Our World


Systems versus pilots and the lessons of WaterHealth International

Acumen Fund investee WaterHealth International (WHI) announced earlier this week that it had closed a $15M round of financing from the International Finance Corporation. The financing – combined with WaterHealth’s Series D round of funding – will enable the company to bring purified, disinfected water to 3 million more people in more than 600 Indian villages (in addition to the 200 in which they currently operate).

Naturally, we at Acumen Fund are excited to see WaterHealth continue to grow up and out, serving more and more base of the pyramid customers with a critical service. But what’s even more interesting – and encouraging – is the range of co-investors that have stepped forward to support WHI. There’s Dow Venture Capital and SAIL Venture Partners; Johnson & Johnson Development and Plebys International; Dr. Anji Reddy and Acumen Fund. And now, with another huge commitment, the IFC.

We believe in building systems rather than one-off solutions or projects. Who doesn’t? Unfortunately, the process of international development aid grantmaking and monitoring seems to lend itself better to “new” and “pilot” projects – a grant to support something “innovative” or “paradigm-shifting” has a better chance of winning than one to support a “small, struggling – but growing – business”. Donors tire of the same old, boring projects – they want new ideas! – and funds shift around to the cause du jour.

Not so with investing, at least not in this case. WaterHealth International has been at this for 12+ years (it was founded in 1996). If WHI were a traditional development project, it would have had to re-apply for funding at least 4 times (the average development aid grant runs for 3 years). But as a company, WHI has been able to raise angel, Series A, Series B, Series C and now Series D rounds of funding, all based on financial and operational results. And after 12 years of learning, re-learning, adapting, adjusting and innovating – a process that continues – WHI is beginning to reach real scale.

Is WaterHealth International perfect? Some argue that its UV Waterworks technology is too expensive, and that reverse-osmosis filtering is a better BoP-oriented solution. But you can’t argue with results – millions of customers today, millions more in the next few years. And with the IFC dedicating $100M to “infraventures” (infrastructure projects in low-income communities), we’re beginning to see real progress in a space formerly dominated by top-down government and aid projects. I’ll raise a glass to that.


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 and Canada.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]