Acumen Blog


Acumen Fund @ University of Michigan – Leadership through Social Enterprise

This fall, Acumen Fund partnered with the University of Michigan to teach a class on our work. All students in the course completed a leadership project focused on an issue of their choosing. One of the students, Gabby Park, chose to explore lack of access to healthcare with her project team.

I am one of 45 million Americans without health insurance today. Three summers ago, I was in a car accident that left me with a swelling bump on the back of my head. My church group was driving to visit a mosque when a huge van rear-ended us, sending contents from the trunk flying into the car, causing my head injury.

For close to three hours, I agonized over going to the ER to get treated.

And I began to think—how is this fair? How is it fair that millions of Americans and billions around the world have to make this same choice every day, often in potentially life or death situations?

After this experience, a passion alighted within me and I realized my purpose: to better understand the healthcare system and what I could do to change it. I saw social enterprise as one route to bringing innovative, community-focused ideas to an ailing, flawed system in need of greater reform.

But I had never seriously thought of myself as a social entrepreneur until signing up for the Acumen Fund class at the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship on leading innovation through social enterprise.

Upon enrolling, I was filled with doubt: Will I learn anything?  As a leader in several student organizations and an active member in church, I felt I knew how to work in groups to achieve goals.  What would this class contribute to my knowledge that my experience had not already taught me?

Well… it turns out, a lot.

In addition to the in-class content on leadership, patient capital, and social enterprise, we also applied lessons learned in the classroom to a leadership project. The leadership project pushed us to interact with our community and taught us to put people at the center of any idea or design.  This is how my team decided to focus on lack of access to healthcare. We spoke with many different people, from the uninsured to those who had always taken insurance for granted, and learned that one of the biggest barriers to healthcare access in the U.S. is lack of knowledge.

After listening to public health professionals who spoke of the need for a comprehensive information center and reflecting on our personal experiences, my team decided to design a comprehensive call center the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area.  Anyone could call the center at any hour with questions ranging from where to find the nearest urgent care center or affordable clinics for the uninsured to health insurance policy questions.

We are now looking at how we would want to structure this organization—would it be for profit, a non-profit or a hybrid?  Focusing on funding is critical as well, and we are envisioning how patient capital could contribute to its initial development and long-term sustainability.  In addition, we are exploring how we can possibly measure its overall impact.  Our vision is to have a successful call center that has wide reach and is consistently used by the public.

If there is one thing I have learned from this class, over and over and over again, it is that people have so much to give– if we only ask.

I learned just how passionate I am about my calling, too.  And I learned how difficult it will be in the future to convince people that this issue is worthy, that it is just, and that it is in need of changing.

I may not be certain of what my future holds, but my vision is to be part of an organization that is able to provide the affordable, quality, and equal access to healthcare that I believe this country can and should provide.   This class has shown me that as long as I’m willing walk the long journey to affecting change and build systems that focus on sustainability, then, I, too, can be a social entrepreneur.

Gabby Park is a senior at the University of Michigan.


Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]