On The Ground

GADC_photoessay 11

A White Christmas in Northern Uganda

I recently spent a week in Northern Uganda visiting Acumen Fund’s first investment in a Ugandan business – Gulu Agricultural Development Company (GADC).

For those of you who have not read the press release or Fast Company article, Acumen Fund recently announced its investment in GADC, a cotton ginnery located in Gulu District in Northern Uganda. GADC buys cotton – much of it high-quality, organic cotton – from over thirty thousand smallholder farmers in the North of the country. Because of the devastation brought by the Lord’s Resistance Army, an infamously violent religious and political group, many of the cotton farmers were forced by the government into Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps for many years. Selling cotton to GADC is among the first sources of income with dignity that some farmers in the region have received for many years. In addition to providing them with access to markets, GADC offers farmers a wide range of extension services supported financially by Danida, the Danish development agency.

Beyond the social impact, I was excited to work on the GADC investment for several reasons. I enjoyed working alongside Amon Anderson, who heads Acumen Fund’s agricultural investments for East Africa and knows a tremendous amount about the sector. The investment is Acumen’s first in Uganda – an exciting foray into a country with strong growth prospects, capable entrepreneurs, and challenging poverty problems to tackle. It is also the first time that Acumen Fund has invested in an agricultural processing business. Agri-processing is a business model that offers tremendous opportunities to alleviate rural poverty, through businesses which provide support and market access to smallholder farmers. Agri-processors can add significant value to basic agricultural products through simple operations – such as drying fruit, pressing oilseeds or ginning cotton – and thus they receive higher prices that they can pass on to farmers. I don’t think this will be the last time we invest in this space

When I traveled to Uganda, I had just spent the past four weeks working on wrapping up the deal with GADC and with Root Capital, our partner and co-investor on this project. In early November, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts discussing the terms of the deal with Root; before too long, I found myself in Gulu itself. All the discussion I had seen on paper suddenly became real when I set foot on the grounds of the ginnery.

It was rewarding to see Acumen’s capital at work, and to see the impact that GADC is creating for the local farmers. Centurio, a GADC field officer who supports the farmers, took me “deep into the villages,” where the pace of cotton-selling is frenetic. I stopped by the cotton stores of Robert Okidi, an GADC-authorized cotton buyer. Robert buys and stores raw seed cotton before sending to the ginnery.

When I visited Robert, he was proud to show me his store, which had over three metric tons of cotton inside – a good start for late November. As I spoke with him, a short queue formed behind us with farmers politely waiting to sell their cotton to Robert. Many were carrying over 200 lbs. of cotton on the backs of bicycles, carted in from the fields nearby. For reasons unrelated to local production, cotton prices are at their highest point in human history; this means that farmers are enjoying record windfalls for their crop, even before taking into account any premiums for organic production.

Back at the GADC ginnery, the pace of work was hectic. Teams of workers collect the cotton, sort it into piles, gin it (“ginning” removes the cotton lint from the seeds), and pack it into bales for sale. GADC has already signed deals to sell hundreds of tons of cotton to international buyers. Because of its brisk sales, the company can’t afford to shut down the factory for too long; over a hundred local employees are needed to keep the operations running.

Although Acumen Fund’s model is one of patient capital, it is exciting to know that sometimes, our investments can have immediate impact if they support the right projects. Having seen firsthand the rapid impact that GADC has on the surrounding region, I’m confident that this is just such a project.

Read more on GADC in Acumen Fund’s press release, Fast Company article, and this blog post by Amon Anderson.

Alastair Green is a portfolio intern who works with Acumen Fund’s agricultural investments in East Africa. He is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is enrolled in his final year at Harvard Law School. He has been employed by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and has worked on Africa- and agriculture-related projects with TechnoServe, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the International Finance Corporation, and the Harvard Law & International Development Society. His personal blog can be found at: http://tanzlines.blogspot.com.


Comments

Reflections on the India Fellows Seminar

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here[Read More]

Adaptive Leadership in Action: Addressing Cultural Norms & Giving Women a Voice

In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change. [Read More]

Making Sense of Social Impact in Action: The Value of Educating Our Youth

At Acumen, one of the most common questions we get is how we measure social impact. Our newest +Acumen course – Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. – will provide an entry point for how to think about impact and we’ll share frameworks that help us define what to measure and why. Makoto Matsuura, founder of cobon a not-for-profit focused on youth education in Jakarta, Indonesia and Osaka, Japan, took a pilot version of this course and shared his reflections with us. [Read More]

Good news for philanthropists in the U.K. and Europe

We are excited to announce that Acumen now holds a CAF Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom. CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation, is a registered U.K. charity. By donating to Acumen through CAF, you can use Gift Aid if the amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax you’ve paid for the tax year in which you make your donation is at least equal to the amount of basic rate tax  [the charity or Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) and any other charities or CASCs] you donate to will reclaim on your gift. CAF will reclaim 25% Gift Aid from HM Revenue & Customs and pass this through to Acumen.  The donor can claim higher rate tax relief (for more information, please refer to CAF’s online resource, What Is Gift Aid?). [Read More]

d.light Leaders Named 2014 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

We are thrilled for our portfolio company d.light and Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO, along with cofounders Ned Tozun, President, and Sam Goldman, Chief Customer Officer, for being named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. d.light is a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures and distributes solar lighting and power products with primary markets in the developing world, today announced that d.light, along with 37 other individuals and organizations in the 2014 class, will be fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the World Economic Forum. [Read More]