Our World


The Last Hunger Season

How can those who grow food for a living possibly remain hungry? This is the question Roger Thurow grapples with in his new book, The Last Hunger Season. Through personal narratives and powerful data Thurow conveys the plight of smallholder farmers throughout rural Africa. The story follows the lives of four farmers as they endure the every-day trials and tribulations that come with tilling the soil. Poor seeds, bad soil and unreliable metrics are just a few of the many barriers that prevent these individuals from securing adequate nutrition, housing and education. Through their daily toil, Thurow highlights the harsh and needless hurdles many must climb to achieve basic security and sustenance. Thurow makes clear that with just slightly improved distribution systems and markets for input, he would be telling a very different story.

The book begins with the farmers embarking on a year-long commitment to the One Acre Fund, a social enterprise dedicated to providing basic farm inputs, training and market access to smallholder farmers, and an organization that we at Acumen Fund greatly admire. Each individual story is imbued with different incentives and characteristics, but the underlying motive for all is to produce a high enough yield to feed and educate their families properly.  Up to now the presence of the “wanjala” or the “hunger season” has pervaded every aspect of their lives, and the common goal is to keep “the wanjala on the run.”

Today agriculture is the source of livelihood for an estimated 86 percent of rural inhabitants around the world. The region Thurow writes about has one of the highest agriculture outputs per acre, but individually millions of farmers are still struggling to get by. Here, yields of maize, wheat, rice and other crops can often lag as much as 90 percent behind yields of farmers in other parts of the world. The clear culprit is a lack of resources – both financial and educational.

This is a concern we have been addressing for the last four years at Acumen Fund. Acumen’s Agriculture Portfolio was launched in 2008 and since then we have been targeting solutions for the very issues Thurow highlights. The focus of our Agriculture investments include improving distribution, substituting better seed variations, and creating more accessible financial systems for farmers. One of our recent investments, Virtual City, is a mobile technology service provider that allows smallholder farmers to connect more directly to markets, resulting in significant earning increases. The innovations behind Virtual City address the inefficiencies and corruption that have traditionally denied hundreds of thousands of farmers their full due from the crops they produce.

Throughout The Last Hunger Season, Thurow emphasizes the importance of individual empowerment – something that is crucial to Acumen’s mission. We believe that giving people the tools with which to change their own lives leads to sustained progress and innovation. As outlined in our “Ten Things We’ve Learned About Fighting Global Poverty“, we believe dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth, and what keeps people from achieving their full potential is  lack of choice and opportunity.

Towards the end of Thurow’s book, the reader is taken to a tense hospital scene where one of the farmer’s children is in critical care. After numerous drug purchases and much medical attention the child eventually comes to. The farmer then gathers her family and thanks “God for their One Acre Harvest,” which had given them the means to tackle and afford all the health necessities. The book ends with an exuberant Christmas  of food and hope. One is left believing that these four farmers have permanently “buried the wanjala.” And that with access to the right resources, smallholder farmers across the globe can do the same.

The book made the issues and challenges faced by small-holder farmers vivid and conveyed a sense of both urgency and possibility. I recommend the book to those who want to gain a better understanding of the realities faced by many of the world’s rural poor, as well as to those interested in seeing what is possible as solutions emerge to give farmers the tools, resources and linkages they need to get out of poverty.

Emma Vaughn is a Communications Summer Associate at Acumen Fund. She is pursuing an MBA at Columbia University.


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]