Acumen Blog

It’s all a balancing act: strategy, leadership, life

Another busy week as an Acumen Fund Fellow addressed issues of balance. The question of life balance is a particularly resonant one for me, given that I am juggling the needs of my family (a wife and 9-month-old son) with my responsibilities as a Fellow. It’s clear that such questions are common to every leader and would-be leader. But balance goes beyond just overcoming the divide between personal and professional lives. [Read More]

A place for profits in microfinance?

In a timely article, given the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, The New Yorker discusses the power and potential of microfinance as one way to lift people from poverty. One interesting thread of the article is around exactly how profitable enterprises serving the poor should be. It is a complex question: most microfinance organizations actually charge high interest rates to cover high transaction costs, and, once specific volumes are met, tend to be very profitable organizations. Other companies – certainly many of those supported by Acumen Fund – take years of subsidy before they move to break-even and financial sustainability. (It has to be remembered that the microfinance industry is now more than 30 years old. Its maturity allows for more sophisticated capital markets to evolve.) Finding ways to communicate the power of market-oriented approaches while recognizing the need for grant capital to build management capacity and overall infrastructure continues to be a major challenge for the social sector focused on supporting business approaches to solving social problems. [Read More]

Three views of Africa

The Acumen Fund Fellows have been fortunate to meet many inspiring leaders and engage in plenty of thought-provoking discussions over the past four weeks. The question about how to write and talk about Africa has been raised several times. In April, Jacqueline referenced “How to Write About Africa” on this blog and discussed it with the fellows during the first week of orientation. This piece exposes the simplicity of how most people write about Africa and inspired us to think about how to do it in a different way. [Read More]

The link between poverty and peace

Acumen Fund congratulates Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for winning the Nobel Peace Prize! We could not be prouder for knowing him and for being one member of a community that stands on his broad shoulders. I first heard of Dr. Yunus in 1985, and it was largely his work in Bangladesh that inspired me to work with a group of Rwandan women to start that country’s first micro-finance bank. More than twenty years later, Dr. Yunus has inspired thousands of individuals to start micro-finance banks that have reached scores of millions – poor people who otherwise would not have access to bank credit. He is a man who demonstrates that one person really can change the world. He also has shown that a quarter century is not a long time to create a movement that shifts our perceptions of poor people and, in turn, helps shift our perceptions of ourselves. Micro-finance is now mainstream, supported by the world’s biggest commercial banks and reaching into most countries on the planet. [Read More]