On The Ground


Viewing problems as opportunities

Although I’ve visited Pakistan often, interning with the Acumen Fund Lahore office has been my first time working here.  My takeaway from the experience is probably something that’s as plain as day for everyone else working at Acumen. It’s really just a shift in perspective.  From one angle, especially as an outsider, you can look at this country and only see a myriad of problems. I did. On my trips here I would see the poverty, the poor infrastructure, the crime and violence. And from visit to visit, there rarely seemed to be any indication of progress – in fact, some things seemed to get worse.

Working with Acumen Fund has made me realize that you can flip that perspective on its head and think of these problems as opportunities. They’re unmet needs that are waiting for a solution.

With the frequent power outages (the electricity just went out as I’m writing this), you can’t help but think about the energy sector when you’re in Pakistan. The gap in peak demand and supply on the national electricity grid is over 5GW, which is equivalent to 25 percent of overall demand. It’s a massive shortfall that’s all the more glaring considering that it ignores the 38 percent of the population who are off the grid. Entrepreneurs I’ve been working with through Acumen have shown me how this problem has created an opportunity for solar power.

If you’re on the grid, solar power is more expensive than conventional sources of power, but off-grid is a completely different story. The off-grid consumer buys kerosene for the lantern which lights his home, and travels to the nearest on-grid shop to charge his mobile phone for a fee. This consumer has modest electricity needs, so when you actually design for his needs you end up with a product that pays for itself in kerosene savings within 3-6 months and causes a dramatic change in his quality of life. Add on-the-ground marketing and sales teams, mix in credit from microfinance banks, and you’ve just opened up a market of over 10 million homes.

That’s turning a problem into an opportunity, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The market is so underdeveloped in some sectors, that I feel that in a 10 minute conversation with friends you can come up with a few good business ideas.  All the inefficiencies – in agriculture, in industry, in healthcare, in education, in financial services, etc. – they all represent tons of untapped potential. Viewed from that angle, in a lot of ways a developing country like Pakistan actually offers a lot more opportunities than a developed country like the US. The caveat in all this is that execution here is harder (and execution is, of course, key), but if you have the business acumen to execute and the patience to listen to your market, then the potential for impact is huge.


Faisal Tajdar will be joining McKinsey & Co this fall as a Junior Associate based in their Middle East Office.  He recently completed his masters in Materials Science at Caltech, where he worked in the Atwater Group researching novel materials for solar cells.


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]