Acumen Blog

Economic lives of the poor

Understanding how poor people make economic choices and how their spending decisions are shaped is fundamental to providing them with affordable good and services such as housing, clean drinking water and health services and products. If we can become better at identifying what people want and what they choose to spend their meager incomes on (rather than assuming we know what they need), we can move closer to giving them access to those resources. [Read More]

Essay competition on business and development

The world needs good, crisp writing on delivering goods and services to people making less than four dollars a day. Especially interesting are the business models that may work in terms of delivering critical goods and services like clean water, healthcare and housing to the poor. The IFC and Financial Times have launched an essay competition on “Business and Development: The private path to prosperity” to promote best thinking on the role of business, development and social entrepreneurship. We hope friends of Acumen Fund contribute. [Read More]

Learning from designers

Maybe because I was grouped with the “design” participants, another key learning from Davos was this: Innovate, design, and problem-solve based on the voices and concerns of the people you want to reach and serve. Boundaries are blurring, the divides are increasing (based on perception if not reality). So the road to workable solutions lies with starting with who you want to reach and not bringing a top-down solution to their problems. The world is readier than ever for new approaches that are created from the bottom-up. The high number of designers who were exploring such issues is a testament to how far the world has come. We are learning a lot about the poor. We now need to be more effective in building systems that allow them to make their own decisions and choices. [Read More]

Reality and perception at Davos

Perceptive reality was a theme that appeared over and over at the WEF meeting. People make decisions in their lives based on their own world view as well as their own sense of fairness. Whether economic disparity is truly increasing or decreasing is much less important than the perception that not only is it increasing more quickly than ever but that some people are being left entirely out of the global economy. This is what matters – whether people believe they have a chance at joining the global marketplace. If they don’t – but see their neighbors or fellow countrymen doing it, then unhappiness sets in. Whether talking about economic disparity or religious tensions, the same holds true, which has enormous implications for getting different religious groups to sit down and talk to one another. [Read More]

One World at the World Economic Forum

At Davos, more than ever before, I felt a sense that boundaries between government, the private sector and the nonprofit sector are blurring to much positive effect. If corporations used to think about Corporate Social Responsibility in terms of good brand marketing, they now are looking at it with a much stronger focus on metrics, a reminder of what they are trying to do. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are adopting better business practices, are speaking the language of markets and are searching for new capital formation strategies and partnerships to extend their reach and make their work more effective. If any sector was less evident at Davos, it was the public sector. However, we need government not only to scale different interventions, but more important, we need government to provide the environment, the frameworks that allow for more flexible investment and the easier creation and management of enterprises. Increasingly, private initiative resources and initiative will solve tough public issues and these innovations will move more quickly and at larger scale than ever before. [Read More]

Impressions from a Davos rookie

For a first-timer, the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos can be completely overwhelming. There were nearly 2,400 delegates – not to mention 2,400 WEF staffers and 9,000 police officers. After five days of meeting hundreds of people, I came away exhausted but with a great sense of privilege from being in that beautiful place with so many people who not only care but want to do something about the world. I left the meeting with a number of insights and ideas, which I will write about in subsequent posts. [Read More]

The importance of legal title in housing

A good column by Hernando de Soto on the importance of title and housing appeared in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune. The lack of title and legal ownership prevents people from moving from an income-based cycle, which too easily keeps people forever in poverty, to an asset-based one whereby the poor can borrow against their homes to invest in other productive activities like their own businesses or education. It is worth reading and thinking about how Acumen Fund might integrate itself into this wider discussion. [Read More]

90 minutes in Paradise

I just wanted to recommend “Paradise Now,” a thoughtful, human and riveting Palestinian film about two suicide bombers. It lifts the importance of Acumen Fund’s message in many ways, underscoring how critical it is to understand issues of identify, of otherness in our work and that key to change really is providing opportunity, hope and a sense of dignity to individuals who can then solve their own problems. One of the best movies I’ve seen. [Read More]