Acumen Blog

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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!

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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”.

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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”.

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

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Acumen, Dow and Unilever Support Social Enterprises Across East and West Africa Through Technical Assistance Initiative

Acumen, together with The Dow Chemical Company and Unilever, launched its third annual Collaboration Summit in Nairobi today. Bringing together Acumen’s social enterprises from East and West Africa with leading international companies, the summit is part of Acumen’s Technical Assistance Initiative, which aims to accelerate the growth and impact of enterprises working in agriculture, energy, health care, and water and sanitation to better serve the region’s poor. By creating an occasion for emerging companies and multinational corporations to collaborate, the summit cultivates partnerships to bring social enterprises to scale and establish sustainable businesses committed to alleviating global poverty while also improving standards of living and expanding opportunities for the poor to lead lives of dignity. [Read More]

Acumen Launches to Tackle Poverty in Latin America

Acumen today announced its expansion to support social entrepreneurship in Latin America. The pioneer in impact investing will be headquartered in Bogotá and will invest in innovative entrepreneurs and enterprises in Colombia and Peru to drive faster, sustainable solutions to poverty and create new paths forward to tackle economic inequality. While extreme poverty in Latin America has declined by half, more than 80 million people still live on $4 a day and more than 200 million are at risk of being pulled back into poverty by economic instability and climate change. [Read More]

Acumen Increases Its Efforts to Improve India’s Private Education With New Investments

Acumen announces its new investment in Ignis Careers and Standard of Excellence in Education and Development (SEED) to improve the current state of low-cost, private education in India. India has the largest kindergarten to 10th grade system in the world with more than 1.6 million schools. More than 96 percent of children, ranging from ages 6 to 14, are enrolled in school. However, the quality of education is poor, and half of the children in Grade 5 can only read at a Grade 2 level. [Read More]

How You Can Help: The Nepal Earthquake

On Saturday, April 25th, an earthquake with magnitude 7.8 shook the country of Nepal, as well as parts of northern India. Hitting south of Kathmandu, the earthquake killed more than 3,800 people and injured more than 7,100 as of Monday morning. It is the worst to hit the region in 80 years, and aftershocks and tremors continued to rock the country over the past 48 hours. [Read More]

Welcoming Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Director

We are pleased to announce Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Country Director. Naeem’s 25-year career combines experience in venture capital with multiple high-level operational and leadership roles. Naeem worked at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley, helping build companies in the digital, new media and wireless broadband space. In Pakistan, he was CEO of Wateen Telecom, where he restructured the publicly listed company, turned around the business and repositioned it for growth, to take the company from losing $2 million per month to generating $1 million in positive cash flow over a matter of three years. He was also a founding member of Pakistan’s leading telecom company Mobilink and, as a part of its senior leadership team, built a nationwide fiber-optic network through the acquisition of four companies that now form Mobilink’s broadband division. [Read More]

Catalyzing the Growth of Social Enterprises with SAP

To accelerate the growth of our social enterprises in East Africa and India, we have joined forces with global business software leader SAP. Leveraging SAP’s technology and global business expertise, this unique collaboration will bring together Acumen entrepreneurs working in different sectors and countries to deepen their business capabilities and expand access to solutions to help them address global poverty. [Read More]

Dispatch from Pakistan: Hope in Place of Fear

There is fear in the streets of Pakistan. I sit in traffic, just a few hundred feet from my hotel where my next meeting is scheduled. I could arrive at my destination in five minutes if I walked, but it is not advised to walk. On the right side of my car, four men pointing automatic weapons stand in the back of a police van. Just in front is a black SUV with four commandos in the back, each with AK-47s, I think, though I’m no expert in guns. Let’s just say they are very big and look very menacing. A few cars to the left is another gun-filled vehicle pushing other cars out of its way, presumably to join the caravan of the armed. Sirens are wailing. [Read More]