Acumen started operations in 2001 with a pioneering concept, a non-profit venture capital for the poor, using philanthropic (patient) capital to invest in entrepreneurs that would be capable to create sustainable solutions to big problems in poverty. For the past 15 years, they have been helping to build companies, developing leaders and sharing ideas. Their impact to date: $103m invested in 96 companies, 200 million lives impacted, 310 leaders developed, 17 Acumen Chapters, and 320,000 people have signed up to the Acumen leadership courses. Impressive figures! However, why Acumen continues to be one of the leaders/innovators in this field is because they can’t be content on just seeing these figures. They go deeper in trying to understand the real impact (qualitatively) by developing impact measurement/metrics.
Our Impact Framework: We work to understand impact from the moment we begin due diligence on a company throughout the lifetime of the investment. Working closely with our companies, we generate, analyze and use data that enables them to understand and improve their social performance. Our aim is to unlock their full potential and achieve the greatest social change for the customers they serve. (source Acumen)
As Acumen defines its success as how well their investments are enabling the poor to improve their own lives for the long term, they measure the social performance across 3 dimensions: 1) the focus on the poor 2) the breadth (the number reached) 3) depth (improvements). So they look at impact from all these fronts. They use lean data which has made it much more efficient, faster and cost efficient to understand their impact. Another great contribution of Acumen is how they share their ideas and findings. +Acumen which comprises online free leadership courses and is rapidly becoming “the world’s school of social change”.
Every year very interesting forums and meetings take place in the second half of January here in Zurich as these are scheduled before and after the WEF forum in Davos. This year we had the seif Congress on Impact Investment and Social Innovation, a nice venue providing an overview of the current state of impact investment in Europe and promoting the building of an ecosystem in Switzerland. Coinciding with this Congress there was a meeting launching the Women Effect.
We believe that investing in women and girls is not only right, it is smart. It leads to positive returns for investors and better social and economic outcomes for everyone. This is the women effect.
– Suzanne Biegel, founder of womeneffect and a pioneer in gender lens investing.
Women Effect is a global community of generous men and women, individuals and institutions (investors, philanthropists and wealth managers) who have come together to accelerate the women effect in the most strategic and efficient way. It is a platform to learn connect and collaborate, accelerating investments in women and girls. Suzanne’s article on this subject.
Having followed the movement of B Corps and benefit corporations over the past 6 years it was with great joy to attend yesterday the Swiss B Corp Community Forum that took place at the Impact Hub. B Corps are a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems (see the first video below to find out in less than 2 minutes). These companies aim to be not the best in the world but best for the world. The B Corp movement has been rapidly expanding with now close to 1300 B corporations in 41 countries and in 121 industries. B corps have started expanding also in Europe with now 70 B corporations. The 4 Swiss B corporations (3 Certified and one soon to become) that were presenting yesterday were: Abhati, Heidi.com, Montagne Alternative, and Opaline. To understand more about the B Corps please view the videos below. It is a movement that is definitely moving the needle in making business a force for good.
We would like to introduce you to Karmafy
Karmafy represents a global social currency for doing good. The platform offers businesses, apps, and cause organizations the opportunity to attract new users and strengthen their existing user base by allowing users to track and make use of their socially responsible actions. We partner with businesses through a commonly used rev-share model and deliver more engaged users. Increased monetization occurs through cross promotion, use of gamification and functionality to make directed donations to vetted philanthropic organizations. More to come soon.
Just back from the “Partnering for Global Impact” a two day forum by EBD Group in Lugano. Key areas covered were agriculture, education, healthcare housing, financial services and water.This forum facilitates outcomes in impact investing and philanthropy through one to one meetings alongside great keynote addresses (such as Sir Ronald Cohen) and panel discussions. It was a well organized event with very good content and great for networking.
Having attended numerous events on impact investment and philanthropy and having been fortunate to learn from outstanding social enterprises over the past 10 years I believe that one new topic should be added to these events.
These great forums such as Skoll World Forum, SOCAP, TBLI and PGI are playing a critical role in helping to solve the most serious problems we face through bringing together ideas, people, capital and promoting the more efficient use of resources. Find sustainable solutions which are working in emerging economies and scaling it. Funding and capacity building to be provided by impact investors, philanthropists and development finance institutions. It’s great but maybe we could do even better.
One different angle should be added. What could WE in the developed world learn and import from the emerging market innovative models that have been successful? Who has developed or is developing low cost high quality services in education, financial services and healthcare? There are successful education models developed in Latin America that could be used for low income communities in the USA. Perhaps vocational school systems or microfranchising business models that could be useful in reducing youth unemployment in The European Union? The increasing applications of mobile technology for payment systems in Kenya? There is so much innovation happening in emerging economies and we should be pragmatic and maybe a bit humble and change our mindsets to search and learn from the best available solution.
I talked about this idea to some veterans in this field, Suzanne Biegel from Catalyst at Large and ClearlySo, Jed Emerson of ImpactAssets and Blended Value and to Hans Wahl of INSEAD and they all thought it made sense! This topic is worthwhile to dig in further and much more research is needed I hope it will be included in future forums.
