Acumen Blog


Monis Rahman Responds to Acumen Fund’s Lesson #4: We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities

Acumen Fund is committed to sharing the learnings we have collected over our past 10 years. In this spirit, we have published  a document called “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.” Each week on the Acumen Fund Blog, we will be posting the next lesson in this series of “10 Things,” along with a guest response from a valued member of our community.

4. We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities

There is a vast ocean between good intentions and impact.  Sustainable impact requires deep roots in local communities.  It requires understanding regional sensitivities, dynamics and nuances.   It requires indigenous entrepreneurs with passion and courage to navigate unchartered waters to do what has never been done before.  And sustainable impact requires nurturing through local capital and ownership of purpose within the communities in which they operate.

It was punishingly hot day in June 2007 when I pitched ROZEE.PK’s online recruiting tools to a senior Human Resource executive at one of Pakistan’s largest companies.  With a sympathetic smile, he explained that credible companies post jobs in newspapers, not on the Internet.  Around this time, a well-established international job portal was just winding up its operations in Pakistan after licking similar market wounds.  But we persisted and offered our services free of charge for over a year with stoic patience.   We didn’t have the option of packing up our bags and going back to Dubai.  Pakistan was home.  So we customized our products to bridge the chasm between incumbent practices and rapidly evolving innovation.  We persisted and catalyzed a market that was not eager to change, because this was our market.  Today, four years later, more jobs are posted on ROZEE.PK than all of the newspapers in Pakistan combined and over 150,000 people have found employment.

Similarly, we have seen millions of well-intentioned foreign aid dollars being spent on worthy causes with little impact time and time again due to a disconnect with local realities.  And yet we’ve also seen high impact indigenous social ventures touching thousands of lives and executed on shoe-string budgets.  The difference has come from local wisdom, ownership and engagement.

The lesson of cultivating local leaders, local money and strong local communities comes from dozens of inspiring and heroic examples of success from Acumen’s portfolio across six different countries.

Whether it is a local microfinance bank figuring out how to circumvent exploitive aartis to help farmers get higher prices for their produce or a low cost housing venture cutting through painful layers of government bureaucracy through the powerful networks of local investors, the lesson is clear.  Impact is not made simply through a sound analysis of a business model in New York – it is made by the magic that happens across oceans, on the ground thousands of miles away.

Monis Rahman is the Chairman and CEO of Naseeb Networks, a new media company in Pakistan focusing on consumer Internet applications. He is also an Acumen Fund Partner.

Click here for the full “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.”


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]

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! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]