Community Improvement, Capacity Building

ACUMEN FUND INC

aka Acumen   |   New York, NY   |  www.acumen.org

Mission

Acumen's mission is to change the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders and ideas.

Acumen invests patient, long-term capital in innovative and sustainable startups that deliver critical goods and services to the world's poor. Since 2001, we have invested $106 million in 96 companies that have attracted more than $522 million in follow-on capital and impacted 200 million lives. We work closely with our companies to help the overcome challenges and listen closely to customer feedback through our Lean Data work.

Acumen also works to build a global community of emerging leaders that believe in creating a more inclusive world through the tools of both business and philanthropy. Since 2006, we have built a global community of more than 340 Fellows to support the next generation of leadership. We are partnering with great companies like Unilever, GE, IKEA Foundation, EY and Bain that understand the need for more inclusive business models. We have begun to share what we are learning through +Acumen, an online platform to help move ideas into action that has seen more than 400,000 sign-ups across 175 countries.

Please visit www.acumen.org for more information.

Ruling year info

2001

Principal Officer

Ms. Jacqueline Novogratz

Co Principal Officer

Ms. Carlyle Singer

Main address

40 Worth Street Suite 303

New York, NY 10013 USA

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EIN

13-4166228

Cause area (NTEE code) info

Promotion of Business (Chambers of Commerce) (S41)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

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Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Global Fellows Program

Leadership is an essential piece of our broader mission, and the Global Fellows Program has been our flagship initiative in leadership development since 2006. Over the course of the one-year program, Global Fellows undergo seven weeks of intensive training in New York, followed by a ten-month field placement with a company in Acumen's ecosystem in South Asia, Latin America, East Africa, or West Africa. After completing the year, Global Fellows Alumni apply what they have learned and experienced in a variety of ways, including starting their own social enterprises, becoming intraprenuers within organizations, and generating content and thought-pieces for the driving social impact.

Population(s) Served

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India in a one-year leadership development program designed to build the next generation of leaders with the audacity to transform society and create a better, more inclusive world. The program equips Fellows with the knowledge, support system and practical wisdom to unlock their full potential and drive positive change in society. Over the course of a year, Fellows remain in their jobs while taking part in five week-long seminars, where they receive the tools, training and space to innovate new ideas, accelerate their impact, build a strong network of social leaders from across their region and around the world.

Population(s) Served

Each year, the Pakistan Fellows Program brings together 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in Pakistan in a one-year leadership development program designed to build the next generation of leaders with the audacity to transform society and create a better, more inclusive world. The program equips Fellows with the knowledge, support system and practical wisdom to unlock their full potential and drive positive change in society. Over the course of a year, Fellows remain in their jobs while taking part in five week-long seminars, where they receive the tools, training and space to innovate new ideas, accelerate their impact, build a strong network of social leaders from across their region and around the world.

Population(s) Served

Each year, the East Africa Fellows Program brings together 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in East Africa in a one-year leadership development program designed to build the next generation of leaders with the audacity to transform society and create a better, more inclusive world. The program equips Fellows with the knowledge, support system and practical wisdom to unlock their full potential and drive positive change in society. Over the course of a year, Fellows remain in their jobs while taking part in five week-long seminars, where they receive the tools, training and space to innovate new ideas, accelerate their impact, build a strong network of social leaders from across their region and around the world.

Population(s) Served

We raise philanthropic funding to invest patient, long-term capital in innovative and sustainable early stage business models that deliver critical goods and services to the world’s poor. Our patient investments have a high risk tolerance, a payback of investment capital over the long term, the flexibility and management support needed to scale, and an unwavering goal of maximizing social impact. We have local offices in the regions where we invest – East Africa, West Africa, India, Pakistan, Latin America and the United States – and we source pipeline through our advisors, peers and local networks as well as through participation in industry conferences and events. We then conduct research and diligence on the company and after an evaluation of the social impact potential, management team and business model, the potential investment is presented to our Investment Committee for review and approval. Our capital is structured as debt or equity, and across our entire portfolio we expect to recycle this capital, getting back 1x of our investment. Patient capital is often the first institutional investment capital to come into a social enterprise. Its role is to give entrepreneurs the flexibility, support, and time to test, iterate, and establish business models that will attract further capital in order to scale and drive impact. We invest in energy, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Since 2001, we have invested $101 million in 92 companies that have attracted more than $522 million in follow-on capital and impacted 189 million lives.

Population(s) Served

+Acumen is the world's first online school for social change. Through +Acumen, we offer 20 online courses built with Acumen expertise and incredible content partnerships with, for example, IDEO.org, Bain & Co., Grameen Foundation, etc. Courses include: Social Enterprise 101, Financial Modelling, Strategies for Scale, and Market Segmentation. We have had close to 320,000 course signups since launching in 2012.

Population(s) Served

Where we work

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External assessments

Evaluated via the Impact Genome Project (2019)

Charting impact

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

What is the organization aiming to accomplish?

