The Mulago Foundation

The Mulago Foundation

Lasting change that goes to scale

Mulago funds organizations that address the basic needs of the very poor.

Our job is to find those most able to create change and get them what they need to do it.

We have a big mandate and a small staff. We give unrestricted funds to high-impact organizations; we want the least hassle for all concerned.

All of our portfolio organizations tackle a basic need of the very poor, have a scalable solution, and know how to deliver it.

We teach our Fellows to design solutions focused on the impact they want and the behavior it takes to get it.

At a Glance

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2435 Polk St, Suite 21
San Francisco, CA 94109

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Organization Mission

Mulago is a private foundation designed and built to carry on the life work of Rainer Arnhold.

Rainer's passion was the prospect of a better life for children in poverty, and so the Foundation's work is focused on solutions that meet the basic needs of the poorest families. After Rainer's untimely death in 1993, his brother Henry Arnhold established the Foundation in its current form.

Our obsession is impact; we provide unrestricted money to organizations that have a scalable solution and a demonstrable ability to deliver. Our Fellows program is built to support social entrepreneurs, and while we do support scaling organizations, our portfolio is largely focused on start-ups. We're agnostic as to whether those organizations are for-or-non-profit – what we care about is which structure offers the best route to impact at scale. We continue to fund organizations as long as they show real progress toward lasting change at scale.

The Foundation has a big mandate and a small staff, so we do not accept proposals. We tap a deep network to find the organizations that are a good fit. Given our very specific funding criteria, that has proven the most efficient process for all concerned. Really.

Area of Focus

Our job is to serve those who create change in the world.

Mulago funds a lot of early stage organizations. We also fund organizations taking proven solutions to scale. We operate like a philanthropic venture fund where impact serves as an analog for profit, and cost-per-impact sits in for return on investment. We want the biggest bang for our buck with the least hassle for us and for those we fund. This means:

Fund Impact

We fund high-impact organizations to do what they do well; mostly grants, sometimes debt or equity. We don't invest in organizations that don't measure impact – they're flying blind and we would be too.

Organizations, Not Projects

Impact at scale doesn't come from projects, it comes from the work of organizations. The best way to reach scale with a great idea is to pair it with a great organization.

Unrestricted Money

Unrestricted funding drives innovation and growth. It's the most useful for the organization and most leveraged for the donor. If we don't think an organization knows how to use the money better than we do, we don't give them any.

Continued Funding For Increasing Returns

We don't abandon a good thing. If we continue to see real impact and clear progress toward scale, we stay in the game.

No Proposals

We don't take proposals. Proposals are a hassle for all concerned and rarely give us the information we need. We source through our own network and ask our own questions.

Minimal Paperwork

The last thing we want is to waste the time and energy of those who are trying to save the world. We ask for annual milestones and their impact methodology; beyond that, we rely on documents they should already have on hand.

Engage Well

We get out to the field, advise when we have something useful to say, connect operators to other funders, meet up whenever we can, and talk often enough to avoid any surprises. We expect to be engaged, but we stay out of the way when we don't have value to add.

Mulago looks for organizations built around a big idea and focused on maximum social impact. We fund on the basis of:

A Priority Problem

We focus on the basic needs of the very poor, most of whom live in rural settings. Our priorities are:

Livelihoods - mostly smallholder agriculture
Health - primary healthcare and behavior change
Conservation - where it benefits the poor
Energy - home cooking, lighting, and power
Education - mostly primary
Amplifier - solutions to make organizations more effective

A Scalable Solution

We look for solutions that can drive exponential impact over time - that will provide a significant benefit to a million people and beyond. We have four criteria:

Lasting impact:
We only invest in organizations that measure impact. In early stage firms, we look at behavior change: Given their solution, will the behavior necessary to drive impact happen and if so, will it last?

Cheap enough:
Solutions that are too expensive can't scale. We continually assess the cost of impact in all organizations we fund. Where appropriate -- and in context -- we compare with the cost of other solutions.

Easily replicated:
A complicated model is hard to scale. Scalable solutions deliver a focused big idea in a systematic way, don't have too many moving parts, and can be applied to a broad array of settings.

Designed for scale:
Who is going to do the work at scale? There are four choices: 1) do it yourself, by growing a big organization or an open-source platform, 2) other NGOs, 3) the market, or 4) the government. Solutions that aren't designed with the doer in mind are unlikely to scale.

An Organization That Can Deliver

This means the right leadership, the right systems, the right people in the right positions, smart strategy, bold ambitions, the ability to raise money – and a track record that gives us confidence.