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Reflections from Acumen Fund’s 10 year celebration
Upon arrival to Acumen Fund’s 10 year celebration gala in New York City, the shoulders of each guest were adorned with a bright scarf. Such simple, feather-light scarves, yet somehow, mixed with celebratory and inspiring conversations, the result was a powerful embodiment of community.
10 years after Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO and Founder, registered Acumen Fund as a charity in the US, the organization has invested over $69 million in patient capital in 63 enterprises that have created 55,000 jobs and touched the lives of over 86 million people. Acumen Fund is headquartered in New York City and has local offices in India, Pakistan, Kenya, and Ghana. It distributes its resources over 6 portfolios: health, energy, agriculture, water, housing, and education. For a nice video of Acumen Fund’s model, click here.
It had been 3 months since I had been in New York City, working for Acumen Fund as an MBA summer associate. Yes, the weather had changed from swelteringly hot to pleasantly cool, but the atmosphere surrounding the organization hadn’t: brimming with energy.
At Acumen Fund, balance sheets are never talked about without the mention of leadership. Conversations about empathy weave through discussions about investment due diligence. Financial returns are always spoken about with patience in mind. A conversation about entrepreneurship never fails to include dignity. From Jacqueline’s book, The Blue Sweater to the +acumen global chapter network to the inaugural East Africa fellows program, Acumen Fund has a way of capturing people’s hearts and minds.
Presentations from various members of Acumen Fund’s team and community highlighted several insights from 10 years of working to create a world beyond poverty by investing in social enterprises, emerging leaders and breakthrough ideas. Jacqueline reiterated the most poignant messages during her speech at the gala:
- 1. The impact investing industry has grown from a few funds in the early 2000s to several hundred today. Many of them are promising very high rates of returns to their investors. The pressure on entrepreneurs working in some of the world’s most challenging conditions to deliver on these promises is worrisome. We must be more patient.
- 2. Local institutions matter. Innovation is pouring from the slums of Kenya, the fields of Ghana, the mountains of Pakistan, and the schools of India. Acumen Fund emphasizes the importance of a strong local board of advisors, a sustained presence on the ground, and the need for cultivating local leadership. This journey is about dignity, not dependence.
- 3. Creating a world beyond poverty will take all of us: an interconnected community of global citizens equipped with the moral leadership to meet the complex challenges of our time. Patient capital works; it is time to take this mainstream.
Take a few minutes to watch Acumen Fund’s 10 year video and read about the lessons they learned. Jacqueline opened her speech with a quote from Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”
Sometimes when we talk about impact investing, we get caught up in the financial specifics, the metrics frameworks, and the buzz wordy language. Acumen Fund’s 10 year celebration reminds all of us that impact investing really does play a role in changing the world.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/acumenfund/6379670319/in/set-72157628074966191/
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