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.


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]