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.


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]