Skip to content

Acumen and Unilever launch online Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics to generate solutions that improve the lives of people living in poverty

  • News

Total of $75,000 in seed funding will be awarded to winning teams

February 4, 2019 – New York, NY – Acumen, the nonprofit social venture fund, announced today the launch of its Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics, in partnership with Unilever, which includes an online incubator and innovation lab to catalyze new solutions to combat plastic pollution and improve the lives of people in poverty. The challenge—which will be run by +Acumen, Acumen’s online school for social change—invites innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world to participate for a chance to receive seed funding and coaching from Unilever experts.

“Working to create solutions to help low-income countries and populations manage ever-increasing amounts of plastic and other waste has become a core development issue,” said Yasmina Zaidman, Acumen’s Chief Partnerships Officer. “Treatment of waste is mentioned in three of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals but its impact extends well beyond, affecting the lives of millions living in poverty. At Acumen, our aim is to back new, inventive ways to tackle the world’s biggest problems and we are excited to see the innovative solutions people bring to the table through this virtual challenge.”

The Acumen and Unilever Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics involves a two-part program that will allow participants to delve into the social and environmental issue of plastic pollution and learn how to build a business model dedicated to addressing this problem.

Part One: +Acumen will kick off the initiative on March 2, 2019 with a two-hour rapid innovation lab held on Slack. Participants from across the globe have the opportunity to help an India-based social enterprise generate new ideas for encouraging the proper segregation of plastic waste, which reduces the costs of recycling and ensures more plastic stays out of the environment.

Part Two: +Acumen will open up an online incubator for innovators and entrepreneurs—from March 19 through May 7, 2019—to develop early-stage business models that address the problem of plastic waste. Participants will be given free access to +Acumen’s Business Models for Social Enterprise curriculum and live sessions with Unilever technical experts.

At the end of the seven-week online incubator, participants will submit their ideas and the winning teams will receive up to $25,000 each, for a total of $75,000, in seed funding and three months of coaching calls with technical experts from Unilever.

“We are committed to taking urgent action on the plastic waste issue, and in line with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people across our entire value chain,” said Rebecca Marmot, Global Vice President for Partnerships and Advocacy at Unilever. “We expect that this collaboration with Acumen will contribute innovative and inclusive solutions that can help lift people that depend on waste collection out of poverty, whilst addressing the critical challenge of plastic pollution.”

Applications for the Acumen and Unilever Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics open today. To apply or find out more, visit

For media inquiries, contact:

Carolyn Bielfeldt
Head of Content and Communications, Acumen | 646.747.3968



About Acumen

Acumen is changing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders and ideas. We invest patient capital in businesses whose products and services are enabling the poor to transform their lives. Founded by Jacqueline Novogratz in 2001, Acumen has invested more than $115 million in 113 companies across Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the United States. We are also developing a global community of emerging leaders with the knowledge, skills and determination to create a more inclusive world. Learn more at

About Unilever

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Beauty & Personal Care, Home Care, and Foods & Refreshment products with sales in over 190 countries and reaching 2.5 billion consumers a day. It has 161,000 employees and generated sales of €51 billion in 2018. Over half (59%) of the company’s footprint is in developing and emerging markets. Unilever has more than 400 brands found in homes all over the world, including Persil, Dove, Knorr, Domestos, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Wall’s, PG Tips, Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Lynx.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) underpins the company’s strategy and commits to:

  • Helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020.
  • Halving the environmental impact of our products by 2030.
  • Enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people by 2020.

The USLP creates value by driving growth and trust, eliminating costs and reducing risks. The company’s sustainable living brands are growing 46% faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70% of the company’s growth in 2017.

Since 2010 we have been taking action through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan to help more than a billion people improve their health and well-being, halve our environmental footprint and enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business. We have already made significant progress and continue to expand our ambition – most recently committing to ensure 100% of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. While there is still more to do, we are proud to have been recognised in 2018 as sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and as the top ranked company in the Globecan/SustainAbility Global Corporate Sustainability Leaders survey, for the eight-consecutive year.

For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit
For more information on the USLP: