Social Capitalists: Acumen Fund
Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO
New York, New York
The increasing gap between rich and poor is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Half the world lives on less than three dollars a day while 250 individuals hold more wealth than the bottom two billion. Creating a sustainable world means reducing that gap.
Aid alone will not end poverty. Traditional charity often meets immediate needs but is not designed to enable people to solve problems over the long term. Poor people seek dignity, not dependence.
Market-based approaches – driven by the needs of customers – offer the dignity of choice, as well as the opportunity to build sustainable enterprises that can reach vast numbers of the poor. But markets alone will also not solve the problems of poverty. Businesses see no opportunity in selling to poor customers, and governments often lack resources and systems to deliver needed services. Innovations in healthcare, water treatment, and service delivery are too often unaffordable to those who most need them.
Acumen Fund identifies and supports enterprises that provide health, water, housing and energy to the poor. We bring capital, knowledge and talent to accelerate markets for the poor, having seen their power as customers who are willing to pay for affordable, quality services that can change their lives. We have seen this working with our portfolio enterprise in South Asia and Eastern Africa.
Acumen Fund’s investments have impacted over 13 million lives. For example, more than 7 million East Africans are protected from malaria because of our investment in A to Z, a private manufacturer of insecticide-treated bednets in Tanzania. A to Z has become the country’s third largest employer, creating thousands of jobs.
Acumen Fund investment Drishtee, a network of phone and computer kiosk franchises, is providing access to key services and products to millions of poor people in India who were previously “invisible” to the market. Drishtee has 1,550 kiosks in place, employing nearly 2,500 individuals, and is installing 100 new kiosks per month. Ultimately, its ambition is to reach the 775 million people who live in India's rural villages.
Acumen Fund’s investment in WaterHealth International has contributed to the building of more than 100 community systems with the installed capacity to provide more than 500,000 Indian villagers in Andhra Pradesh with safe, affordable drinking water. WHI’s experience has shown that even the rural poor are willing and able to pay for clean water, and that WHI can provide it sustainably at low cost.
Acumen Fund measures impact not only through the success of our investments, but also through broader changes in the development sector. Our goal is to transform how the world sees poor people –- not as passive recipients of charity, but as individuals with the potential to take control of their own destinies.