Acumen Blog


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!


Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil is the founder of Aatman Academy, a school for children with learning disabilities (LD) in Thane, India. The need for a specialized learning environment in a country the size of India springs primarily from sheer numbers. A typical classroom at a government school in India ranges from 30-50 students with even the most elite private institutions averaging more than 25. It is difficult if not impossible for teachers to address the disparate needs of such a wide variety of learners and in general it is the neediest who are left behind.  Manjushree’s career spans almost three decades and includes teaching at the preschool and middle school level in addition to leading training programs for more than 20,000 special education teachers across the globe.  When she became the head of a prestigious international school, it was clear to Manjushree that children with LD not only need inclusion, but integration into an educational system that makes learning easy, uncomplicated and fun. Though she began the role with high hopes for change, the pressure to increase admissions and revenues soon swallowed most of her bandwidth. When asked by a fellow educator what drove her to found Aatman, Manjushree replied “My helplessness”.

Wall of Appreciation

In January 2011, armed only with a clear sense of purpose and a handful of dedicated teachers, the idea for Aatman was born. Aatman opened its doors in June 2011 with just three students and has grown to more than 35 today. Manjushree’s mantra which Aatman shares is “If I’ve willed it. I will Build It” and this humble tenacity radiates  through the school’s culture. Despite running on tight finances, Manjushree and her staff have vowed not to focus on quantity of students enrolled, but rather on the quality of their curriculum. Shilpaa Vaidya, Aatman’s head of curriculum, has been with Manjushree since the dream began. Like countless other teachers at Aatman, Shilpaa left her secure job as Head of Primary Education at an international school for the chance to work in  a purpose driven innovative environment. Teachers have the freedom to try promising new techniques and students have the freedom to learn at their own pace. Aatman class sizes are no more than 10-15 allowing for one-on- one tutoring to happen throughout the regular school day rather than during costly and time consuming after school tutoring.  Aatman believes in looking past the report card to help each child get to know their unique gifts and provide a launching point for future learning.  The school is a hive of activity. The students are co-creators of not only their physical space but also of the values and rules that will govern their learning environment. As you enter you are greeted by students from grade 5 to 10 working together to set goals for the year ahead, shed nervousness, grow bravery, shed fear, grow joy. As you wind your way up the staircase past gratitude trees, walls of appreciation,  and countless pieces of artwork you begin to get a sense of warmth that infuses everything that is done here.  When asked what keeps her going through the countless hours of overtime each week, Manjushree says simply “Hearing parents tell me, you gave me my child back. Thank You”.

wall 2

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King


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]