Patient Capital

Acumen’s Patient Capital Model is a New Approach to Solving Poverty

The markets alone cannot solve the problems of poverty; nor are charity and aid enough. Two-thirds of the world’s population still lives in poverty, and we need new approaches in order to find new solutions. We also need to recognize how challenging it is to build large-scale, lasting solutions in some of the toughest environments in the world. There are no easy answers.

A Third Way to Think About Aid

Patient capital investing bridges the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches and the social impact of pure philanthropy. Patient capital has a high tolerance for risk, has long time horizons, is flexible to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, and is unwilling to sacrifice the needs of end customers for the sake of shareholders. At the same time, patient capital ultimately demands accountability in the form of a return of capital: proof that the underlying enterprise can grow sustainably in the long run.

We are seeing exciting new business models capable of bringing affordable, life-changing products and services to the poor. These businesses are transforming the lives of their customers, and are creating jobs that lead directly to economic growth.

Starting a new business is always tough and starting a business in the developing world can be much tougher. Launching a business that focuses on the needs of the world’s poorest often seems impossible. Patient Capital is the scarce resource that allows new, sometimes crazy, potentially world-changing ideas see the light of day.

Investments Not Charity

For Acumen, patient capital is understood as a debt or equity investment in an early-stage enterprise providing low-income consumers with access to healthcare, water, housing, alternative energy, or agricultural inputs.

The patient capital Acumen provides is accompanied by a wide range of management support services nurturing the company to scale. In the long-run we aim to see a return of our capital.  We do not expect high financial returns to come from investing in businesses that serve the poor.

Defining patient capital

Our aim in investing patient capital is not to seek high returns, but rather to jump-start the creation of enterprises that improve the ability of the poor to live with dignity. We define patient capital as having these characteristics:

  • Long time horizons for the investment
  • Risk-tolerance
  • A goal of maximizing social, rather than financial, returns
  • Providing management support to help new business models thrive
  • The flexibility to seek partnerships with governments and corporations through subsidy and co-investment when doing so may be beneficial to low-income customers.

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