Our Story

Since our inception in 1987, Village Enterprise has become a leader in the poverty alleviation sector.

With over 1.8 million lives transformed to date, we aim to lift 20 million women, men, and children out of extreme poverty by 2030.

Through local leadership and a strong record of adaptation and innovation, Village Enterprise has been recognized by industry leaders—including Fast Company, Innovations for Poverty Action, Founders Pledge, and The Life You Can Save—as evidence-based and cost-effective. Village Enterprise is also the only nonprofit in the world to be recognized at the highest level by 11 respected organizations, including a four-star Charity Navigator rating for the ninth consecutive year.

Village Enterprise, from 1987 to now.


Received a $7 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. DREAMS for Refugees won Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Launched DREAMS for Refugees in the Dollo Ado Refugee Settlement in Ethiopia. Awarded $6.5 million from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) to scale poverty graduation in Rwanda, DIV’s largest grant in the past decade. Received $1.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to scale our collaboration with three county governments in Kenya, and to implement DREAMS in Kenya. Received funding to expand DREAMS to Tanzania and the Ethiopian Highlands. Added five dynamic African leaders to our Board of Directors and Advisory Council. Dianne Calvi honored with the President’s Award for Advancement of the Common Good from Stanford University.


Successfully completed our second randomized controlled trial (RCT) which showed the Village Enterprise Development Impact Bond (DIB) exceeded its targets and transformed the lives of 95,000 people across Kenya and Uganda during the pandemic. Received positive results from a five-year longitudinal study, demonstrating sustained impact (933% increase in savings and 83% increase in consumption) for our entrepreneurs and their families. Officially launched DREAMS for Refugees in Uganda alongside Mercy Corps. Partnered with Wildlife Conservation Society to aid conservation efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. Signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwandan government to co-design a poverty graduation and climate resilience outcomes project. Expanded operations to Ethiopia.


Partnered with Mercy Corps to launch the DREAMS for Refugees pilot program in Uganda and was subsequently selected as a Larsen Lam ICONIQ Award finalist and secured $19.8 million in funding from IKEA Foundation, Hilton Foundation, the Seagrape Foundation and others. Partnered with the government of Kenya on the Kenya Social Economic and Inclusion Project


Officially expanded operations to Rwanda. Partnered with World Vision to implement our poverty graduation program in Mozambique. Developed Kenya’s first country-level poverty graduation policy. Admitted to the Million Lives Collective.


Impacted 1,000,000 lives since inception, and set a new goal to impact 20 million lives by 2030. Launched the USAID Nawiri program in northern Kenya to sustainably reduce the chronic rates of acute child malnutrition. Adopted new digital technologies such as mobile cash transfers and an adaptive management system. Endorsed by Founders Pledge as a Top Charity for Women’s Empowerment, and was selected as a finalist for The Drucker Prize.


Partnered with African Wildlife Foundation to provide technical assistance in a remote, protected reserve in the DRC. Received a four-year Grant from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund to help reduce poaching of protected animals near the Murchison Falls National Park.


Launched the Village Enterprise DIB, the first DIB for poverty alleviation in Africa. Completed our first randomized controlled trial (RCT) with Innovations for Poverty Action. Formed new partnerships with the Lwala Community Alliance.


Launched Village Enterprise ‘Extend’ to train other organizations and governments on our cost-effective graduation model. Endorsed by ImpactMatters (now part of Charity Navigator), The Life You Can Save, and named a Classy award finalist. Partnered with Geneva Global and opened a new office in the Nwoya district of northern Uganda.


Recognized by Innovations for Poverty Action for our grants-based, ultra-poor poverty graduation program and featured in The New York Times.


Received our first four-star rating from Charity Navigator. Started 30,000 businesses. Awarded first USAID grant through a partnership with FHi360.


Began an independent, randomized controlled trial in Uganda with BRAC. Recognized by Rockefeller Foundation as a Next Century Innovator.

Woman using iPad


Adopted mobile technology and deployed for all monitoring and evaluation.


Updated our poverty graduation program to include a rigorous targeting methodology, a one-year training program, and a savings program.

Bridges Fund Management


Hired Dianne Calvi as the first CEO, and developed our first five-year strategic plan. Our name changed from Village Enterprise Fund to Village Enterprise.


Launched conservation collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda.


Completed our first impact study. Started 10,000 businesses since inception.


Decided to focus operational efforts on East Africa. Hired our first full-time staff member in East Africa.


Village Enterprise Fund was founded by Brian Lehnen and Joan Hestenes, who were motivated by their Christian faith to help poor individuals living in rural villages across Africa start microbusinesses. As a small, volunteer-run organization working through local churches, the Village Enterprise Fund provided seed grants to people living in extreme poverty.

Our Team

Learn about the people that continue the legacy of Village Enterprise

Our Team