IFC helps introduce innovative solutions to the challenges of development.
Most mobile-phone companies inevitably reach a spot in a country’s geography where it is simply not commercially viable to operate. For them, the distances are too great, the populations too small to justify the costs of installing the necessary equipment. People are cut off from the communications revolution as a result.
Some entrepreneurs, however, see opportunity in bringing phone services to people in remote areas. IFC specializes in backing these emerging leaders whose innovative inclusive-business models bring affordable, life-improving solutions to people who constitute the base of the economic pyramid. Our work also helps improve lives for people in frontier regions of middle-income countries.
“Remote communities are not lost causes,” says Mike Fitzgerald, CEO of Altobridge, an Irish technology firm. “On the contrary, there is now substantial evidence and proven case studies throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East dispelling the myth that remote communities cannot deliver highly attractive returns on investment.”
Over the past eight years, inclusive-business models have accounted for about 7 to 10 percent of IFC’s annual commitments, amounting to more than $7 billion in all. Our work—with more than 300 inclusive-business clients in more than 80 countries—has helped us reach more than 250 million people at the base of the pyramid.
We also work to strengthen the private sector in frontier regions of middle-income countries, helping introduce innovative solutions to urgent development challenges. In Croatia, for example, we are financing a wind farm near the town of Sibenik that will provide a steady supply of power to homes and factories while helping combat climate change.
In Indonesia, Altobridge’s core product is the “lite site” base station that it sells to mobile carriers in developing countries for $50,000—a fifth of the cost of prohibitively expensive conventional systems in ultra-rural areas. Run with proprietary software and low-cost solar panels, Altobridge systems let clients reach communities of 3,000 efficiently.
Last year, IFC made an early-stage $5 million equity investment in Altobridge. Indosat, one of Indonesia’s largest carriers, used Altobridge’s system to find new subscribers in Mambi, a remote village on Sulawesi, 15 hours by car from the nearest airport.
Until recently, Mambi’s residents had almost no communications options, having to travel three hours to make a call—or five hours to the nearest hospital. Now the hospital can text them health updates. Small entrepreneurs can make calls on their Indosat phones, which helps improve the efficiency of their businesses.