Acumen Blog

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]

Designing for affordability

Happy New Year! A column about innovation in designing products for the poor appears in the International Herald Tribune. It’s very much in keeping with the Acumen Fund philosophy that the poor should be thought of and treated as consumers — solutions must be designed with their needs and constraints in mind. The article highlights the importance of the ruthless pursuit of affordability (sometimes forgoing fancy technology for simplicity) in designing technology to improve the lives of the poor. [Read More]

A view from a Pakistani social entrepreneur

Our housing entrepreneur, Tasneem Siddiqui, recently wrote this article in Pakistan Dawn. Tasneem is right not only about Pakistan but about the whole world — people are tired of waiting for governments to do things and are taking solutions into their own hands. Acumen Fund exists to identify, support, strengthen and highlight these initiatives which are driven by private citizens and companies for the most part. It is why we don’t focus first on policy, look warily at “pilot projects” and must have a good reason to go to conferences that move from theory and not what is happening on the ground. What the world needs now are concrete examples of real people doing real enterprises that bring scalable solutions to the poor – and that see the poor as consumers and not as passive recipients of charity. [Read More]