Acumen Blog

Jenny Sia, Pfizer’s Director of Corporate Responsibility, and Miguel Garza CFO of Clinicas del Azucar discuss and share lessons from their partnership. Clinicas del Azucar is a recipient of grant funding through Pfizer’s Global Health Grants & Investments Program.

Skills Partnerships: Start with Listening

The relationship between the social sector and the corporate world is complex. Skills Partnerships have emerged as a way of engaging both sectors. This form of engagement may have started with activities like leveraging a corporation’s expansive workforce to build a house for the homeless or help underprivileged students with their resumes, but it has since evolved to include highly skilled workers sharing their expertise with all types of organizations.

On paper, leveraging the expertise and resources of the private sector to catalyze the social sector—a sector known to be underresourced—but it’s always different in practice. The nuance of the structure of these partnerships was the focus for Acumen’s Beyond Dialogue Workshop, which brought to light important conversations around different types of partnerships.

During the workshop held at Oxford, Jon Shepard, Director of EY’s Enterprise Growth Services shared his journey of building this function within a corporation. “I was driven by the need I saw to fill a gap in the market and work with social entrepreneurs innovating to solve the world’s biggest challenges,” he said, “as well as the desire I see from EY employees to get involved and support these true legacy builders.”

Willem Nolens, CEO of Acumen investee Solar Now, also shared how his experience working with EY triggered a review of company values and resulted in new incentive structures and compensation packages. He talked about how catalytic this type of consultation can be and how important it is for corporate partners to understand the commitment required to work with a social enterprise. “Our companies are moving, iterating, learning as fast as we can to survive, to grow,” he said. “The people who work with us need to understand the level of resources we have and the weight of each of our actions. People who come in knowing this, as EY did, are better equipped to add value for us.”

Jeff Dykstra, CEO of Partners in Food Solutions, shared how his consortium works, bringing employees of leading global food companies with entrepreneurs, by turning the conversation to two of its partners, Ian Roberts, CTO of Bühler, and Pauline Gaceri, Managing Director of Sopa Supplies. Bühler, a Swiss technology company, helped Sopa, a maize and flour processing company from Nairobi, improve its operations. “Sopa Supplies is on a new trajectory now,” Pauline said. “We received direction on everything from food processing to cleanliness to how to improve production and keep standards. We are accomplishing more and more each day.” It wasn’t just Sopa that was impacted; Roberts shared how important these engagements are for Bühler employees to to learn and understand where innovation is happening, gain new skills, and bring this knowledge back into their roles.

To round out the discussion, Doug Galen, CEO of RippleWorks, a San Francisco organization that focuses on bridging the gap between the needs of social entrepreneurs and the expertise of corporate partners, talked about the challenges of sourcing talent to sustain growth as enterprises scale. Galen shared a number of solutions he has seen work, and it is Rippleworks’s success in matchmaking social entrepreneurs with corporate experts that demonstrates the tremendous opportunity these partnerships can hold when designed with both parties’ needs in mind.

If social enterprises can be specific when laying out their needs and corporations can match the demand and understand the commitment required to be a true partner, there is real potential with Skills Partnerships. As corporations increasingly embed social and environmental impact into their ethos, skills partnerships provide a powerful way to bring real value to both kinds of companies.

Avery Loise Bang is CEO of Bridges to Prosperity and an MBA Candidate at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.


Warning: Fake internship post on WhatsApp in our name in East Africa

It has come to our attention that an anonymous source in the East Africa region is soliciting individuals over social media and WhatsApp to provide personal information to apply for an Acumen paid internship. THIS IS A SCAM. The false solicitation includes a link to a Google form asking for personal and sensitive information, which could easily be used for identity theft; you should NOT submit any information through the provided links over social media. PLEASE BE CAREFUL and if you have already submitted information, consider taking steps to protect your information and identity. If you are interested in Acumen, opportunities are posted on our website at, which is Acumen’s primary channel for recruiting. [Read More]

Solar Home Systems: Over-investment or overvaluation?

When you hear the term “unicorn,” you usually think of Silicon Valley. Your mind goes to companies like AirBnB and Snapchat, startups that seem to grow from zero to $1 billon overnight, not to social enterprises trying to bring energy to the poor. But we’re seeing a trend emerge in the off-grid sector, in which some young solar home system companies are being overvalued before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves. [Read More]


We are thrilled to announce Andrea Soros Colombel’s return to Acumen’s Board of Directors. Andrea played an integral role in the development of Acumen as a Founding Partner in 2001, then deepening her commitment by serving on the Board from 2005 to 2014. During that time, she helped shepherd a number of major projects at Acumen, including the inception of our portfolio of off-grid energy companies. Andrea has returned to the Board after three years and we welcome her thoughtful leadership and generous support. [Read More]

Models of High-Level Partnerships with Social Enterprises: Venture Partnerships

How can corporations and social enterprises partner to create a world that works for everyone? On April 4, 2017, Acumen hosted a workshop on high-impact partnerships for leading social enterprises, global corporations, and the organizations that work to link them as a part of the Skoll World Forum Ecosystem Events, to explore this question. Supported by EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the session explored three different kinds of partnerships: Skills, Channel and Venture. [Read More]

A Cleaner Path: Solar Energy’s Impact on Health

Imagine for a moment that the light used in your home was a poison. One that could damage your lungs, irritate your eyes, even impact the health of your unborn child. You’d think twice about flicking on that switch. Kerosene lamps—used by an estimated 290 million people across Africa—contribute to household air pollution. Such pollution is responsible for more deaths a year than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV combined. [Read More]

Acumen Hosts Workshop on Building High-Impact Partnerships at Skoll World Forum

Acumen, with support from EY, Sainsbury’s, Pfizer, and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, is hosting their second Beyond Dialogue workshop today as a part of the Skoll World Forum. The event, Beyond Dialogue: Three Models for High Impact Collaboration, will bring together leading global corporations, innovative social enterprises, experts and intermediaries to work together to uncover new knowledge and opportunities to partner. [Read More]