Our Story

Since our inception in 1987, Village Enterprise has evolved into a leading organization in the poverty alleviation sector.

With over 1.4 million lives transformed as of 2022, we aim to lift 600,000 additional Africans out of poverty by 2023 and transform 20 million lives by 2030.

Through local leadership and a strong record of adaptation and innovation, Village Enterprise has been recognized by industry leaders, including ImpactMatters, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), and The Life You Can Save, as evidence-based and cost-effective. We are now scaling our work and impact through partnerships with leading NGOs and government entities.

Village Enterprise is now one of the only non-profits of the 1.5 million in the United States to have top ratings from six rigorous charity evaluators, including a four-star Charity Navigator rating for the seventh consecutive year.

Village Enterprise, from 1987 to now.


Partnered with the government of Kenya on the Kenya Social Economic and Inclusion Project (KSEIP) to support 7,500 households living in extreme poverty. Launched a pilot of an adapted nutrition-friendly poverty graduation model in consortium with Catholic Relief Services.


Expanded our operations to Rwanda. Partnered with World Vision in Mozambique. Developed the first poverty graduation policy with Kenya’s West Pokot County government. Was one of five finalists for the $12 million Larsen Lam ICONIQ Award (winner to be named in late April 2021), and was admitted to the Million Lives Club.


Achieved the milestone of transforming one million lives since our inception and was selected as a finalist for the Drucker Innovation Prize. Adopted new digital technologies for increased impact, including mobile cash transfers and an adaptive management system. Founders Pledge Endorsed Village Enterprise as a Top Charity for Women’s Empowerment.


Expanded our work to the Democratic Republic of Congo through a partnership with African Wildlife Foundation. Partnered with Mercy Corps to adapt our program for refugees and youth in northern Uganda.


Launched the Village Enterprise Development Impact Bond, the first DIB for poverty alleviation in Africa. Positive results from our randomized controlled trial (RCT) published by Innovations for Poverty Action. Received new endorsement from The Life You Can Save. Formed new partnerships with the Lwala Community Alliance.


Launched Village Enterprise Extend to train other organizations and governments on our cost-effective graduation model. Was a Classy award finalist. Received a Top Rating in a rigorous Impact Audit by ImpactMatters, a new organization founded by Yale economist Dean Karlan. Partnered with Geneva Global and opened a new office in the Nwoya district of northern Uganda.


Our grants-based poverty graduation program was recognized by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and featured in New York Times.


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


Independent randomized controlled trial (RCT) began in Uganda. Recognized by Rockefeller Foundation as Next Century Innovator.

Woman using iPad


Mobile technology adopted and deployed for all monitoring and evaluation.


Launched a new Village Enterprise model to increase impact. The new model included rigorous targeting methodology, a one-year training program, and a savings program.

Bridges Fund Management


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


Launched collaboration in the conservation field, aligning our poverty alleviation work with the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda.


First impact study was completed with 10,000 businesses started since inception.


Honed our focus on efforts in 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. 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