Goldman backs our charity

A CHARITY that pulls people out of poverty by offering vital banking services? That’s the kind of charity that straight-talking Goldman Sachs partner Martin Devenish supports.

Devenish, the head of Goldman’s emerging markets equities sales, sees his work unlock the potential of high-growth economies every day and is an outspoken advocate of helping entrepreneurs make their own wealth.

“I don’t think there is anything that has been proven to be a better weapon against poverty than growth,” he says.

“People in finance understand the vital role financial services play in growing economies – and they know that the best way to alleviate poverty is growth.”

Devenish says Opportunity International’s work providing businesspeople with micro-loans and bank accounts resonated with him.

This year, he and six other Goldman partners including Richard Gnodde, its co-chief executive for Europe, Middle East and Africa, donated $1.6m (£1m) to start two three-year projects in Malawi and a third in Tanzania to extend Opportunity’s services more widely.

The funds came from the investment bank’s initiative Goldman Sachs Gives, which sets aside part of each of its global partners’ compensation each year and asks them to choose the cause it is used for. The initiative contributed $320m to causes worldwide in 2010, and $500m in 2009.

When we meet, Devenish has just returned from southern Malawi with Opportunity, where he saw its results first-hand.

“Malawi is pretty poor – its main exports are tobacco and tea and it’s landlocked as well so the odds are stacked against it, but at the grassroots level you can see people starting to build businesses, and that’s where wealth comes from,” he says.

He picks out photographs of the traders he met and enthuses about the mobile banks and biometric fingerprint security they use.

“You meet these people and you see their optimism and the self belief that they can improve through this hand-up. And if you have a trust group that’s all pulling that way, that’s growth for a whole village,” he says.

Devenish has also championed a partnership between Opportunity and Save the Children – another charity that counts Princess Anne as its patron – to deliver better education in areas where people are saving money through Opportunity’s work.

His brainwave came after reading feedback from people who received loans. “The most common theme was to put or keep their children in school. I thought, wouldn’t it be tragic if Opportunity was successful in these communities but there were no schools for them to attend?” he says.

Save the Children is now training 140 teachers and building schools in Zomba, southern Malawi.

Devenish hopes the three-year project will lead to long-term success:

“You hope that you can walk away and it is in a virtuous circle – the communities are a bit wealthier, the schools are better, and they are saving money so their kids can stay in school. If that’s in place then suddenly you’re off, you’re up.”