Happy Birthday Acumen Fund! Here’s 5 Things I have Learned from You

10Nov11

Happy 10th Birthday Acumen Fund!!! Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. They started 10 years ago with a  mission to create a world beyond poverty. How you may ask? They have refined their business model to invest in social enterprises, emerging leaders and breakthrough ideas.

I first learned about Acumen Fund through a series of TED talks by its Founder, Jacqueline Novogratz (highly recommend watching at least ONE of them right now – best 20 minutes of your day, promise!). I found her thoughts and ideas around Patient Capital to be truly inspiring and worthwhile – and at the same time it helped my thinking on social venture capital for global health. When people asked me “why would a venture capitalist want to forgo maximum returns in order to make health products at lower prices?” I would answer that social impact and # of patients helped and saved is just as important! And if you want proof-of-concept – just look at the emerging record of Acumen Fund and others (current status report published by the Aspen Institute).

When I moved to Cambridge for graduate school, I started volunteering for Acumen Fund through its global chapters network and started its London young professionals chapter.  Today, I celebrate your birthday by sharing 5 things I have learned from your organization by volunteering with you:

1) The world is connected. There are currently 10 global Acumen chapters and it’s been a pleasure to connect with you through social media and monthly calls. As an individual, I love going home to the Vancouver chapter as much as I love the London chapter! And speaking on behalf of the London chapter, we love to receive people who may be in town for a short while and want to pop into our events! small world it is! The Acumen chapters really do foster a feeling of connectedness. I have also enjoyed your innovative experiments and learning new things including Feb 14th Generosity Day. The purpose of Acumen Fund resonates with myself and many of my friends (across lines of professions/research interests/industries) who have come and volunteered in support through the chapter network – thumbs up!

2) The power of gratitude. I have not volunteered for an organization that expresses as much gratitude as Acumen for its volunteers. If an organization can exude humility, this one does. Each staff member I have come across is inspiring in their own right and have brilliant people skills, even over email!

3) The importance of a strong and unified brand (and communicating it!). I see Acumen, the organization, as a leader in its field. 10 years ago, the term “social impact investing” did not exist, and Acumen has helped bring it to the fore. Through its proof-of-concept model, it has helped open the gates to additional patient capital (this MUST be celebrated!). Its brand is embodied in its work and mission – and because of its clarity, it can be followed by others. And as a chapter volunteer, it is easy to spread the word to other volunteers/supporters when we can point them in the right direction for more info – ie. website, youtube channel, TED talks, The Blue Sweater book etc. With such a global fan base, your communications team does a good job of keeping everyone up to date!

4) Being the first penguin is okay. In nature, when penguins jump into the water where there are predators, one has to go first… it is okay being the first to prove something! [Thanks Randy Pausch for this particular lesson too] In the life sciences, proof-of-concept is a BIG DEAL (you may have noticed I’ve mentioned it 3x in this post already) and Acumen has been able to prove its model on fighting poverty in a new way. My hope is that by Acumen’s 20th birthday, this way is fully mainstream, and okay not to be “new”.  Around the same time as starting to volunteer for Acumen Fund, I set up my first ever social enterprise, the African Innovation Prize. 2009 was a pilot year to demonstrate that by working in partnership with African universities, business competitions can encourage youth entrepreneurship, and happy to say we’re going well in 2011!

5) Dignity supports the human spirit. I started my PhD 2+ years ago never thinking my research in drug commercialization would cross with “international development” – but through reading, listening and discussing, I have learned humans, wherever they may live have the same aspirations – to be healthy, to be safe, to be loved and to achieve their potential and purpose. A researcher in Kigali has the same dreams and fears as myself in Cambridge. Dignity runs a common thread through humanity and thanks for letting me contribute in a small way.

Thanks Acumen Fund! Even though I cannot be in NYC this weekend, I look forward to joining you for your 20th birthday bash!

To everyone in NYC right now: Acumen Staff, Acumen portfolio companies, investors, supporters, advocates, volunteers, chapters – have a great time – Happy Birthday!

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