Press Releases

Click to see my talk at TEDWomen

Letter From Jacqueline Novogratz – Winter 2011

Dear Acumen Fund Community,

Click to see my talk at TEDWomen

The year 2011 has many of us around the world trying to catch our breath and make sense of all that is happening at home and elsewhere. Think about the Middle East and North Africa! Egypt has unleashed a global recognition that change is possible – and people want to be a part of that change. And if any words stood out among the protestors, they were Dignity and Freedom. This is a year influenced by social media, rising food prices, unstable markets, unpredictable weather and the growing understanding that we are all impacted directly and indirectly by all of it.

For Acumen, the confluence of events has reinforced our own growing sense of urgency. In 2011, Acumen Fund turns ten years old. (We are celebrating our anniversary this November 9th and 10th in New York City.) This is a year of reflecting on what we’ve learned over the past decade and planning for the future. In Acumen’s next chapter, we intend to expand our geographic presence and accelerate our efforts to invest in innovative companies, leaders and ideas for ending poverty around the world.

There is a lot of work to be done. I’m thrilled to announce our new India Country Director, Meghna Rao, who brings a wealth of operational and investing experience to Acumen. In her new role, Meghna is focused on doubling our India portfolio from $25M to $50M in the next few years as well as demonstrating outsized impact and growing our local community. And the team has just moved offices from Hyderabad to Mumbai.

Amitabha Sadangi (in orange) of GEWP is creating increased income - and choice - for smallholder farmers

Having just returned from India, I’m excited by the progress of many of our investments, and the learning that comes from using the market as a listening device. Global Easy Water Products (GEWP, our for-profit drip irrigation investment) and its sister non-profit IDE India have served more than 330,000 farmers. Founder Amitabha Sadangi points to metrics that include higher income levels for the farmer (for some, an increase to $5-6 a day, from a start point of $1-2) combined with a 50% reduction in water use, lower electricity costs to the farmer and higher land productivity. Moreover, GEWP has seen sales triple in the past three years and is operating profitably.

What farmers gain most of all from the increase in agricultural productivity, of course, is choice. Interestingly, farmers tend to follow regional patterns for how they use profits. In Maharashtra where I visited, farmers typically invest in upgrading their farms (new equipment, better seeds and fertilizers). In Karnataka, according to Amitabha, farmers will more likely invest in their children’s education. Culture matters – and listening to the preferences of different groups will teach us how to better address real needs.

GADC, our first investment in Uganda, is improving livelihoods in a region recovering from decades of strife.

One of our newest agricultural investments is GADC, our first investment in Uganda. GADC is a commercial cotton ginnery with operations in Gulu District in Uganda, a part of the country plagued by 25-years of civil strife and horrendous violence (it is estimated that war left 1.4 million citizens in the north homeless.) Acumen Fund co-invested with Root Capital to enable GADC to purchase conventional and organic seed cotton from smallholder farmers. Already, we’re seeing significant progress among the 30,000+ farmers, and GADC has plans to expand its operations and enable a beleaguered people to work on solving their own problems. GADC is now exploring opportunities to introduce sesame and other crops to its farmers to further enhance their agricultural livelihood and redevelop the agricultural ecosystem of the region.

In 2011, we are actively exploring expansion to a new geography: West Africa, starting with Ghana and Nigeria. Our colleague Catherine Casey moved to Accra, Ghana in January to examine possibilities for establishing an office that would work with the local business community, secure funding and, if feasible, make 1-2 investments this year. Key to this is not only the local business community and pipeline of potential investments but also our ability to raise significant funding for operations and investing. I am actually writing this letter from Accra, where Catherine and I have been meeting with committed entrepreneurs, thought leaders and students. I’ve been struck by a sense of optimism about the future, and look forward to learning more in these next months – and thank everyone who has been so generous and kind with their time.

Finally, the first weeks of 2011 have reminded me at every level how fragile our lives are, and how the work of using patient capital to release the energies of low-income individuals is so connected to our collective human journey. In late January, we had a truly special event. George Mathew, the irrepressible Artistic Director of Music for Life International, brought together more than 250 musicians and singers to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall for the flood survivors of Pakistan, and for Acumen Fund specifically. The musicians and singers all volunteered their time, and many flew across the country. As the musicians played, projected pictures that I took of the flood survivors last summer seemed to float above the orchestra.

I will never forget that evening and feel profoundly grateful to George and the orchestra. The last two weeks of December had been extremely difficult ones for my family and community. On December 21st, the universe took Acumen Fund’s dynamic, 27-year old volunteer chapter leader Jessica Fashano, and less than a week later, we lost my darling 24-year old stepdaughter Zoe. We will forever feel their loss, but are determined to keep the spirits of these incredible young women alive through our work, and the way we live our lives.

Grief releases love and it also instills a profound sense of connection. While in India, I went running in Bandra West near our new offices in Mumbai. The area’s promenade is along the part of the sea that recedes a quarter mile from the land each dawn, leaving muddy, rocky fields where hundreds of men walk to find space where they can wash and use the toilet in public view while trying to preserve some sense of dignity. While I’ve seen this scene countless times, on this particular morning I thought of each individual man, the hardships they face daily, the suffering and losses they each know, the cruelty of their lives. I know if I met them in one of our companies, many would smile at me and tell me good things about their situations. And I suppose that is what life holds – seemingly unbearable pain and exquisite beauty, numbing loss and gorgeous new life all mixed in a swirl of hope and anger and possibility and despair, all bound by how much we need one another.

Life is a mystery. In December, I was honored to speak at TEDWomen. I ended that talk with a simple phrase: “Our lives are so precious and our time on earth is so short. And all we have is each other.” Those words proved truer than I could have imagined when I first shared them.

I could not feel luckier to work with our global community and feel a deeper commitment than ever before to the very philosophy of Acumen’s work which is embedded in the recognition of and commitment to a world in which every one of us is equal and deserving of a chance to do and be all they can dream. Thank you for being a part of it.

With hopes for renewal and peace,

Jacqueline Novogratz


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]