Ride of your life

Two weeks ago, a friend in Pakistan passionately claimed that Bombay is the most exciting city in the world. Although I mostly agreed, I quickly realized that excitement wears multiple faces, as 3 near-catastrophes unfolded 24 hours within my arrival here: first a bicycle side-clip by my taxi from the airport, then a fender-bender going to work, and finally a near (i.e., 12 inches short) head-on bus collision by my rickshaw driver.

Fortunately, everyone walked away safely, this time. Tragically, however, 114,000 people each year never walk away at all: In India, at least 13 people die every hour on the road. The country has the highest rate of accidents – 35 per 1,000 vehicles compared to the world average of 4 – resulting in more Indians dying than from HIV, malaria, and cholera combined.

For this reason, 1298 Ambulance – the social enterprise I am working with this summer – has launched one of the country’s first ambulance services, with the Gandhi-inspired philosophy that
Saving a life is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can undergo.
Over the past 7 years, they’ve amassed a fleet of rewards, launching 860 ambulances and transferring over 1 million patients.

Despite this success, suffering (and death) seem to be an inescapable reality of life here.

Three days into my project, I wondered aimlessly around the emergency room of a public hospital in Central Mumbai. Surrounded by pain, I speechlessly returned to the stretcher that carried Sweta Sendil, a 29-year-old teacher whose relatives dialed 1298 after she had a kidney failure. Only one year older than me, and yet she was given a 2-3 year life expectancy.

These are the days where heaven does not seem so close. Days where it seems that no matter how much you sacrifice, it’ll never be enough. Days that test whether you can really sustain a life dedicated to alleviating injustice without disconnecting from the associated suffering.

Although I’m not sure answers exist, these are questions and emotions that I’m hoping to explore further this summer. Most likely from the backseat of a 1298 Ambulance.


Benje Williams was an Acumen Fund Fellow ’11, where he worked with Pharmagen Healthcare Limited. He is currently an MBA Candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.


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]