About The SEVEN Fund

Ending Global Poverty Is Serious Business
What SEVEN Stands For
• Team Biographies:
   - Michael Fairbanks, Andreas Widmer, Elizabeth Hooper, Jessica Ullrich, Julie Kennedy
Our Mission
Our Goals
Company Structure
Common Questions About SEVEN

Ending Global Poverty Is Serious Business

SEVEN (Social Equity Venture Fund) is a virtual non-profit entity run by
entrepreneurs whose strategy is to markedly increase the rate of innovation and diffusion of enterprise-based solutions to poverty. It does this by targeted investment that fosters thought leadership through books, films and websites; supporting role
models - whether they are entrepreneurs or innovative firms - in developing nations;
and shaping a new discourse in government, the press and the academy around private-sector innovation, prosperity and progressive human values.

What SEVEN Stands For

SEVEN Fund stands for Social Equity Venture Fund. But the name is also inspired by Michael Fairbanks Framework of the "Seven Forms of Capital."

The number seven also has significant meanings in various cultures around the world.

Team Biographies

Michael Fairbanks

Michael FairbanksMichael Fairbanks co-founded the SEVEN Fund in 2005. SEVEN is a philanthropic foundation based in Cambridge, Massachusetts run by entrepreneurs, whose strategy is to produce films, books and original research to markedly increase the rate of diffusion of enterprise solutions to global poverty.

He is the founder and Chairman Emeritus of the OTF Group, a strategy-consulting firm based in Boston, and the first venture-backed U.S. firm to focus on developing nations. He was a U.S. Peace Corps teacher in Kenya. A long-time angel investor in the life sciences, he is a founding shareholder in Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has drugs currently undergoing FDA trials to fight cancer. Mr. Fairbanks is also a founding board member of Silver Creek Pharmaceuticals, based in San Francisco, which is focused on solutions to heart disease. He is helping to launch Akagera Pharmaceuticals, which will focus on solutions to infectious disease.

He has been a Senior Advisor since 2001 to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on private sector development and export competitiveness. Other recent projects include advising the President of the Inter-American Development Bank on creating its USD 250 million Opportunities for the Majority private sector initiative; and advising the Minister of Finance of Afghanistan on private-sector reforms. Mr. Fairbanks testified to U.S. Congress twice in the last twelve months on enterprise solutions to poverty in Haiti. He conceived and oversees the Global Pioneers of Prosperity Program, in cooperation with OTF, Legatum, the Multilateral Investment Fund, and the Templeton Foundation, which finds and recognizes role model businesses in the world’s poorest nations.

He co–authored Harvard Business School’s landmark book on business strategy in emerging markets, "Plowing the Sea, Nurturing the Hidden Sources of Advantage in Developing Nations," with a foreword by Michael Porter. Business Week Magazine said, "Plowing the Sea points the way toward creating prosperity in developing nations; " the Boston Globe named it one of the ten best books of the year in Politics and Economics; and Exame magazine, Brazil’s leading business weekly, called it one of the ten best books of the decade.

He helped to conceive, funded, and contributed to "Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress," edited by Sam Huntington and Larry Harrison at Harvard. His most recent book, which he edited, is entitled "In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty .” His next book will be published in 2012.

He has authored numerous popular articles in the Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post and Washington Post. He has over 500,000 subscribers to his writing.

His work has been translated into a dozen languages, including Korean, Mongolian and Serbian. He was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, and a visiting fellow at Stanford. He studied philosophy and biochemistry at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university in Pennsylvania where he was a trustee for six years, and African politics at Columbia University, SIPA ’83, in New York City. He will spend the 2011-12 academic year as a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

He was named to the Commission on Globalization in the 1990s with, among others, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jane Goodall and Joe Stiglitz. In 2007, he was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council in Rwanda with among others, Pastor Rick Warren and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2006, his alma mater gave him its highest award, a doctorate in humane letters for his "accomplishments and devotion to social justice." He is a citizen of the United States, the European Union (Ireland), and Rwanda.

Andreas Widmer

Andreas WidmerAndreas Widmer is the cofounder of SEVEN Fund, a philanthropic organization run by entrepreneurs who invest in original research, books, films, and websites to further enterprise solutions to poverty.

