Acumen Blog

10 things #9 picture

10 Things We’ve Learned #9 – There is no currency like trust, and there are no shortcuts to earning it

Acumen Fund is committed to sharing the learnings we have collected over our past 10 years. In this spirit, we have published  a document called “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.” Each week on the Acumen Fund Blog, we will be posting the next lesson in this series of “10 Things,” along with a guest response from a valued member of our community.

9. There is no currency like trust, and there are no shortcuts to earning it.

“Building trust takes time, and it can be destroyed in an instant.”

Low-income communities are often understandably wary of outsiders coming in with “solutions to their problems.”  Having been short-changed in the past, they expect to be short-changed again.  Why bother trying something new when the old ways work well enough, when the new ways might cost more than you can afford, when trying something new means taking a risk that could mean not enough food on the table?

We thought if you offered the poor clean, affordable solar lights that raised incomes, people would flock to buy them.  An Acumen Fund investee gave a woman a free solar lantern to use in her stall selling samosas on the street for a month to test it out.  At the end of the month, she said she loved the lamp: it allowed her to save money by avoiding kerosene, earn more by staying open later, and have a light to walk home safely. Still, she refused to buy the light when offered, saying she couldn’t be sure of the product’s quality.

We thought if you offered safe, quality housing to renters in slums at comparable prices, people would line up to buy homes.  But people had been fleeced by too many fly-by-night housing developers to risk uprooting their families. It took the entrepreneur personally showing up at the site after violence erupted to prove his seriousness about the project, and then building a home for himself at the development to gain lasting trust.

We thought if farmers saw their neighbors double their productivity using inexpensive drip irrigation systems, sales would explode simply through word of mouth.   Yet we’ve learned that our investees’ field staff must show up again and again before new customers will sign up.

These examples make it all the more amazing that d.light has sold more than a half million solar lanterns; that Saiban has built a thriving community for more than 2,000 outside Lahore, Pakistan; that Global Easy Water Products has sold hundreds of thousands of drip irrigation systems.

Trust is the most precious commodity we can offer.  Building it takes time, and it can be destroyed in an instant. It isn’t so much what we do most of the time, but how we do it that counts. We learn this over and over.


Click here for the full “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.”


Announcing a New Investment: SolarNow

Acumen is pleased to announce a $1.4 million investment in SolarNow, a company that sells and finances solar home systems in Uganda. We sat down with Shuaib Siddiqui, Acumen’s Portfolio Director to learn more about the deal and why he’s excited about this innovative company. [Read More]

Letter from Jacqueline: My Week in Ghana

I am writing on a return flight from Ghana. The country has not seen a single case of Ebola, yet the impact of fear is profound. As travelers enter the country, attendants screen for high temperatures. Hand sanitizer dispensers are omnipresent. Hotels and conferences have seen massive cancellations. Everywhere are constant reminders of our fragility and the strength of our connectedness. [Read More]

Six online courses we’re taking this year

+Acumen’s free online courses are a great way to learn tools that will help you develop both professionally and personally. Whether you are a social entrepreneur who wants to market to your customers or a young professional that wants to strengthen your leadership skills, we are offering six courses this Fall that will help you develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to change the way the world tackles poverty. [Read More]

Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]


Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]