Acumen Blog

Two-pronged social impact

Africa - Frances (MM).jpgSometimes you see change in unexpected places, coming from unexpected people.

Meet Frances, a beaming driver for Advanced Bio-Extracts (ABE), a company that works with 7,000+ farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to produce a critical input into cutting-edge malaria treatment therapies, artemisinin. As a driver, Frances has job stability that many in Kenya lack, yet his income is still quite modest and his hours long. Frances lives with his wife and children in Nairobi, but a small, mountainous village two hours outside Nairobi is where he calls “home.” His parents and brother still live in the village and tend to small plots of maize, arrow root and French beans.

Having never farmed for a living, Frances is an unlikely candidate to grow artemisia. But he’s doing it. Frances recently planted 2,000 artemisia seedlings on his family’s land and he returns to his village whenever work permits, usually twice per month, to tend to them.

He’s frank about his inexperience:

“Frances, do you know how to farm?”


“But you’re growing artemisia?”


But he is optimistic about the opportunity. An entrepreneur in a driver’s body, Frances sees the potential for artemisia, which currently brings in four times more cash than maize. Yet, if you ask Frances exactly how much money he could make when it’s time to harvest his field of artemisia, Frances will tell you it does not matter. All that matters is that his experiment succeeds. If he can prove that high-quality artemisia can be grown on his family’s land, then he will be able to bring a new cash crop to his entire village.  Smallholder farmers throughout the region might be able to grow artemisia, start increasing their incomes, and finally pull away from the poverty line.

This is social impact. Not only does ABE produce a critical component of life-saving malaria treatments, the company is also causing a positive shift in the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers (and even a few drivers) in East Africa. 

That is not to say there is not risk in farmers shifting to artemisia. The market may change: demand for artemisia may fall, or oversupply may drive down the price. The farmers I’ve spoken with recognize these risks, and where possible are mitigating them by maintaining subsistence plots of maize (maize stalks also feed cattle), arrow root and French beans.

Yet, like Frances, many see an opportunity in artemisia, and ABE is trying to deliver on that opportunity.


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Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here[Read More]

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In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change. [Read More]

Making Sense of Social Impact in Action: The Value of Educating Our Youth

At Acumen, one of the most common questions we get is how we measure social impact. Our newest +Acumen course – Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. – will provide an entry point for how to think about impact and we’ll share frameworks that help us define what to measure and why. Makoto Matsuura, founder of cobon a not-for-profit focused on youth education in Jakarta, Indonesia and Osaka, Japan, took a pilot version of this course and shared his reflections with us. [Read More]

Good news for philanthropists in the U.K. and Europe

We are excited to announce that Acumen now holds a CAF Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom. CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation, is a registered U.K. charity. By donating to Acumen through CAF, you can use Gift Aid if the amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax you’ve paid for the tax year in which you make your donation is at least equal to the amount of basic rate tax  [the charity or Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) and any other charities or CASCs] you donate to will reclaim on your gift. CAF will reclaim 25% Gift Aid from HM Revenue & Customs and pass this through to Acumen.  The donor can claim higher rate tax relief (for more information, please refer to CAF’s online resource, What Is Gift Aid?). [Read More]

d.light Leaders Named 2014 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

We are thrilled for our portfolio company d.light and Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO, along with cofounders Ned Tozun, President, and Sam Goldman, Chief Customer Officer, for being named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. d.light is a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures and distributes solar lighting and power products with primary markets in the developing world, today announced that d.light, along with 37 other individuals and organizations in the 2014 class, will be fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the World Economic Forum. [Read More]