Peter Bladin came to the United States from Sweden in the late 1980s to work at Microsoft in a variety of leadership roles focused on international work, product support and marketing. When he left the company after 10 years, to concentrate on international poverty issues, and he took along a few key learnings from his time at Microsoft.
“The first thing was to think big,” said Bladin, who is now the chief impact and research officer at Global Partnerships, and our latest Geek of the Week. “At Microsoft it was all about thinking BIG. In working on solutions for people living in poverty, we have always strived to focus on solutions that can truly scale and not just try to reach thousands, but millions of people. This means thinking about sustainable business models from day one, not just the actual technology solution.”
Bladin said he also learned about the power of “disruptive technologies” at Microsoft and how the personal computer computer revolution unleashed productivity and empowered people. He said he instinctively knew that the mobile phone would do the same “for not just the richest 1 billion people but everyone eventually.”
“My decision to jump on the opportunity to start the Grameen Technology Center in 2001 was really to do our part to help bring the information and communication technologies revolution to the masses, with a clear focus on working on sustainable solutions,” Bladin said.
According to Bladin, Global Partnerships is a socially driven impact investor that mainly provides debt financing to social businesses whose products and services benefit households living in poverty in Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.
He said the work he’s been doing has him extremely hopeful for the future, because the mobile phone revolution is still in its infancy.
“We have well over 6 billion people with access now. Companies large and small are focused on building products and services specifically for underserved communities,” Bladin said. “McKinsey just published a study saying digital finance will have 1.6 billion newly included people by 2025. This will create over $4 trillion in new deposits — and about half of that in new credit — and ultimately create 95 million new jobs.”
Bladin said Global Partnerships will continue to invest in impact-driven businesses which harness the power of the mobile phone to bring billions of people into the formal economy.
“It might simply be the most powerful poverty elimination tool ever created.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Peter Bladin:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “My current role is chief impact and research officer at Global Partnerships. That means I am in charge of finding new areas for us to invest with a strong focus on measuring and defining whether there is a positive impact on families living in poverty. I do this because I get to play a part in creating opportunities for people I’ve met around the world who live with very little yet have done so much.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Impact investing (creating both financial return and social impact) is a very fast growing investment area, proving that you can do well by doing good not just with your philanthropic giving but also with your investments. In the developing world setting where we focus, there is an ever increasing number of businesses serving people who live on less than $5 or so per day. This means underserved people can partake more in the economy and eventually make more money, gradually lifting themselves out of poverty. Companies are proving every day that the other 6 billion people that companies typically don’t focus on, can be a very good market opportunity if you appropriately target your product and services to their needs and payment capabilities.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “I get inspired every time I get a chance to travel and visit the clients of the organizations we invest in. To me, the best entrepreneurs in the world are not in Seattle or Silicon Valley, but instead in rural developing countries. They are the poor women I meet who sustain their families on a few dollars a day. Their ingenuity in stretching their dollars is amazing and everything they make goes towards creating a better life for their children. The pride they take in their micro businesses is infectious and recharges my batteries and belief in humanity.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “The cell phone. It is the most widespread piece of equipment in human history with over 6 billion people having access to one. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible with this “computer” in your pocket.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “It’s a small office with a great view in Seattle. I also have my Maasai talking stick there which is a good management tool with some of my staff (you can only talk when you have the stick).”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Try to set clear barriers between work life and family life. Make sure you spend quality time with your kids/spouse. It also helps to have an understanding spouse like I do if you have to travel as much as I have throughout the years.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac for iPad/iPhone. Windows at work.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Yes!”
Transporter, Time machine or Cloak of invisibility? “Time machine.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Start a cook stove or solar distribution company in Africa.”
I once waited in line for … “Bruce Springsteen tickets (in the 1980s).”
Your role models: “Muhammad Yunus (founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace prize winner) for showing the world that people living in poverty are bankable and for pushing hard to bring ICT to underserved people and launching the Grameen Technology Center.”
Greatest game in history: “For me it’s a soccer game, not a computer game. Sweden vs. Romania in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinal at Stanford Stadium. Sweden won on penalty kicks and I was standing behind the goal where the shootout occurred. Lost my voice for a week afterwards. Seahawks vs. Packers in the playoffs a few years ago when Seattle came from behind was not too bad either.”
Best gadget ever: “Cell phone.”
First computer: “Compaq 286.”
Current phone: “iPhone 6.”
Favorite app: “Too many to mention, but Skype and FaceTime are some of my most frequently used.”
Favorite cause: “Impact investing and anything that addresses poverty on a global and sustainable level.”
Most important technology of 2016 “Solar lights (replacing kerosene among the 1.2 billion people who live out of reach of the electric grid. It saves money for the poor, improves their health and saves the environment.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Mobile payment systems which should not only be available but also scaling in most of the developing world by then. This will serve as the technology backbone for many businesses and increase GDP and create untold jobs (95 million according to a McKinsey estimate in 10 years).”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Stare less at the screen and have more face-to-face interactions with other people.”
Website: Global Partnerships
Twitter: Global Partnerships
LinkedIn: Peter Bladin