Our World


Diving Deeper into “Deciding What ‘Works’”

Demonstrating impact is still one of the most elusive challenges facing social enterprises today.  Even with the increased focus on accountability and measurement that we’re seeing in the social sector, the debate continues on the best – and most efficient – way to measure the real difference these enterprises are making in the world.

The randomized control trial (RCT) has long stood as the “gold standard” for proving social and environmental impact.  But is it really our best option?  Steve Goldberg – author of Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets: Why Philanthropy Doesn’t Advance Social Progress – has illuminated many of the fundamental problems with this “purist” approach to evaluation. That’s why we believe his blog post, “Deciding What ‘Works,’” is a must-read.

Aside from the exorbitant cost of RCTs, Goldberg makes a strong  case for why this method does not hold water as the exemplar of measurement in the evolving social enterprise sector. He also points towards several reasons why RCTs may not be as methodologically compelling as they have been previously touted in the past.

We believe Steve’s article is important because it illuminates (and rightfully disagrees with) the conception that program evaluations should be carried out “after-the-fact,” and always demand the most exhaustive level of methodological scrutiny, which can often be crippling to organizations.

This is not to say Acumen Fund doesn’t insist on tracking metrics, and doing so meticulously.  And we have given one or two RCTs a shot.   Metrics, and thinking about impact, are some of the most important drivers of our work, and we invite you to learn more on our approach by browsing the investment portion of our website and reading a piece I wrote a few years ago, “Simple Measure for Social Enterprise”.

Brian Trelstad is Chief Investment Officer at Acumen Fund.


Letter from Jacqueline: My Week in Ghana

I am writing on a return flight from Ghana. The country has not seen a single case of Ebola, yet the impact of fear is profound. As travelers enter the country, attendants screen for high temperatures. Hand sanitizer dispensers are omnipresent. Hotels and conferences have seen massive cancellations. Everywhere are constant reminders of our fragility and the strength of our connectedness. [Read More]

Six online courses we’re taking this year

+Acumen’s free online courses are a great way to learn tools that will help you develop both professionally and personally. Whether you are a social entrepreneur who wants to market to your customers or a young professional that wants to strengthen your leadership skills, we are offering six courses this Fall that will help you develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to change the way the world tackles poverty. [Read More]

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]