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.


Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

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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]


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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

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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]