Andreas and his business partner Michael Fairbanks initiated the Pioneers of Prosperity Awards, a first-of-its-kind industry program that finds and promotes the best entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Andreas works closely with top entrepreneurs, investors, and faith leaders around the world to foster enterprise solutions to poverty and promote virtuous business practices. He has developed entrepreneurial initiatives at the intersection of business and faith including his faith and prosperity blog, the Catholic Mental Models Project, the joint 2010 Essay Competition with the Center for Interfaith Action, and a partnership with the Carpenter’s Fund.

Andreas is a Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Acton Institute and an advisor to the Zermatt Summit, an annual business leadership event that strives to humanize globalization. He also serves as an advisor to Transforming Business, a research and development project at the University of Cambridge. He currently serves on the advisory boards of the Templeton Foundation, Global Adaptation Institute, Spring Hill Equity Partners, Karisimbi Business Partners, and Catholics Come Home. He is on the board of directors at the New Paradigm Research Fund, Virtual Research Associates and the World Youth Alliance, a global coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing nations. He was appointed by the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty as a member of the Task Force to Advance Multireligious Collaboration on Faith, Health and Development, which presented its findings at the White House in November 2010.

Andreas is a seasoned business executive with experience in high-tech and international business strategy consulting and economic development. He was an executive in residence at Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm. He served as CEO of OTF Group (formerly part of the Monitor Group) and helped lead Eprise Corporation, Dragon Systems and FTP Software. Widmer has worked extensively in the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, and has brought more than 100 leading-edge technology products to market.

An author on the connection between entrepreneurship, economic development and spirituality, Andreas blogs regularly at www.faithandprosperity.com. He contributed two chapters to the book In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty. His book on values and leadership will be released from Emmaus Road Press in Fall 2011. He has authored articles and been featured in various business and general interest media including the Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Sky TV, Kigali Times, FastCompany, Catholic TV, EWTN Radio and First Things.

Andreas served as a Pontifical Swiss Guard from 1986-1988, protecting Pope John Paul II. He holds two business degrees from Switzerland, plus a B.S. in International Business from Merrimack College and an M.A. in Ministry from St. John’s Seminary in Boston. A citizen of Switzerland and the United States, he speaks English, German, Italian and French.

He was one of the founding members of the Catholic Men’s and Women’s Conferences in Boston and was recently knighted in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and is a member of Legatus, the Catholic CEO organization.
Andreas loves to spend time with his wife and son. He is an eternal student of fly-fishing, enjoys skiing, and is an avid reader.

Elizabeth Hooper

Elizabeth HooperElizabeth Hooper is Executive Director at SEVEN, where she works closely with the Fund's founders on key program and operational initiatives. She is particularly interested in the areas of enterprise solutions to poverty research, and the impact of culture and values on entrepreneurship and innovation. Prior to joining SEVEN, Elizabeth was the Director of Operations at the OTF Group, an international development and business strategy consulting firm. She advised the executive team on issues related to human capital management, marketing, and field operations. She also managed the firm's internal market research practice and actively consulted on key client engagements in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

She holds an MBA, and is currently completing her ALM in Anthropology at Harvard. She co-edited the book In the River They Swim: Essays From Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty with Michael Fairbanks, Malik Fal, and Marcela Escobari, published in Spring 2009. She's currently co-editing a collection on the Morality of Profit, due out in 2011. She was also a co-author of the infoDEV report "Improving Business Competitiveness and Increasing Economic Growth in Uganda: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies."

She serves on the Board of Directors of several organizations, and is also a published fiction writer.

Jessica Ullrich

Jessica UllrichJessica Ullrich is an Assistant Director at SEVEN, where she works closely with the team on varied programmatic and operational initiatives. Jess is particularly interested in how history and culture impact entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Prior to joining Seven, Jess was at the Tufts University Office of the Provost, where she worked on graduate program initiatives and high profile event planning.

Jess holds her B.A. in History, and her M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts. She is currently a research assistant for a historical biography of the first elected U.S. Congresswoman, Edith Nourse Rogers. She is also a licensed educator.

