How We Work

We support entrepreneurs to run businesses that generate income and increase assets while also providing their communities with basic services and employment opportunities.

These businesses benefit the poor as customers, employees, and business owners.

Social Merchant Bank Approach

Leveraged Co-Financing

Without savings or assets for collateral, local banks and other financial institutions are often unwilling to provide loans or other financing to entrepreneurs from poor and disadvantaged communities. S3IDF leverages development and philanthropic funds to mobilize co-financing from these institutions by covering transaction costs and by reducing financing risks. We provide or facilitate debt, equity, loan guarantees, and technology buy-back agreements. We ensure that entrepreneurs are offered fair interest rates and loan terms that align with their business cash flows.

Technology Access & Knowledge

Poor and disadvantaged communities face challenges accessing technologies that could improve their lives and livelihoods due to distance, cost, and other factors. S3IDF helps entrepreneurs integrate these technologies into their businesses and to extend access to their communities. This often involves working with technology suppliers to strengthen their supply chains, secure supplier financing, and improve their after-sale maintenance and repair networks so that they can better serve poor and disadvantaged communities.

Business Development

Many people from poor and disadvantaged communities start working at a young age and never finish school. While they develop many useful business skills, they tend to have few opportunities to develop more advanced revenue management, operational planning, and marketing skills. S3IDF provides entrepreneurs customized mentoring and hands-on training to give them the financial, operational, and strategic competence they need to succeed. We remain involved with entrepreneurs’ businesses as they develop to provide additional support.

Project & Investment Criteria

S3IDF supports small-scale businesses with financing needs ranging from several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars to a few tens of thousands of dollars.*

Businesses must meet the following criteria:


Businesses must benefit the poor and disadvantaged as customers, employees, and/or business owners.

Financially Viable

Businesses must have financially viable business models that can operate profitably, covering operating and capital costs.

Highly Replicable

Businesses must have the potential to be adapted and replicated, requiring only limited modifications to adjust for location and local market conditions.

Environmentally Responsible

Businesses must use natural resources responsibly and respect the environment.


Entrepreneurs must be willing to invest in their own businesses through cash and/or labor contributions.

In Need of Market Integration

Businesses must face significant barriers to accessing financing, technology, and/or business development support and require assistance to overcome these barriers.

* local currency equivalent


Technology can change lives. However, for most of the world’s poor just having access to technology will not be enough to alleviate poverty.

There must be attention given to how households, entrepreneurs, and community members can use technology to be more productive, generate income, and build assets. We provide these opportunities through technology and business model combinations.

Energy-Dependent Businesses

Solar Photovoltaic

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels capture the sun’s rays and turn them into usable energy that can be stored in batteries or used directly. S3IDF pairs solar PV with a variety of technologies, including:

  • Grain and spice grinders and processors
  • Reverse osmosis drinking water purification systems
  • Small refrigeration and fan-based cooling systems for agricultural products and medical vaccines
  • Mobile charging and telecommunication access
  • Small CFL and LED Lighting systems for silkworm rearing

Biogas & LPG

Biogas is produced from agricultural waste, manure, plant material, sewage, and food waste and can be used as a clean burning fuel source or to generate electricity. The biogas systems also produce a safe organic fertilizer that can increase agricultural productivity. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is another cleaner burning gaseous fuel. S3IDF pairs biogas and LPG with a variety of technologies, including:

  • Cooking stove units for both domestic and commercial use in hospitals
  • Generators to power small appliances and machines

Small-scale Hydropower

Small-scale hydropower systems use flowing water in streams or rivers to produce electricity or mechanical energy. Electricity can be stored in batteries or used immediately. S3IDF focuses on smaller systems, especially pico- and micro-hydro systems, and on a variety of technologies, including:

  • Biodegradable plant-based dinnerware/serviceware fabrication machines
  • Seed and plant oil extractors
  • Grain grinders and rice hullers
  • Village-level electrification systems

Electrical Grid

When the electrical grid is available and reliable, S3IDF helps entrepreneurs connect to it. We also create hybrid systems that combine grid power and energy from renewable sources. Grid-connected or grid-hybrid businesses supported by S3IDF use a variety of technologies, including:

  • Energy-efficient computerized sewing machines
  • Batteries for off-grid lighting applications
  • Computer mainframes in schools

Transportation-Aided Businesses

Trucks, Autorickshaws, Motorcycles

Small trucks, autorickshaws, and motorcycles enable businesses to deliver goods and services to customers and to pick up critical inputs and materials for their businesses. S3IDF-supported businesses use mechanized transportation to:

  • Service household water filters that remove fluoride contamination
  • Collect dry waste from commercial and residential buildings to sort, recycle, and sell
  • Deliver pay-per-use batteries to street vendors to power evening lighting
  • Pick up milk from villages to sell to a centralized milk processing facility

Animal-Driven Carts & Human-Powered Vehicles

In rural areas, animal-driven modes of transportation, such as bullock carts, often are the most economical and practical choices. Human-powered vehicles, such as three-wheeled cycles, can offer reliable transport in urban settings. S3IDF-supported businesses use these modes of transport to:

  • Transport agricultural produce to market
  • Shuttle people to and from villages and towns and within cities
  • Make local deliveries and pick up stock and inventory

Water & Sanitation Businesses

Water & Sanitation

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities help to reduce disease, which can enable people to be more productive, and reduce negative environmental impacts. S3IDF supports businesses that:

  • Distribute and service household fluoride-removing water filters
  • Collect dry waste from commercial and residential buildings to sort, recycle, and sell
  • Operate reverse osmosis drinking water purification systems for villages

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