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Hans Rosling

Skoll World Forum: Eyes on the Prize

After two and a half days at the Skoll World Forum, one can be left looking for more superlatives – fantastic; inspiring; brilliant.

Hans Rosling at the Skoll World Forum

The 2012 Forum, held last week in Oxford, was no exception. Social entrepreneurship’s move into the mainstream, and the quality of the fringe Oxford Jam event running in parallel, has challenged the curators to stretch the conversation far beyond the ‘what is social enterprise’ starting point that, until even quite recently, dominated the opening of so many social enterprise conferences.

The Forum’s theme of flux accurately reflected the challenges and opportunities that we face today. The plenaries and breakouts addressed broad issues, including ‘Beyond GDP’ and ‘faith and social enterprise’, and specific topics such as education and renewable energy. The Forum’s attendees also reflected this broad range, with representation from large government agencies, investors, academics, philanthropists, foundations and social entrepreneurs operating around the world.

Hans Rosling’s opening talk (from 23:00) on population ‘fill-up’ and leveling-off set the tone, educating and enthralling.  Rockefeller Foundation’s Dr. Judith Rodin, who delivered Acumen Fund’s 2011 Investor Gathering keynote address, chaired the opening panelists and social entrepreneurs discussion (from 47:00), relaying their success in addressing some of the world’s major challenges.

In addition to ‘social enterprise’, a newer term commonly heard at the Forum was, of course, ‘impact investing.’ Several speakers and sessions focused on this, including the excellent pre-Conference discussion led by Cathy Clark from CASE at DUKE on The Impact Investor: A Dialogue on Essential Best Practices for a Maturing Field, examining multiple topics relevant to General Partners and Limited Partners engaged in the field.

Yet throughout this and several other plenaries at the Forum, a phrase that I heard from another conference, TED 2012, recurred to me. Bryan Stevenson spoke about keeping our ‘eyes on the prize’ in the context of injustice – and I believe this is also a challenge we face as a rapidly growing ‘impact investing’ sector.

In particular, it feels like there may be a risk of confusing the means and ends of impact investing. Understanding the type of impact that we set out to achieve should act as the starting point.  Each impact investor has an opportunity to more explicitly articulate the social impact they hope to achieve and resultant level of expected financial return. Otherwise, we run the risk of ‘investing’ moving from being the means towards tackling poverty, to ‘investing’ becoming the ends unto itself.  Without having this conversation, we risk confusion.

As our sector grows, these are issues that we will have to address. Following on from the fantastic Skoll Awards ceremony, a regular guest of the Forum, Annie Lennox (below), dazzled the audience with a performance and encore that will live long in the memory. As she ad-libbed lyrics to “Sweet Dreams” (Are Made of This), weaving in thoughts on social enterprise, it acted as a proverbial reminder to keep our eyes on the prize, and to remember what are the means and what are the ends in what we do.


Vinay Nair is a Business Development Manager in Acumen Fund’s London office. Follow him on Twitter @vinaynair


Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]


Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

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]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [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]