Acumen Blog

“A-Ha!” moments and values-in-action: a glimpse of work at Acumen Fund

A version of this post appeared previously on the blog of the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Every Monday morning, I sit with the rest of the office for an all-staff meeting. Each team shares updates from the past week and summarizes important upcoming meetings and deliverables. This doesn’t seem unusual. These types of Monday morning meetings happen in companies everywhere.

But then, I participate in a weekly Acumen Fund tradition: the sharing of personal “a-ha” moments regarding our work and stories of people living Acumen’s values (“values-in-action”), such as empathy and dignity. This is what energizes me in a way no other job has. Here is a smattering of conversations that took place during (and sometimes continued long after) these meetings:

  • Discussion about NYTimes article by John Githongo called “In Africa, Wealth Breeds Wage,” which describes how economic growth has taken place but that increasing wealth disparity and rising social media exposure to higher living standards abroad have changed aspirations of the poor and caused anger. We discussed the notions of fairness, dignity, and empowerment of Base-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) populations through social impact investing.
  • Dialogue about Chimamanda Adichie’s great TEDTalk, The Danger of a Single Story. We talked about how it is critical for Acumen Fund and others involved in social enterprise to share stories about the people we encounter and our experiences in the countries where we work, and that we need to be careful about how we share these stories. Simplifying issues into digestible sound bytes is tempting, but runs the risk of misrepresenting the manifold challenges of development.
  • Conversation about a theory David Brooks shared at Aspen Ideas Festival that American culture has shifted over the past fifty years from a culture of self-effacement to a culture of self-expression, and how that has changed leaders’ attitudes and values. We reflected on what this means for leadership development programs such as Acumen’s Global and Regional Fellows programs.
  • After we celebrated World Metrics Day, we discussed the critical and complex task of measuring social impact. In particular, we talked about a unique metric that Bhutan uses to measure quality of life:  Gross National Happiness (GNH). This prompted discussion about what sort of information different metrics capture – or leave out – and reflection on which metrics we should track as impact investors. Should we track a few key metrics, or many? Could one metric capture the impact that we and our investees are trying to make? That’s a very difficult question. For example, I met with my Leadership Fellow Delano Brissett ‘11, who is working at Robin Hood Foundation this summer. He mentioned that Robin Hood Foundation tracks over 170 metrics when deciding how to allocate their funds to anti-poverty programs in NYC. Imagine collecting that amount of data for rural programs in developing countries that do not have the benefit of sophisticated computer systems to track data.

My summer internship
As a graduate student, I am interning with Acumen Fund through the Stanford Management Internship Fund. Acumen funds businesses that address critical needs of BoP populations (i.e.,  people living on less than $4 per day). Our investees have high potential for growth and often have financing needs that position them between what traditional philanthropists and commercial investors can provide. We call this philosophy of investing “patient capital.” Acumen Fund helped define impact investing as one of the first organizations to focus on investments  in businesses dedicated to social impact in the developing world, rather than philanthropic contributions to organizations involved in traditional approaches to aid and development.

I have been interested in working at Acumen Fund since about 2005, when I spoke with a friend who worked for Bain & Company. She had interned at Acumen Fund between her two years at business school. I was immediately struck by the significant shift taking place in our conversation about development. When we discussed Acumen’s approach, we were not talking about aid, charity, or inefficiency. Instead, we spoke about scaling businesses that create jobs in low-income areas and provide critical products and services to low-income populations. Putting capitalism to work for good. Perfect.

This summer, I am working with Acumen’s Portfolio team in New York, which collaborates with our Portfolio teams in Nairobi, Mumbai, and Karachi. In New York, our team sources opportunities, conducts due diligence, and undertakes strategic analysis of sectors and geographies we currently prioritize or might focus on in the future. Having worked in Swaziland and Kenya in 2009-2010, I was eager to work for an investing fund organization in the US to see what it feels like to work on development challenges remotely.

I am currently working on a variety of projects, which include conducting social impact analysis for a potential investment in Pakistan, facilitating a 16-person strategy offsite to help chart a critical part of Acumen’s vision over the next five years, and developing a point-of-view on a subsector of the Health portfolio.

I am excited to be working with an extremely talented team of people who have strategic and analytical acumen, and in an environment where people are passionate about contributing to an important cause.

Clare Hunt is a student at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and is an Acumen Fund Summer Portfolio Associate.


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]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]