Acumen Blog


Day 3 Recap: AcumenGG17

The time has come. What a whirlwind the last three days have been. The stories, the conversations, the music, the dancing, and the connections.

The morning started out with laughs, all thanks to Gayathri Vasudevan, the spirited Founder and CEO of Acumen investee LabourNet. It is her strength, perseverance and sense of humor that led her to give up a good job and comfortable life to challenge the status quo and enable secure livelihoods for the half billion people in India’s informal sector. LabourNet takes vocational “training to the doorstep” to address the sizable gaps in skills and capabilities within India’s invisible workforce. “These are people who learn on the job. For them every rupee matters. Productivity is critical. They get paid by the task they do.” Today, LabourNet operates 600 centers and serves more than 500,000 people.

Like Gayathri, East Africa Fellow Gerald Otim’s valiant effort to bring security to his mother, an unbanked smallholder farmer in Uganda, also required a hard choice. He gave up a job he loved to find a solution for his mother and countless others in rural Uganda who don’t have access to banks and the opportunity to save and build a secure future for themselves. It was in finding his purpose that he found the courage to commit himself to building Ensibuuko, which is now serving more than 240,000 farmers across his country. “It is from the courageous pursuit of a purposeful life that great entrepreneurs and leaders are born.”

It took courage for Global Fellow Benje Williams, a California native, to move to Pakistan and build Amal Academy, an education venture that helps low-income youth bridges to their career aspirations. Amal, which translates to “action” in Urdu, couldn’t be a more fitting word for Benje’s undertaking. He took action, not knowing what lie ahead, because he saw the potential in Pakistan’s youth and has found beauty, fellowship and hope in his new home. He closed his talk, reminding us all to have that we each have our role to play in the world and quoting a poem from Mary Oliver that he draws inspiration from today: Let us hope. It will always be like this, each of us going on in our inexplicable ways building the universe.

Throughout each of our journeys, Global Fellow Stephanie Speirs stressed both the value of sanctuaries as well as the importance of leaving them. While sanctuaries provide an important sense of security and safety for people, they can also present the risk of over-comforting us, eventually creating silos around us. Drawing upon two of the themes of the previous day, Steph challenged the crowd to consider what she believes may very well be the key to unlocking social impact—love and proximity.

It’s been a labor of love for Ned Tozun, the CEO and Co-founder of d.light to bring energy to billions of people without access. In conversation with Chris Anderson, he shared the adventurous, sometimes arduous journey that he and his business partner Sam Goldman took to scale their company, Acumen’s first energy investment. As the two entrepreneurs achieved professional success, Ned stressed the need for balance on a personal level. When you’re committed to creating impact, you often feel guilty for taking out time out for yourself but Ned emphasized the importance of investing in your relationships because it’s those family and friends who will sustain you in the long term.

Later in the evening, attendees came together for what was a beautiful culmination to a truly powerful week at the Bush Dinner. The tent came alive with two explosive performances by South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela and Kenya’s very own Juliani. But it was Jacqueline’s address that captivated the room as she spoke about the exchange of ideas, beliefs and philosophies shared over the last few days and the community built here in Naivasha that transcends borders, boundaries and lines of differences. We hope that you heed her advice and leave the Global Gathering with renewed conviction and courage and, even as you return to your respective homes, continue to hold each other up, feel one another’s strength and be each other’s sanctuary.



We are thrilled to announce Andrea Soros Colombel’s return to Acumen’s Board of Directors. Andrea played an integral role in the development of Acumen as a Founding Partner in 2001, then deepening her commitment by serving on the Board from 2005 to 2014. During that time, she helped shepherd a number of major projects at Acumen, including the inception of our portfolio of off-grid energy companies. Andrea has returned to the Board after three years and we welcome her thoughtful leadership and generous support. [Read More]

Models of High-Level Partnerships with Social Enterprises: Venture Partnerships

How can corporations and social enterprises partner to create a world that works for everyone? On April 4, 2017, Acumen hosted a workshop on high-impact partnerships for leading social enterprises, global corporations, and the organizations that work to link them as a part of the Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Events, to explore this question. Supported by EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the session explored three different kinds of partnerships: Skills, Channel and Venture. [Read More]

A Cleaner Path: Solar Energy’s Impact on Health

Imagine for a moment that the light used in your home was a poison. One that could damage your lungs, irritate your eyes, even impact the health of your unborn child. You’d think twice about flicking on that switch. Kerosene lamps—used by an estimated 290 million people across Africa—contribute to household air pollution. Such pollution is responsible for more deaths a year than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV combined. [Read More]

Acumen Hosts Workshop on Building High-Impact Partnerships at Skoll World Forum

Acumen, with support from EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer, and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, is hosting their second Beyond Dialogue workshop today as a part of the Skoll World Forum. The event, Beyond Dialogue: Three Models for High Impact Collaboration, will bring together leading global corporations, innovative social enterprises, experts and intermediaries to work together to uncover new knowledge and opportunities to partner. [Read More]

Day 2 Recap: AcumenGG17

As morning broke on Day Two, the grounds of the Great Rift Valley Lodge & Resort were dotted with Good Society groups. Cohorts joined together, bringing a diversity of perspectives, for revelatory, at times tough, but ultimately enriching discussions built around Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Yunus Emre’s “The Drop That Became the Sea.” [Read More]

Day 1 Recap: AcumenGG17

It only seemed fitting that the Global Gathering kicked off with the vibrant colors and electric rhythms of East Africa. Adorned in Maasai cloths, the East Africa Fellows—with some help from the Global Fellows—set the tone for a day of nonstop energy and inspiring conversation. [Read More]

What Women Can Do

In these uncertain times, when progress towards a more just world sometimes seems to be slowing, or even reversing its course, I often ask myself the question, what can I do? It’s easy to feel small or isolated in the face of so many challenges, many of which seem to have escalated over the past few months. [Read More]

Lighting the Way: A Look at Solar Energy’s Impact on Poverty Alleviation

In the last decade, solar lanterns have emerged as a clean, cost-effective solution to provide access to modern energy to the 1.2 billion people currently living off-grid. These small, portable and rechargeable lights fulfill an immediate need for the poor and, as a result, have become increasingly widespread in countries across Africa, South Asia and beyond. They are affordable, easy to use and require little maintenance. And for families who’ve become accustomed to life stopping when the sun sets, a solar lantern can mean hours of light to enjoy dinner together, do homework for class tomorrow, or keep a business open a little later. [Read More]