A new benchmark to measure the wellbeing and success of countries, the Social Progress Index (SPI), was launched at the 10th Skoll World Forum (April 10-12). This initiative was launched by the Social Progress Imperative and Harvard Business School Prof. Michael Porter (who co-created the business concept of “creating shared value”). This new measure aims to provide a more holistic measurement compared to the one dimensional GDP per capita to assess the progress and standing of countries which shall be useful to policy makers as well as corporations. The SPI measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens by using indicators in the areas of basic human needs (nutrition, water, air, medical care, sanitation, shelter, personal safety), foundations of wellbeing (access to basic knowledge, access to information, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability), and opportunity (personal rights, access to higher education, personal freedom of choice, equity and inclusion).
“Impact investments aim to solve social or environmental challenges while generating financial profit. Impact investing includes investment that range from producing a return of principal capital to offering market-rate or even above-market financial returns. Although impact investing could be categorized as a type of “social responsible investing” (SRI) it contrasts with negative screening which focuses primarily on avoiding investments in “bad” or “harmful” companies -impact investors actively seek to place capital in businesses and funds that can harness the positive power of enterprise.” (source:based on GIIN)
I first heard this expression in spring 2008 at the Skoll Forum in Oxford described by Antony Bugg-Levine of the Rockefeller Foundation. (I thought I finally found the proper word to describe what I do, I am an impact investment advisor) A year later at the 2009 Skoll Forum, the Monitor Institute presented an excellent report titled Investing for Social and Environmental IMPACT and also A. Bugg-Levine announced that the Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN) was being formed. In Sept at the SOCAP 2009 in San Francisco one could confirm that “impact investing” had become the widely accepted expression by the rapidly growing social capital investment industry. On Sept 25th 2009, GIIN was officially launched and announced its 25 founding members of the GIIN Investor’s Council at the Clinton Global Initiative. A recent article in the Economist also profiles impact investing.
Over the past few years many new expressions have been created to describe investing for social and environmental impact and financial return. These include double or triple bottom line investing, blended value investing and BOP investing. Needless to say microfinance investments is one of the leading and successful examples of this type of investment. All these expressions are valid in their own right; however, it confuses the investors and makes it difficult to build the market mechanisms for this nascent industry to efficiently grow. It is great that we now have a clear terminology and definition and an institution such as GIIN which is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of impact investing. Other great initiatives in this area include The Global Social Investment Exchange (GSIX) and Nexii, the electronic transactions and communication platform for the social and environmental markets.
A lively debate has been sparked by Mike Edward’s new book “Just Another Emperor-The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism” where he challenges the increasing use of business thinking in philanthropy and the current hype about it. It is in fact a controversial topic but certainly a healthy debate. I got to know about this topic as I follow Nextbillion where now the whole team is writing their comments on this subject.(highly recommended read). Also there is an on-line debate on this subject hosted by Global Philanthropy Forum. Here you can read comments from Matthew Bishop from the Economist who coined the word “philanthrocapitalism” and has written a book with Michael Green titled “Philanthrocapitalism: how the rich can save the world” coming out this fall.
I believe strongly that today there is a powerful movement of making the world a better place (the subject of my latest book) which has been accelerating due to the converging business (for-profit) and social (non-profit) worlds. Both worlds offer principles and methods in different areas that they ought to learn from each other. It is important to sort out what can be used most effectively from each world. I think that this is a timely debate and look forward to see the outcomes.
On April 16th, I visited Aravind Eye Hospital in Pondicherry one of the 5 eye hospitals of Aravind Eye Care Systems (AECS). AECS was founded in 1976 by the late Dr. Venkataswamy (Dr. V) with the mission to eliminate needless blindness by providing compassionate and high quality eye care.AECS today is not only the world largest eye care facility but the world leader in eye care delivery. It encompasses 5 hospitals, a manufacturing center for ophthalmic products (Aurolab), an international research foundation (Aravind Medical Research Foundation) and a resource and training center (LAICO). During the 12 month period to March 2007 AECS treated 2.3 million outpatients and performed 270,444 surgeries. AECS is a profitable institutions although only 40% of the patients pay between US$ 50-300 for catarat surgeries while 60% are non-paying patients.
I was taking part on Unltd Learning Journey 2008 visiting social entrepreneurs in Southern India and although this was not part of the official program it was great that I could visit one of the institutions that I respect so much and have featured in my new book (see entry below). Renjith who is a manager for out-patients organized an efficient visit so that we could have an overview of how patients (both paying and non-paying patients) were examined and treated. We also had a chance to talk to Dr. Ravindran (picture above), the Chief Medical Officer about Aravind expansion plans. Aravind is busy expanding and replicating its model due to the many inquiries and requests from many places both in India and abroad. Yunus Muhammad is opening this month the first Grameen Eye Hospital in Bangladesh modeled after the Aravind Eye Hospital.