Acumen Blog


Summer Spotlight: Punching Above One’s Weight

About five weeks into my summer internship at Acumen Fund, I came back to my seat after a meeting to find a financial company’s annual report on my desk topped with a sticky note.  The note was signed by my supervisor – Sasha Dichter – and read: “I really LOVE this.  Can we do something similar?”

One of my main assignments this summer was to craft Acumen’s own annual report. Excited about receiving enthusiasm and direction for this creative and conceptual assignment, I opened the report to the first page.  It was terrible.  There was no information, no insightful commentary on the company’s success in the past year – just arrows.  Schools of arrows, gaggles of arrows, arrows pointing different directions and forming different shapes.  It was the equivalent of doing an interpretive dance at a shareholders meeting.  Not the vision at all I had in mind – and definitely not something I am qualified to create.

I collected my thoughts and walked over to Sasha’s desk with the report in hand to clarify the issue.

“Hey Sasha?” I opened tenuously, trying my best to sound like a competent, clearheaded adult. “Can you help me understand your vision here?  It’s… a little vague…”

Sasha turned in his chair and laughed.  Turns out, the team had conspired to play a joke on me.  Everyone joined in laughing and Sasha explained their plan to see how I’d react to this (almost) totally demoralizing situation.

I tell this story to illuminate a side of Acumen Fund that outsiders don’t normally see.  The extraordinary output of the small Acumen Fund team can lead one (myself included) to believe that everyone here is very nose-to-the-grindstone without time for fun. That, or they’re supported by hundreds of socially-minded elves who left their jobs at the cobbler for a more engaging career at a social venture capital firm.  Turns out, there are no elves, just a great group of incredibly thoughtful, inspired, talented people with a wicked sense of humor to go with their drive for excellence.  And I do mean excellence – this firm punches far above its weight.

I enjoyed working in Communications & Business Development this summer not just because of the great team, but because of the opportunities it afforded me personally and throughout the organization.  As a former communications professional, it was incredibly rewarding to use my professional skill-set for social benefit.  I’ve always been passionate about the power of messages and Acumen Fund’s message makes the job that much easier – and that much more critical.

On another level, the comprehensive nature of my project required me to familiarize myself with Acumen Fund’s internal culture and external personality deeply and quickly.  The breadth of my assignment allowed me to speak with people in every department and geography, which helped me to integrate into the fabric of the organization. Equally important, my team consistently supported my contributions and pushed me to challenge myself to achieve outsized impact.  Although I’m leaving without having seen my project to full completion, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

It’s been a great summer – and it’s hard to leave.  As a token for my hard work, I’ve been promised an invitation to this year’s Investor Gathering and 10-Year Celebration.  And now it’s in writing – so no backsies.  See you in November.

Marin Kaleya is a MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School.


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]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka and Canada.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]