Julie Kennedy

Julie KennedyJulie Kennedy is a Research Fellow at the Social Equity Venture Fund (SEVEN), and an “Entrepreneur in Her Residence”, focused on launching ventures that use enterprise solutions to address poverty around the world.

Prior to joining SEVEN, Julie Kennedy managed international projects in two spheres: those that supported the role of the private sector and local markets in fostering sustainable economic growth, and those that addressed populations living in extreme poverty across the developing world. Previous positions have included, Program Director for Pioneers of Prosperity, Central America and the Caribbean, at the OTF Group, overseeing a program that provided financing and technical support to small and medium-sized enterprises across the region; Director of Monitoring and Evaluation for the Millennium Promise Alliance - one of the executing arms of the Millennium Villages Project; Director of the Girls’ Education Initiative at Magna International; and, as a founding partner of iOrigen Capital LLC, a private-sector investment fund that focuses on ICT ventures in middle-income countries. She has also held research positions at both Harvard and Columbia Universities.

Julie started her career as an entrepreneur, founding and leading AMERICA SCORES, a US-based educational non-profit organization that works with low-income school districts in inner-cities across the United States.

Julie’s work in the public sector has earned her a number of local and national awards, including Washingtonian of the Year, in Washington, DC, a Daily Points of Light award from President Clinton, and a finalist mention for the Presidential National Service Award.

Julie holds a BA in comparative governments from Georgetown University, an MPA from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a Certificate in Program Design, Evaluation and Monitoring of International Projects from the University of Bologna. She is the President of the Board of Amend.org, a small international NGO that implements simple, cost-effective public health programs that address childhood injury prevention in sub-Saharan Africa, and is a longtime member of St. Mark’s School Alumni Executive Committee. She is also an advisor on business strategy and investment opportunities for the Sasha Wolf Gallery in Tribeca, NY. A native of Canada, Julie speaks French and Spanish.

Our Mission

To catalyze, support and disseminate research on questions of economic development,
prosperity and entrepreneurship, particularly new frontiers related to enterprise-based solutions to poverty and innovative ideas unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.

Our approach is nontraditional, posing a challenge to the classic pattern of funding top-down projects with government-led conceptual frameworks. We support the uncertain and often interdisciplinary methods required to develop and encourage truly entrepreneurial approaches to wealth creation and poverty reduction.

In addition, SEVEN strives to reignite the excitement and meaning of entrepreneurship in the public consciousness so that outdated thinking no longer curtails the potential for massive poverty reduction.

The SEVEN Fund encourages rigorous and innovative researchers to tackle questions head-on, unlocking the potential of enterprise-based solutions to poverty.

Our Goals

  • To expand the purview of scientific inquiry to include scientific disciplines fundamental to a deep understanding of entrepreneurship and economic development, but which are currently largely unsupported by conventional grant sources.
  • To forge and maintain useful collaborations between researchers and on-the-ground actors working on Enterprise Based Solutions to Poverty.
  • To provide the public with a deeper understanding in this area, and their potential implications for our worldview.
  • To create a logistically, intellectually, and financially self-sustaining independent organization to accomplish these goals during and beyond the initial three year program beginning in 2007, thereby pioneering a new model of philanthropically and government grant-funded efforts in enterprise based solutions to poverty.

SEVEN funding is aimed at supporting research that is both foundational (with potentially significant and broad implications for our understanding of how entrepreneurs lift people out of poverty) and unconventional (enabling research that, because of its speculative, non-mainstream or high-risk nature, would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of funding).

Company Structure

SEVEN is an independent nonprofit organization that provides monetary, organizational and intellectual support for the study of enterprise-based solutions to poverty, in accord with the SEVEN Fund Charter. The SEVEN Board provides the leadership, and a variety of qualified jurors make funding decisions.

The fund's activities are enhanced by the active participation of its. SEVEN Fund membership consists of all researchers funded by the organization, as well as researchers with membership granted by the SEVEN principals by invitation only.


Building on a generous seed grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the fund seeks to expand its support structure to include other donors with a vision consistent with that of SEVEN.

