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.”


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]

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]

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]