He spoke of the work of the World Bank in tackling poverty in the world’s poorest countries, observing that 2.6 billion people still have to live on less than $2 per day.
Yet even in the poorest countries, social enterprise was providing solutions. Mr O’Brien said he was always inspired by people “who’ve endured poverty and beaten it”. Examples of this include the Sri Lankan women who formed their own broom making co-operative or the engineering project in Kenya that helped to locate underground water sources.
He said social enterprise is part of a global movement to fight poverty and that struggle must be continued in good times and bad.
Mr O’Brien said that help was still needed from the developed world. The World Bank has proposed a vulnerability fund, known as the ‘0.7 per cent solution’ with countries donating that per centage of their stimulus packages to the developing world.
He argued that getting credit to the poor is now more important than ever and highlighted a new micro-credit fund being established with the support of the German government.
A Grassroots Business Fund launched last year helps to support businesses who are too large to benefit from micro credit but too small to be supported by the banks.
And he said that social enterprises around the world could learn from one another and see what can be “scaled up and tailored”.
One of the most interesting examples of this is the establishment of Grameen America — a New York-based microfinance organisation providing loans to people in poverty, helping them to start their own businesses. The organisation is built upon the success of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank.
Mr O’Brien observed that “social enterprise can create market opportunities so far ignored by other businesses”.