Common Questions About SEVEN

What is the SEVEN Fund?
Michael Fairbanks and Andreas Widmer started SEVEN, a small, virtual, nonprofit entity whose strategy is to markedly increase the rate of diffusion of enterprise-based solutions to poverty. They do this by targeting investment that fosters thought leadership through books, films and websites; supporting role models—whether they are entrepreneurs or innovative firms—in developing nations; and shaping a new discourse in government, the press and the academy around private-sector innovation, prosperity and progressive human values.

Fairbanks and Widmer are a proven team in the field of enterprise-based solutions to poverty with strong connections to entrepreneurs, the private sector, financial institutions, governments, academia and nongovernmental organizations. These relationships are the keys to SEVEN. Both men are experts in the field as well as entrepreneurs themselves. Both have built up several companies successfully.

The operations of the organization are based on a “pledge fund” concept, existing at the center of a nexus of great organizations and private and public sector leaders, and characterized by narrow scope of functions, low overhead, nimble decision making, shared decision rights by the principals, measurable results and rational risk taking.

The assets of the institution are not the infrastructure, scale and massive infusions of capital, but rather the networks of leaders, pattern recognition in business strategy and economics, tolerance for ambiguity in uncertain environments, contrarian temperament and a long-term perspective.

   • More About Andreas Widmer
   • More About Michael Fairbanks
   • More About Elizabeth Hooper

What is SEVEN’s strategy?
The private sector generates more employment and prosperity than all governments and multilateral institutions combined. Still, it receives little attention as a vehicle for economic and social transformation. There are whole centers of economic development (i.e. at Harvard and Columbia universities and the Center for Global Development) that pay no attention to firm-level innovations in developing nations.

The reasons are numerous: the development paradigm is forged by a priestly caste of economists, trained in linear thinking and a narrow set of quantitative methodologies (regressions, multi-factor analyses, etc.), who are overly beholden to their intellectual forebearers. The resulting top-down policy incentives, enacted by a narrow set of “decision-making units” (ie. head of government, minister of finance), are often painful to the majority of citizens. At the same time, private sector innovators are often thrust into the shadows, defined as greedy and narrowly self-interested. Government leaders assume a parental role toward the poorest in society, and the private sector is marginalized as a potential force for good.

SEVEN’s strategy is, bluntly, to do the opposite—encouraging private-sector innovations that come from the bottom up, are cognitive in nature and take some time. In this model there is no “decision-making unit,” per se, to determine the trajectory. The logic of markets, informed by evidence, examples, role models and the diffusion of innovative thinking (RE: Everett Rogers) take precedence. SEVEN’s role is to accelerate this process, inform it and increase what we learn—even if that’s by speeding up failure.

The overarching approach that SEVEN uses is the heuristic of “Seven Forms of Capital” (RE: Culture Matters, Chapter 20). There are forms of capital that are easy to see and measure. These include Natural Capital, Man-Made Capital and Financial Capital. These three are, overwhelmingly, the focus of the major development banks and institutions.

Four other forms of capital, which are more difficult to see and measure, are perhaps even more important to the development of a region and its people. These are Institutional Capital (i.e. rule of law, democracy), Knowledge Capital (R&D, international patents), Human Capital (skills and capabilities) and Cultural Capital (pro-innovation thinking; RE: Harrison).

SEVEN’s mission is to foster a discussion, spur innovation and invest in these four higher forms of capital and their linkages with improved standard of living and progressive human values (i.e. interpersonal trust, tolerance for those unlike ourselves, a future orientation, self-discipline, rational risk taking, etc.).

This strategy will include:

  1. Finding inspirational examples of companies in the world’s most difficult environments that meet four criteria simultaneously: they create products with traits for sophisticated and demanding consumers; they create exceptional shareholder returns; they provide high and rising wages and training for employees; and they do not degrade the environment for future generations.
  2. Supporting the innovations (books, articles, films, conferences and websites) of the world’s next generation of thought leaders (i.e. academics, consultants, public sector leaders, documentarians), especially those who are nationals of developing nations, reside in those nations, are in nontraditional domains (i.e. anthropology, sociology, business strategy, childhood education, digital and life sciences), and those who choose to work across disciplines on the challenges and linkages between prosperity and progressive human values.

