Purpose Prize

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Thomas Brunner

LeapFrog Investments
Purpose Prize Fellow 2015

Former corporate lawyer’s expertise helps investment firm expand financial inclusion products for people living on less than $10 per day.

By 2008, I had enjoyed a long and fruitful legal career in insurance law. I was 62 and primed to make a change. Throughout my career, I had always had significant involvement in social or civil rights activities. Now I wanted the opportunity to do more.

That year, I met Dr. Andrew Kuper, who founded LeapFrog. He shared a powerful insight: 3.6 billion people could lift themselves out of poverty, if they had the financial tools to do so. In fact, the vast majority of low-income or underserved individuals were ‘ emerging consumers’ : working, striving people ready and willing to acquire tools that would improve their lives, if only they were offered. He shared a bold vision: To create an investment company that backed the businesses that would serve those individuals. He needed a lawyer. Since that time, I’ ve helped LeapFrog grow from a two-man start-up to a company with $535m in assets that has invested in 15 companies in Africa and Asia. What we thought would be 10 to 20 hours of volunteer work just grew and grew.

LeapFrog is a pioneering “profit with purpose” investment firm. We invest in companies that provide insurance and other financial-inclusion products to over 51 million people, over 36 million of whom earn less than $10 a day. In less than 8 years, we’ ve provided life-changing financial tools for many millions in Africa and Asia, delivering financial inclusion at scale.

  • LeapFrog investors in the US, Europe and Australia have raised $535 million to invest in 21 markets.
  • The companies LeapFrog invests in now reach 51.4 million people with essential financial tools, including 36.1 million low-income or underserved individuals earning less than $10 a day.
  • LeapFrog is increasing financial inclusion in hard to reach places and at scale, and its companies are also supporting over 91,900 jobs and livelihoods.

My work requires finding creative solutions to the legal and government challenges inherent in a highly regulated global financial system and largely unexplored emerging markets. It inspires me by drawing on my insurance law experience and my long-standing commitment to social justice.

My encore work is influenced by my parents, who came to the U.S. as refugees, with $20 between them. They made a success of our lives, and conveyed to me, quietly, an obligation to contribute to the growth of more equitable societies.

In this encore, I’ ve learned to push beyond my comfort zone, to embrace that it is no longer important to be the boss and to recognize that my most crucial contributions depend on paving the way for others. It was difficult to make this change, to be working in an emerging market environment, building something from scratch and working with a bunch of people half my age. But this work is extraordinarily fulfilling. I work with bright, committed, inspiring young people. It’s been a lot of fun. I told my wife, “This is my most thrilling work yet!”

My experience explains why mentorships work: Many terrific young entrepreneurs strive to launch socially valuable businesses. At the same time, many late-career professionals, classic encore-seekers, want to use their talents in socially-beneficial enterprises. I connect these human “dots,” to enable the senior professionals to help entrepreneurial start-ups get launched.

I am a firm believer that however long and prominent one’s career, it is possible to decide that the best is yet to come. The best is here. It can only get better.