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Acumen and COVID-19: A Letter from Our CEO

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I’ve always marveled at the traditional greetings of different cultures, acknowledgments that range from, “Peace be upon you” to “How did you sleep?” The phrases we use in our daily interactions say much about the historical or modern experience of each generation. No longer able to greet with a handshake, today we find ourselves greeting one another with a look in the eyes, a question about health or an invitation to dance together through a cell phone or computer screen. Many people feel not just a new anxiety, but a new tenderness. And most of us agree that we suddenly find ourselves in a new world.

This world is full of fear, not only of COVID-19 but of the economic hardship already happening in countries directly and indirectly impacted by the pandemic. And yet, in this past week, we have also become acutely aware of our interdependence—that our collective success will not only depend on how we care for ourselves, but also how well we include and care for the poor and the vulnerable. Everywhere, I am seeing people and businesses reaching out, connecting, offering support. This crisis is giving us the chance to find our best selves again and to renew our connection to one another in ways with deep local roots and with branches that extend across the world.

We are also seeing new skills emerging among our most effective leaders, who are partnering in creative ways and prioritizing our collective health and well-being over individual profit. Shining examples of moral imagination, these entrepreneurs have the humility to recognize the ugly realities we must confront today and the audacity to envision and work toward a better future.

I couldn’t be more inspired by the actions members of Acumen’s community are undertaking in response to COVID-19. In Bozeman, Montana, Acumen America investee MyVillage, a company that helps people open and operate high-quality, home-based early education programs, has raised emergency grant funding to ensure that its childcare providers can continue to educate young children into April. MyVillage Co-Founder and CEO Erica Mackey says the goal of the funding is to minimize disruptions to educator income and help parents manage costs incurred during a COVID-19-related exposure or absence.

Also part of Acumen America’s portfolio is a restaurant chain called Everytable that offers healthy grab-and-go meals in low-income, underserved communities. Last week, its Founder and CEO Sam Polk wrote a letter to his community stating the company’s commitment to doing, “whatever it takes to ensure that everyone across greater Los Angeles has access to healthy meals,” including senior citizens, underserved schools or individuals who are struggling. Sam and Erica’s moral leadership remind us that we need to celebrate the actions of such role models so that more actions like these become the norm.

Acumen is fortunate to also be able to learn from its leaders in communities around the globe. Whether their communities are plagued by viruses, conflict, homelessness, despair or the stressful uncertainty that poverty brings, they constantly remind us what resilience looks like, and the importance of kindness and gratitude when all you see around yourself is darkness. One such leader is Acumen West Africa Fellow Niniola Williams, founder of DRASA Health Trust, a public health organization named for her aunt, Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, the doctor credited with halting the spread of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. Since 2015, Niniola and the DRASA Health Trust team have been creating government partnerships and public education campaigns to promote good hygiene to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In many ways, they’ve been preparing for five years for the arrival of COVID-19.

We have miles to go, but we can address the new realities of this global health and economic crisis while holding with fierce, persistent aspiration to the good that can be done in the midst of it. Every Acumen entrepreneur, Fellow, Partner and, of course, our amazing team, Board and Advisors are in this together, equally committed to keeping one another healthy and safe so that we can stand together and bring our best selves to the work we came to do.

With hopes for peace, good health and love for you and for all who are suffering, for the lonely and fearful, for all of us. And with an abiding commitment to give everything we can to a world that needs all of us.

Jacqueline Novogratz
Founder & CEO, Acumen