Consider the following examples from around the world:

  • The money that the immigrant community in the United States sends back to Mexico and the rest of Latin America dwarfs the global total of foreign aid and direct foreign investment to all poor nations. Most of this money is consumed, not invested into enterprises back in the villages and small towns. These funds could foster innovation and long-term prosperity for remote communities.
  • The smallest nations of the Caribbean are overwhelmingly dependent on access to European markets and subsidies, especially in the sugar industry. These benefits are disappearing, and no alternatives are on the horizon. This change has consequences for the entire hemisphere. Can entrepreneurs who are properly stimulated and rewarded find ways to build complex strategic advantages on top of the region’s natural resources?
  • Africa is enjoying a boom in selling natural resources to China, and many are convinced that the region has turned the corner. Still, wages remain low, commodity markets are fickle, the environment is being destroyed, and no real sustainable advantages are in sight.
  • Most foreign advisors tell entrepreneurs in Afghanistan to find ways to sell things to Europe and America. The truth is that their biggest markets, traditional relationships and largest opportunities lie in Pakistan and India. Globalization makes it possible for poor economies sell to one another, but policies and formal advice do not encourage this behavior.

These are four regions of the world, just four examples, where current research is lacking, where there are few role models, and where the white hot light of academic attention, media coverage and policy innovation do not adequately illuminate the facts.

We imagine a world where a documentary film directed by an Academy Award–nominated director depicts successful reinvestment of remittances into a small community business in Southern Mexico; where young, world-class academics from the West Indies and Korea collaborate on a book about past social and economic investment strategies in East Asia that pertain to the current challenges of small Caribbean nations; where we create an investment index in Africa to allow sophisticated investors to begin to see Africa not as a monolithic continent of uncertainty, but as a region of nations with subtleties and differences and high quality opportunities; and where we create a conference in Kabul for entrepreneurs to reopen ancient trade routes and relationships to India, one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

Success at SEVEN is determined by a series of primary and secondary metrics—published branded works, conference attendance, media coverage, website hits—but it is important to note that the very nature of this kind of change is difficult to measure. That is why few focus on it, why philanthropy, with its long-term perspective and contrarian temperament, is well-placed to achieve it, and why SEVEN’s strategy is to be at the nexus of this movement.

How is SEVEN financed?
SEVEN has been seed-funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Other donors include Legatum Capital and the Inter-American Development Bank.
What sort of legal organization is SEVEN?
SEVEN is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit charitable organization, incroprorated in Massachusetts, USA.

What is the scope of and impetus of SEVEN’s competitions?
SEVEN’s competitive projects seek answers to some of the “big questions”:

  1. What are the most significant qualities of a successful entrepreneur (in a developing economy)?
  2. Can entrepreneurship be taught, inspired and diffused through a society?
  3. Perhaps most critically, can support for the entrepreneurial spirit serve as a harbinger of sustainable solutions to poverty?

Our work will also touch on other fields, concepts and realities: creativity, curiosity, emergence, entrepreneurship, future-mindedness, generosity, gratitude, honesty, humility, human flourishing, progress, purpose, reliability, self-control, spiritual capital, thrift and wisdom. Indeed, our long-stated view is that these are features of cultural capital that are requisite to innovation, prosperity and a strong society.

Entrepreneurs create products, services and jobs. They expand economies, improve people's lives, provide employment (high and rising wages) and bring about competition. A competitive environment, in turn, gives rise to efficiency, meritocracy and further innovations and entrepreneurial drive.

The potent combination of entrepreneurship and technological innovation can forge an environment that is conducive to further enterprise, involving even government policy in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.

SEVEN's Global Footprint

We invite you to explore SEVEN’s Global Footprint, our Latest News, and a selection of Resources related to enterprise solutions to poverty.


SEVEN is a leader in the field of Enterprise Solutions to Poverty. We ask the question, “How do we support those who are self-determined, action-oriented, and effective?” We find and invest in the innovations of pioneering thought leaders and entrepreneurs inside the world’s poorest nations; we support contrarian research, films, books and competitions that spotlight new role models and diffuse their best ideas. More

Conferences & Speaking Engagements

SEVEN hosts and participates in several conferences and speaking engagements each year.

View our Staff Speaking Engagements & Upcoming Conference Schedule