Alter: Transforming the Developing World

We love covering stories about local individuals working on groundbreaking projects.  Eighteen21’s Ericka Hatcher spoke to Jesse Sullivan about his Non-Profit, Alter, which has created a more effective way to do foreign aid and international development.  Jesse, a Petersburg native, founded Alter to support entrepreneurs in developing countries by connecting them to the resources they need to grow.



Name: Jesse Sullivan, Alter Founder/CEO

Age: 33

Hometown: Petersburg, IL

Family: Wife, Monique, and 3 girls, Charley (4) Lincoln (2) Scout (7 months) 


What was your previous employment? 
US Dept. of Defense as a Counterinsurgency Analyst.

Where does your passion for helping others come from? 
My Christian faith, which strongly encourages that I help others. I also studied in El Salvador during college where I was first exposed to the injustices of extreme poverty. Combine the two, and I was really left with no other option but to try to do something.

How long have you been working on Alter? 
I began in the Summer of 2014 and officially launched Alter in the Summer of 2015.

Where did the idea for Alter come from? 
Throughout my almost 10 years of working with nonprofits, government, and military, I was continually confronted with the reality that good intentions do not automatically result in good outcomes. Most of the time, my efforts to combat global poverty were short-term band-aids, never getting to the root cause of the problem, which I now see as a lack of sustainable and scalable value creation. I was working in the largest tent city in Haiti and I realized that every solution except for a job was a short-term solution. Mothers and fathers needed consistent income in their pockets to provide for their children’s basic needs. In Afghanistan, working to reduce the poppy fields in Helmand province, I was asked what alternative economy could provide for the livelihoods of the farmers there to separate them from their reliance on the insurgency.

How do you create jobs and opportunity at scale in the least developed countries? 
This question led me to Stanford Business School where I was surrounded by incredible mentors and learned about the various entrepreneurship enabling models being deployed around the world.

In your own words, what exactly is Alter?
Alter is a more effective way to do foreign aid and international development. Alter is a venture designed to transform developing countries by supporting the best high-growth entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, create jobs, and provide basic services for those who need them most.

Who did you found Alter with and why? 

I founded it by myself with the help of incredible advisors and mentors at Stanford Business School. Our Board consists of Jessica Jackley, a founder of Kiva, and Allen Taylor, Managing Director of Endeavor Catalyst. Two exceptional minds and people at the forefront of the world’s attempts to solve global poverty. A classmate at Stanford, Ozair Ali, joined me a year later as COO and has brought incredible value to accomplishing our mission.

How does Alter assist entrepreneurs in launching successful ventures?
Once we select the 5 best, high-growth entrepreneurs in an entire country, we then ask them the question, “What bottlenecks or barriers do you face in growing your business 10x bigger than it is right now?” From here, we design our programs around the specific needs of our entrepreneurs. We found that our services fall into three primary buckets: Access to investments, access to expertise (consulting, training, recruiting), and access to networks and markets. We’ve provided roughly $1 million dollars worth of these value-added services in the first two years.

So far, what countries are you working with? 

Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, and Cuba.

How do you select these areas? 

We want to be in the places where the world’s greatest needs intersect with our unique capacity to help. I had previously worked in Haiti and Afghanistan and had formed a deeper understanding as well as relationships that could help me be effective. Myanmar and Cuba were chosen because they are both at critical inflection points in their history. Myanmar is coming out of decades of socialism and military rule. Smartphones are everywhere, and infrastructure is not, so there is this unique opportunity to technologically leapfrog rather than go step-by-step through the traditional stages of development. Silicon Valley is a natural partner there to create enormous value.

Where do you hope to go next? 

This is still to be determined, but we are actively considering Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

What does Alter wish to accomplish in the next 5 years? 10 years? 

5 years from now, Alter will be working with the best entrepreneurs in 15 developing countries, helping them to scale their businesses and their social impact. They will have created 15,000 jobs and provided basic services to 15 million people in the parts of the world that need it the most. 
10 years from now, my hope is that Alter will have transformed the way the United States provides foreign aid around the world. Rather than focusing most of our efforts on handouts and short-term band-aid solutions, we will instead facilitate innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth that has the power to sustainably and scalably transform the developing world, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

What do you hope will be Alter’s lasting impact?
I hope Alter can be a role-model and inspiration for future efforts to solve extreme poverty through entrepreneurship. Within my lifetime, I’d like to see this division between the “developed” and “developing” world come to an end. Where every nation is developed, and where all our brothers and sisters who have the capacity and the willingness to work hard also have the opportunity to live a fulfilled life and provide for the basic needs of their children. 


Alter Contact Information

Address: 1276 Willis St., No. 200, Redding, CA 96001

Phone: 217.971.7047




Twitter: @Alter_Global