Our World

Bio2013-JNovogratz-160x160

Letter from Jacqueline Novogratz – December 2013

I have just returned from a productive trip to Pakistan capping a whirlwind few weeks at the end of a whirlwind quarter. It has been quite a year.

Just this past week, our Pakistan Fellows held a phenomenal Innovation Conference as the capstone to their fellowship year. In addition to prominent thinkers and doers who attended, the conference showcased the work of Pakistan Fellows like Sumaira Gul who is building a waste management system to serve low-income communities in Rawalpindi; Ahmad Zeb who has de-radicalized and trained young leaders in Swat; and Waqas Ali, founder of Hometown, whose business makes and sells high quality handmade men’s footwear. The promise of the Fellows reflects the potential of Pakistan, providing role models, long-term pipeline, and next generation leadership.

By mid-2014, we will have Regional Fellows programs running in Pakistan, East Africa and India in addition to our Global program which is currently seeking applications for its ninth class. To give you a sense of the spirit of the Acumen Fellows, I would urge you to watch this video from our Investor Gathering held November 6th.

Indeed, the Gathering itself is a reflection of Acumen’s work, bringing together more than 200 supporters, entrepreneurs, board members and advisors from 15 countries. It is a day of accountability and a moment to reflect on what remains to be done. We start with our investment portfolio. Approved investments of $89 million in 82 companies have brought critical goods and services to more than 123 million low-income individuals, created 60,000 jobs, and catalyzed more than a half billion dollars of additional funding to our companies.

A number of companies are showing significant impact and growth. Pagatech, a mobile banking company in Nigeria has reached 1 million customers. GADCO is the largest rice producer in Ghana. GADC purchases organic cotton, sesame and chili from over 30,000 farmers in post-conflict Northern Uganda, injecting more than $8 million into the local economy.  d.light has now brought light sustainably to more than 24 million. Patient capital ultimately helps create companies that matter to the poor.

When you add our work in leadership to that of investing, we begin to see an eco-system growing, an enabling platform to harness capital, ideas and experimentation, bound by a common vision and values. In addition to our 129 fellows, +Acumen now counts more than 5,000 chapter members from 23 cities. More than 20,000 individuals from 154 countries have signed up for our online leadership courses.  From this has emerged a global community focused on creating new systems that approach investment as a means not an end, and aim to build solutions to poverty based in ideas of opportunity and dignity.

It starts with investments, and the change comes through people. LifeSpring Hospitals, a joint venture between HLL Lifecare Limited and Acumen, is a maternal healthcare company in India. Tricia Morente, Global Fellow (’08) worked with LifeSpring for three years, helping to grow it from one to nine hospitals. Nick Pearson, while on our East Africa team became determined to experiment with bringing the model to Kenya. Since founding his non-profit organization Jacaranda Health, no less than a dozen Acumen Fellows, team members and alumni have advised and supported him. In addition Jacaranda’s Clinical Director, Faith Muigai, is an East Africa Regional Fellow. She now has a partner in Baheirah Khusheim, Global Fellow from Saudi Arabia who is placed at LifeSpring in Hyderabad, India this year. Tricia continues to advise both LifeSpring and Jacaranda, and has created Kangu, to enable philanthropists to support the lowest-income women with safe access through these

and other companies. Acumen’s focus continues to be on supporting LifeSpring which now operates 12 hospitals and is on a growth trajectory to be one of the largest maternal health companies in India serving the poor. These interconnections built atop Acumen’s core work are now part of an ecosystem that is accelerating change and amplifying impact around the world.

Change is possible, though it often starts slowly. Each year, we learn more about what it takes to make early stage patient capital investments in entrepreneurs daring to go where markets and government have failed. While in Pakistan last week, we traveled to Pindi Gheb to see the work of SRE Solutions, a new investment bringing solar home systems to low-income people living off the grid (more than 40 percent of Pakistanis). Fakhar A. Khalifa, the company’s CEO, a Silicon Valley engineer, started by listening to low-income people. As in other places we’ve seen solar work, households want electricity to charge their cellphones and in hot places like parts of Pakistan, to operate a fan, as well as to light their homes. Indeed, many poor households will stretch for the more expensive option for the comfort of a fan in summertime.

SRE_1

We drove for hours along a rocky path into the hills of Pindi Gheb, a few hours outside Islamabad. Desert mountains, ancient landscapes under open skies carried my eyes to the horizon and back, my imagination a thousand years into history and back to the present. Finally, we reached an adobe home where a young woman in a red shalwar kameez watched over a donkey walking round and round a small mill, grinding corn into flour while her mother cooked over an open fire.  Two camels stood tied beneath a clothes line.

SRE_2The male head of household proudly showed us the lighting system turned on by a switch: sometimes what is most important cannot easily be measured. The more we learn about lighting, the more the on-off switch becomes a symbol of inclusion. 

Meanwhile, in Bahawalpur, an agricultural center in Punjab, Southern Pakistan, more than a quarter million farmers now borrowing agricultural loans from NRSP Bank, have deposited about $24 million. I thought about what it would take for SRE Solutions to progress from this early innovation stage of trying to understand its customers and helping them understand the promise of solar to the kind of scale NRSP is experiencing.  The road, like the path in the mountains is long, difficult.  In a country where energy is arguably the single most important intervention needed for development, this terrain must be traveled.

It starts with a willing entrepreneur like Fakhar; patient capital to enable him to experiment, a community to share lessons and provide additional support.  Through our new partnership with Bank Alfalah we are able to offer technical assistance to SRE as it navigates its path to scale. Our ecosystem should enable SRE to accelerate learning and executing through knowledge gained from other companies within our energy portfolio. And ultimately, our global community should learn from the insights generated, to spawn further experimentation in serving low-income populations.

This is how the world changes.  We solve problems by focusing on scaling solutions where possible, and simultaneously recognizing the need to nurture a learning community bound by shared values. This enabled ecosystem in turn has the potential to catalyze further experimentation. We are resolved to do this. And we are just getting started.

The poet Hafiz wrote, “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.”  The work of our energy portfolio is bringing light to areas of darkness, and in so doing, is releasing the human energies of millions.

Let me close this letter in the spirit of light and gratitude for the privilege of doing this work with so many people to create change in so many different ways around the world.  We need and appreciate your support.

Signature

Comments

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]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

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]

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]