with high pay-back rate of 97%-99% despite lack of guarantee
  • New InVestisseurs Solidaires fund seeks to raise €12m by September to support 10 programmes

Armelle Renaudin and her husband Franck, co-founders of Entrepreneurs du Monde, have been on a long journey together. From their first encounter as students at École des Hautes Études Commerciales (EDHEC ) business school in Lille, where they realised they shared a passion for helping society’s most disadvantaged people, to raising a large family, all the way to up setting up NGO Entrepreneurs du Monde in 1998.

Entrepreneurs du Monde has expertise in three key areas: social microfinance, supporting the creation of micro-enterprises, and improving access to cleaner energy. It currently operates 21 programmes in 12 countries across Asia, Africa as well as in Haiti and France. According to Armelle Renaudin, it has helped 144,000 micro-entrepreneurs, on average, each year since 2019 and many more before that.

“From the outset our aim has been to arm the poorest in society, living in some of the most forgotten regions of the world, with the skills needed to pull themselves, their families and their communities out of poverty and establish successful businesses that can operate autonomously,” she explains. 

Renaudin says that the NGO operates by creating a legal company structure for each of the social enterprises or ‘programmes’ it identifies and employs local people to run it. 

With the support of internal finance, training, human resources and legal experts, one ‘expat’ from the Entrepreneurs du Monde headquarters is assigned to oversee the programme until it reaches maturity and can run independently. 

Each programme works with local beneficiaries, 88% of whom are women, providing the tools and skills needed to get their microbusinesses off the ground. These programmes also work to help scale existing businesses as well as to improve the employability of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.   

“These programmes are running in some of the most geo-politically unstable countries in the world, so even after they have achieved autonomy, we are there to support them in the event of any set-backs.”

Armelle Renaudin, Entrepreneurs du Monde

Autonomy is the end goal

Renaudin says that creating autonomous microbusinesses is the ultimate goal and this is usually achieved within four to five years in Asia and six to seven years in Africa. 

“We have nine programmes that have achieved autonomy to date and although we have stepped away from day-to-day operations in these programmes, we retain a place on their boards to ensure oversight. 

“You have to remember that these programmes are running in some of the most geo-politically unstable countries in the world, so even after they have achieved autonomy, we are there to support them in the event of any set-backs,” she explains.

Entrepreneurs du Monde also offers the autonomous programmes the opportunity to participate in business focused seminars at least once a year. 

Holistic training a prerequisite to success

Renaudin tells Impact Investor that the key to success is providing beneficiaries with holistic upfront training, which includes training in both business as well as life skills.

She says: “We don’t ask for any formal papers or loan guarantees. What we do ask, is that the micro-entrepreneurs on our programmes complete six training sessions before applying for a loan and continue to take part in meetings and training at least once a month. We also explain the importance of savings and help them set up and manage a bank account, which is often the first time any of them will see their name on an official document.”

The average loan is €244, with some as small as €15, but none require a guarantee. Despite the absence of a guarantee, the rate of reimbursement is high, at between 97%-99%, which Renaudin attributes to the training as well as the community dynamic of the programmes, in which “each participant in the programme is a motivation to others” and where Entrepreneurs du Monde works with beneficiaries to audit their business to understand “what they can realistically pay back, and over what length of time to avoid getting into debt”. 

Cleaner lighting and heating 

A large portion of the population in developing countries still rely on wood biomass to cook. Alarmingly, a recent report from the World Health Organisation found that more people die prematurely each year from inhaling harmful fumes from inefficient cookstoves than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.  In addition, the International Energy Agency estimates that more than half the population of Sub-Saharan Africa still has no access to electricity. 

For Renaudin and her team, providing access to more efficient and cleaner sources of energy is an important and growing area of their work, focusing on solar lamps, cleaner gas stoves and improved fuel efficient cookstoves. 

In Togo, where according to the United Nations Development Fund, 49% of the population lives on just $2 per day and only 8% of the rural population has access to electricity, Entrepreneurs du Monde created MIVO Energie. 

Established in 2013, this social enterprise recruits and trains distributors of modern and efficient lighting and cooking equipment, and has forged partnerships with two other companies set up by Entrepreneurs du Monde, to reach a larger number of families.

With financial support from both the European Union and the French Development Agency (AFD), 9,886 pieces of equipment have been distributed to 7, 909 households so far, with plans to expand operations across the country.

A new fund to scale impact

Entrepreneurs du Monde turns 24 this year and Renaudin and her team hope that the launch of a new fund will attract more investors and allow them to scale their programmes to reach more families.  

The InVestisseurs Solidaires fund, which will be managed by a team of four with 12 years’ experience in impact investing, aims to raise €12m by September. The fund has already identified 10 existing programmes for investment in the areas of microfinance, agro-entrepreneurship, access to energy and support for micro-entrepreneurs.  

Camille Richer, operations manager for microfinance and part of the team managing the new fund, explains that feedback from investors highlighted the need for an equity fund in addition to the existing financing instruments. 

“After more than a decade of working with the donations raised through our association and the Entrepreneurs du Monde Foundation, we created Microfinance Solidaire in 2010 to provide the working capital as well as the loan capital for our programmes.

“In recent years, the need to separate our loan instruments from our equity investments had become more apparent and we hope that with this fund we can attract the investment we need to scale up existing programmes and reinvest the money into new social enterprises in the future.” 

The fund will target a five-six year return of 0.4% by 2028 rising to 3.5% by 2031 and has set itself 10 year targets which include supporting 815, 000 microentrepreneurs in 18 countries, creating 2138 local jobs, saving 675,000 tonnes of wood and 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. 

She adds: “Our projections are very cautious because we are realistic about the geo-political instability of these countries and the risk this presents.  Nevertheless, for the people we help, who live in the midst of this instability, life must go on and we hope that investors will be attracted by our proven track record and the social and environmental impact of our programmes to date.”

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