How We Fund
Our job is to serve those who create change in the world.
Mulago funds a lot of early stage organizations. We also fund organizations taking proven solutions to scale. We operate like a philanthropic venture fund where impact serves as an analog for profit, and cost-per-impact sits in for return on investment. We want the biggest bang for our buck with the least hassle for us and for those we fund. This means:
We fund high-impact organizations to do what they do well; mostly grants, sometimes debt or equity. We don't invest in organizations that don't measure impact – they're flying blind and we would be too.
Organizations, Not Projects
Impact at scale doesn't come from projects, it comes from the work of organizations. The best way to reach scale with a great idea is to pair it with a great organization.
Unrestricted funding drives innovation and growth. It's the most useful for the organization and most leveraged for the donor. If we don't think an organization knows how to use the money better than we do, we don't give them any.
Continued Funding For Increasing Returns
We don't abandon a good thing. If we continue to see real impact and clear progress toward scale, we stay in the game.
We don't take proposals. Proposals are a hassle for all concerned and rarely give us the information we need. We source through our own network and ask our own questions.
The last thing we want is to waste the time and energy of those who are trying to save the world. We ask for annual milestones and their impact methodology; beyond that, we rely on documents they should already have on hand.
We get out to the field, advise when we have something useful to say, connect operators to other funders, meet up whenever we can, and talk often enough to avoid any surprises. We expect to be engaged, but we stay out of the way when we don't have value to add.
What We Look For
Mulago looks for organizations built around a big idea and focused on maximum social impact. We fund on the basis of:
A Priority Problem
We focus on the basic needs of the very poor, most of whom live in rural settings. Our priorities are:
- Livelihoods - mostly smallholder agriculture
- Health - primary healthcare and behavior change
- Conservation - where it benefits the poor
- Energy - home cooking, lighting, and power
- Education - mostly primary
- Amplifier - solutions to make organizations more effective
A Scalable Solution
We look for solutions that can drive exponential impact over time - that will provide a significant benefit to a million people and beyond. We have four criteria:
We only invest in organizations that measure impact. In early stage firms, we look at behavior change: Given their solution, will the behavior necessary to drive impact happen and if so, will it last?
Solutions that are too expensive can't scale. We continually assess the cost of impact in all organizations we fund. Where appropriate -- and in context -- we compare with the cost of other solutions.
A complicated model is hard to scale. Scalable solutions deliver a focused big idea in a systematic way, don't have too many moving parts, and can be applied to a broad array of settings.
Designed for scale
Who is going to do the work at scale? There are four choices: 1) do it yourself, by growing a big organization or an open-source platform, 2) other NGOs, 3) the market, or 4) the government. Solutions that aren't designed with the doer in mind are unlikely to scale.
An Organization That Can Deliver
This means the right leadership, the right systems, the right people in the right positions, smart strategy, bold ambitions, the ability to raise money – and a track record that gives us confidence.