Lessons from Leaders and Social Innovators in East Africa

Last month, the Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows held a culmination of their Fellowship year at an Innovation Conference organized by the Fellows themselves. The event marked the end of their leadership training program, which brought together 19 social change leaders in the region to help build the skills and experience necessary to enact real social change. The Innovation Conference, which focused on social entrepreneurship and the need for new leadership in the region, captured the current dialogue around development in East Africa. The event brought some of the most renowned minds in the space together at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. It was also the graduation ceremony of the inaugural class of East Africa Fellows with Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz present.

Afrinnovator provided coverage for the event and extracted 20 key quotes below.

The Future of East Africa

“The East Africa we want – don’t agonise, but organise.” – Sarah Mitaru. You can download her single Make Way here.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the 2nd best time to plant a tree is right now.” – Laila Macharia of Scion Real.

“As elections come, let’s seek the public office, and be the leader of the people. Hiding in the private sector won’t benefit Kenya and the East African Community as a whole.” – Dr. Julius Kipng’etich of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

“I have news for you, there is no Superman (it’s up to us.)” – Tom Mboya of Inuka Trust.

Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship

“There’s a very thin line between social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship.” – Erik Hersman of the iHub and Ushahidi.

“Innovation comes from the edges, so it comes as no surprise that innovators are found in the margins.” – Erik Hersman of the iHub and Ushahidi.

“Imagination without execution is hallucination” – frequently quoted by Biju Mohandas of Acumen Fund East Africa.

“Markets are the most powerful listening devices. We believe in choice, not charity.” – Suraj Sudhakar of Acumen Fund East Africa.


“When it comes to policy execution: Persist, Persist, Persist.” – Aleke Dondo of K-Rep Development Agency.

“If only the East African Community could commit to supporting one policy to start, it’d be a step in the right direction.” – Dr. Manu Chandaria of Comcraft Group of Companies.

“You do not sip from the well of cynicism when working on the future of Africa.” – Laila Macharia of Scion Real.

Business in East Africa

“Question everything, embrace innovation, dislike bureaucracy, take risks boldly.” – The ways Erik Hersman says he and his team run Ushahidi.

“70% of the people generate 26% of the GDP. Clearly, there’s something not right here.” – Aleke Dondo of K-Rep Development Agency.

“The reason why venture capitalists haven’t flooded this space yet is they haven’t seen the exit strategy yet.” – Soha Ehsani of Grassroots Business Fund.

“Risk capital is a better approach than VC to finance early stage innovation for the poor.” – Eme Essien of the Rockefeller Foundation.

“Kenya is the #1 exporter of cut flowers to Europe. 1 in 3 roses bought in Europe come from Kenya.” – Dr. Julius Kipng’etich of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Ethics & Leadership

“Once you take the decision to get involved with something you must be prepared to face the  consequences.” – Martin Ojara the youngest elected public official 2011 in Uganda speaking on his journey to paying Joseph Kony a visit in his early leadership days.

“Quitting is leadership too, you need to know when you have done your best!” – Julie Gichuru fof Royal Media Services speaking on public sector service in East Africa.

“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price for them to come through” – the late Dr. Griffin, head of Starehe Boys School as quoted by Dr. Julius Kipng’etich of the Kenya Wildlife Service.

To learn more about the East Africa Fellows Program and how to apply, watch the video below or visit our website.


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]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

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]