Jacqueline was then offered the mandate of starting Duterimbere, the first ever credit institution in Rwanda, a landlocked East African country.And, in 2001, when impact investment was unheard off, she founded Acumen, with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation and individual philanthropists. In the last seventeen years since its inception, the nonprofit global venture fund has invested over $110 million to build more than 102 social enterprises in countries like Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, India, Colombia, the US and others. These companies have created and supported 60,000 jobs, leveraged an additional $522 million, and brought basic services like affordable education, healthcare, clean water, energy and sanitation to more than 200 million people. In 2015, Fast Company named Acumen one of the world’s Top 10 Most Innovative Not-for-Profits.
Finding home in seven countries
Since its inception, the impact investment firm has set up its base at seven countries with its headquarters in New York. In India, it stepped foot in the year 2006. The other countries where Acumen marks its presence are Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, Colombia and the US.
While over two billion people around the world who are lacking access to basic goods and services Acumen intends to invest in companies and change makers, rather than act as an another philanthropic arm. The organisation invests ‘Patient Capital’, which bridges the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches in bringing sustainable solutions to big problems of poverty.
Its primary focus in these seven countries remain Healthcare, Agriculture, Renewable Energy, Education, Housing, Water & Sanitation. Apart from investment, Acumen recruits fellows from these countries who closely work with the social sector.
Started as a venture capital fund for the poor, Acumen welcomes partners from over 20 countries.
The India chapter
In India, with its headquarters in Mumbai, the fund has found its playground for investment in Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health, Housing, Water & Sanitation and Workforce Development.
With an overall investment of $29.8 million in 32 social ventures, Acumen India claims to have impacted 10.4 million lives. Though its first ever investment in India was Aravind Eye Care in Madurai in 2006, its present portfolio companies include Aarusha Homes, Frontier markets, Labournet, ORB Energy, Lifespring, Under The Mango Tree, to name a few. The organisation is also in collaboration with Tata Trusts, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Mahavir & Jahangir Siddique Foundation.
With a team of 12 members, Acumen India focuses on investment in social enterprises and investment in leadership capacity, says India Country Director Mahesh Yagnaraman.
When we partner with corporates or individuals we look closely for alignment between the partner/donor, Acumen and the programme to which the services will be applied,” he adds.
India, which is also Acumen’s biggest geography for the firm in terms of capital investment, looks for “companies which tie in with their broad impact thesis for the country. The sector has to cater largely to a low-income customer segment and they should have a financially viable business model and a proof of concept for the same, Mahesh explains.