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


We Are Each Other’s Destiny

To reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to consider deeply our human interconnectedness and the world we want to build. Each year on this day, I re-read his extraordinary, elegiac “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to remember his commitment to human equality and the price he paid. I read it to remind myself of the power of idealism grounded in pragmatism. I read it to renew my belief in our individual and collective abilities to help bend the moral arc ever more toward justice. [Read More]

Let’s Work Together

Acumen has offices in New York, Mumbai, Karachi, Bogota, Nairobi and Accra. Last August, Avinash Mishra, a Senior Portfolio Associate in the India office, and Keya Madhvani, the Internal Communications Associate in the New York office, were nominated to attend the One Young World Summit in Dublin. Below, they share lessons learned at the summit.  [Read More]

Edubridge: Bridging the Skills Gap in Rural India

India’s demographic dividend is widely acknowledged as a strength that sets it apart from other emerging economies. One million young men and women enter the workforce every month, which will add up to an astounding 240 million over the next twenty years.  Rural youth make up two thirds of India’s population and are a major segment of these job seekers. At the same time, fast growing companies in retail, IT, BPO, banking and financial services struggle with finding employable staff, especially in rural areas.  Research shows that only 5-40% of the staff in such companies has undergone formal training. [Read More]

New Study By Acumen and Bain & Company Unveils How To Scale Adoption Of Agricultural Innovations

Acumen and Bain & Company today released Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations—a new report to help entrepreneurial companies, and others, unlock the potential of smallholder farmers through large-scale adoption of agricultural innovations and inputs. The report’s insights and findings—which are the result of interviews with more than 300 smallholder farmers, sector experts and pioneer firm management—demonstrate the transformative power of providing smallholder farmers with the right access to the right innovations at the right time. In parallel, the report addresses why very few pioneer firms have been able to achieve the scale needed to provide smallholder farmers with access to agricultural products and services that have the potential to increase their yields and pull them out of poverty. [Read More]

Why India’s Economic Growth Depends on Vocational Training

India has an enormous population of young people – over half of the 1.2 billion people are younger than 25 years old. Yet, only 2% of its 500 million person workforce has any skills or training. The majority work in the informal sector (90%), where there are few opportunities for education other than what workers ‘pick up’ on the job. This reality limits overall productivity, as well as upward mobility. [Read More]