Acumen's mission is to change the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders, and ideas. <br/>

We believe that market-based solutions tailored to low-income populations are best suited to fill a gap where traditional markets do not currently reach and aid alone is falling short. We deploy capital in companies that can disrupt markets and the status quo. Companies like d.light. Upon learning that new access to modern energy often creates more demand from market feedback, d.light evolved its lantern to include mobile charging capabilities, and it expanded its business model to include solar home systems. Over the last 9 years d.light has impacted more than 63 million lives. <br/><br/>Leadership is an essential part of our mission. We aim to develop the next generation of leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in one-year leadership development programs (Global, India, Pakistan, and East Africa) designed to foster the audacity to transform society and create a better, more inclusive world. The program equips Fellows with the knowledge, support system and practical wisdom to unlock their full potential and drive positive change in society. <br/><br/>In order to share our ideas widely, we created +Acumen, the world's first online school for social change. Through +Acumen, we offer 20 online courses built with Acumen expertise and incredible content partnerships with, for example, IDEO.org, Bain & Co., Grameen Foundation, etc. Courses include: Social Enterprise 101, Financial Modelling, Strategies for Scale, and Market Segmentation. We have had close to 320,000 course signups since launching in 2012.<br/><br/>We realize that this may seem like a lot, but we believe that we need to help build and partner to build entire ecosystems in order to make change happen.

We have been investing in our target markets since 2001, and launched our leadership programs in 2016. We currently have little over 100 staff in New York, India, East Africa, West Africa, London, Latin America, San Francisco, and Pakistan. We have a dedicated investment team with over 30 members lead by our Chief Investment Officer Sachin Rudra that source deals, carry out due diligence, and present investments to our Investment Committee for approval. After investing, our post-investment support is led by our Post-Investment Manager working with members of the investment team. <br/><br/>Our impact team has seven members based in London, East Africa, and New York who work closely with the investment team to ensure our research and data collection is aligned with their knowledge on our investees including their strategic priorities. The team is frequently on the ground with investees developing and iterating on the best approach to collecting data and customer insights and feedback. <br/><br/>For our leadership work, we have a dedicated Global Fellows team of three based out of New York, and local teams in India, Pakistan, and East Africa for the Regional Fellows Programs. Our +Acumen team has eight members based out of New York and San Francisco. <br/>

We aim to conduct our Core Insights Lean Data project every year with each portfolio company: this provides critical information for companies and Acumen on poverty profile of customers, the value proposition of the product/service they are using and the satisfaction rates – it includes our Acumen metrics around quality of life changes too.<br/><br/>For our leadership programs, we collect data at different stages. After the fellowship, we ask Fellows to share information on how the program has impacted their careers, and the effect it has had on their long-term goals. This informs our engagement strategy and the support we can provide them once the fellowship year is complete.<br/><br/>For +Acumen, we have tracked course sign ups and organizations whose staff engage with our courses. We are also aiming to deepen the leadership experience for our most committed learners by building +Acumen Corps, a resource exclusively for students who are looking for more tailored learning opportunities, the opportunity to connect with other +Acumen Corps members, and the opportunity to work together in larger scale change initiatives (e.g. crowdsourcing of solutions).

Over the last decade, entrepreneurs launching companies to address the needs of low-income populations have struggled to obtain investment capital for growth, in part because traditional investors shy away from the financial risk and reward profile of these enterprises. Since 2001, we have helped develop and shape the impact investing sector. We have used our capital to help prove out business models for companies like d.light, a global solar company, and Ziqitza HealthCare which provides emergency medical / ambulance services in India, helping attract the follow-on capital needed for scale. We have developed sector knowledge and local market insights. In some markets like Kenya, we are seeing more mature markets and commercial capital flow for solar home systems. <br/><br/>In 2014, we launched the Lean Data Initiative. Designed specifically for social enterprises, Lean Data helps build more impactful businesses by providing them with data on their social performance, customer feedback, and behavior. It's a service that we offer to our investees as we found that often they either lack capacity to undertake measurement or prioritize other business critical activities. Lean Data uses low-cost technology and methods to gather high-quality data quickly and efficiently. It is a shift away from data collection as a task for reporting and instead it is about giving entrepreneurs richer insights to make decisions, and Acumen deep analysis to inform investment decisions. It is decision-centric, customer-focused, quick, and lean. It is not about compliance but rather about accountability; about Acumen working alongside our investee companies to get valuable information to inform their business, which drives value and impact for their customers. It is also iterative; we build on our knowledge responding to what we learn and going deeper in terms of understanding with each Lean Data engagement. We know how valuable our Lean Data service; CEOs of our investee companies have told us time and again how it is instrumental to their operations, driving decision-making, and enabling improvements in quality of service delivered to customers.<br/><br/>However, there is much change and future investment still required. Acumen has learned a great deal from investing in the early days. We know that, at this stage, for us to be effective and contribute to lasting change, we need to continue to support our current portfolio of entrepreneurs, expand our portfolio with new innovative business models, and build a cohort of partners and allies who share our commitment to investing in enterprises, listening to customers, and learning about what it will take to provide important products and services for low-income communities.

Financials

ACUMEN FUND INC
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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ACUMEN FUND INC

Board of directors
as of 6/6/2019
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Robert H. Niehaus

The Alexander Family Foundation

Stuart Davidson

Managing Partner, Labrador Ventures

Margo Alexander Chair

The Alexander Family Foundation

C. Hunter Boll

Chief Operating Officer, Source Audio LLC

Jacqueline Novogratz Founder and CEO

Acumen Fund

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes

Keywords

social entrepreneurship, international, entrepreneurs, innovation, poverty, philanthropy, healthcare, pakistan, india, africa, East Africa, West Africa, Latin America, impact investing, venture