Mohammed Yunus, head of the Grameen Bank, spoke here a few days ago. He is a real interesting guy and I even bought a copy of his latest book, Creating a World Without Poverty.
Yunus formed the Grameen Bank to give loans to the poorest people in Bangladesh, to help them get out of debt to moneylenders and start their own businesses. This has blossomed into a major undertaking, establishing not only a bank but a whole string of enterprises. All of the enterprises are self sustaining, but not profit making enterprises in the traditional sense. Rather, they are what he terms "social businesses" which means a non-profit or small profit enterprise which runs a business as a business, and generates enough profit to keep the business going and expanding. While investment is protected, dividends are not to be paid (or paid in small amounts). In his book, Yunus rejects socialist and Marxist prescriptions for alleviating poverty for one based on the free market (though he believes in heavy regulation).
I think Yunus underestimates the profit motive a bit, but then again, not really. You could argue that the Grameen principle is a way to train the poor to use capitalism to their advantage. And while the blankets and crafts that Grameen members are famous for are not what built the German or Japanese economic miracles, one imagines a time when Grameen enterprises moves onto new products.
But the guy is not standing on a street corner with a sign saying "will quit overpopulating for food." He is not standing outside a G8 meeting shouting "Give me money!" Quite the opposite. He wants to include the poor in the global market, not end the global market (I am reading his latest book and he is really pushing, among other things, free markets). I think his model, within its limits, is a good way forward for alleviating poverty