The English Family Foundation has had the privilege of partnering with CEO Abarna Raj and Palmera from 2014 – 2019. Palmera seeks to create market solutions and better livelihoods for rural communities in South East Asia.
From 2014-2017, we supported Palmera to undertake an action-based research program in Sri Lanka to develop their Last Mile Markets for the Poor Approach, an extensive framework of support services that helps to break down the barriers that keep poor farmers and rural entrepreneurs from being included in viable economic markets.
With this approach, Palmera develops the skills of local NGOs to work within rural villages for a minimum of five years, gradually building strong business environments and equipping individuals with the tools to create savings and access market opportunities.
By giving farmers a hand up – not a hand out – families are supported to secure better livelihoods that allow them to break free from poverty.
We have also supported Palmera to scale the Last Mile Markets for the Poor Approach into Bangladesh in partnership with Transform Aid and a local NGO. This project included the development of a digital platform to house Last Mile Markets for the Poor resources, and the consolidation of an internal impact management database to ensure a strong evidence base.
With the Foundation’s continued support Palmera undertook a pilot in 2015 – 2020 which impacted 16,300 people and spanned villages throughout Sri Lanka. In addition, it allowed them to prove a model that can be scaled not just in Sri Lanka but hopefully across South East Asia. The impact was deeply felt across these communities, with an 84% increase in incomes, 90% in village production as well as equally impressive increases in savings, women’s empowerment and health and education outcomes.
Why did we pursue this partnership?
We are inspired by social entrepreneurs who strive to develop global best practice to build pathways to independence for those excluded from mainstream markets. We look for depth of understanding and potential impact, as well as the potential for scale. Abarna and the Palmera team have developed a thoughtful, comprehensive solution to unlocking market opportunities for those who need them most.
What have we learned?
The Palmera experience in developing this model has reinforced to us that economic solutions for post-war, impoverished communities must be driven by the community, for the community, and that innovation must be tested and iterated and then tested again. Philanthropy can play an important role in supporting changemakers to undertake quality research into less explored contexts – often providing that early risk capital that gives entrepreneurs the freedom to test their thinking and explore best practice.