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”.
The ninth SOCAP, the conference at the intersection of money and meaning took place Sept 13-16 with 2500 attendants, 10 tracks and 12 parallel meetings. It looked overwhelming how this conference has grown but judging from the plenaries and sessions, it has grown in breadth and depth in a solid remarkable way and whilst expanding keeping its feet on the ground. The Opening Plenary discussions and talks made us reflect that the “why” is as important as the “how” on impact investments was a great way to set the tone for the conference. The sessions on impact evaluation and measurement, mapping the impact investment landscape with collaborative data, gender lens investing, a total portfolio approach on fossil investing and B Corps, show the richness and evolution of this movement. Congratulations to Rosa Lee Harden, Kevin Jones, and Lindsay Smalling for the tremendous work!
There are many talks and sessions you can find of SOCAP16 in youtube. Some of my favourites were:
Jed Emerson, Blended Value
Impact at Scale
Shifting Culture Towards Equity
Also the following three sessions were very interesting but it requires a bit more time to watch. The Transformative Edge of Impact Navigating Impact Investing: the Pursuit of Clarity and Simplicity Evolving Impact Measurement over the next decade
On July 10th, Prime Minister Modi of India interacted with 40 Solar Mamas trained by Barefoot College in Tanzania. PM Modi took great interest in all the vocational and entrepreneurial activities that the Solar mamas are conducting such as solar electrification, tailoring, bee keeping and honey making. In fact he was very happy to take home some of the products like robes and honey which are now sold commercially in Zanzibar.
Barefoot College has trained solar mamas in 74 of the least developed countries. This project is done in collaboration with the Indian government. The founder Bunker Roy has lead this organization for 42 years and recently handed over the operational responsibilities to Meagan Fallone, CEO of Barefoot College International. In the last 2 years BCI has started to scale the vocational training activities by building training centers outside of India. The first such training center was launched last year in Zanzibar. 5 more training centers will be launched in Africa and a few in Latin America, Asia and South Pacific.
Congratulations Bunker, Meagan, and the whole Barefoot College team!
(disclaimer: the author is a board member of Barefoot College International)
The European B Corp Summit, a celebration for People Using Business as a Force for Good, took place in Rome on June30 & July1. Two energetic days of learning, sharing, networking amongst the rapidly expanding global B Corp community (currently 1809 companies in 50 countries). The focus was on brainstorming and action planning on how can we continue to accelerate this movement. Powerful messages through numerous inspiring speakers including: Pedro Tarak of Sistema B, Lorna Davis of Danone, Thomas Van Craen of Triodos Bank, Bryan Welch of B the Change Media, Mirella Zuidgeest of thermaflex, Corey Lien of DOMI, Pablo Sepulveda & Eloisa Silva of Birus, and Christoph Barman of Loyco. Thanks to the B Lab Europe team and Nativa for organizing such an impactful event!
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.
On Dec 1, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan made the announcement welcoming the birth of their daughter Max and their decision to give 99% of Facebook shares (currently USD 45bn) to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. This was posted (in Facebook)through an awe-inspiring and mindful letter “A letter to our daughter” that should become a must read for people in the private sector, public sector, academia, citizen sector, basically everyone as it articulates with clarity the challenges we face and how to tackle these. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is set up as an LLC which has attracted both praise and criticisms.
I personally believe that their decision is great and inspiring as it would give them much more flexibility in achieving their goals by being able to do both: invest and donate with impact. This Initiative is bold and it will provide a major boost to both impact investing and venture philanthropy and hopefully one day it will go for B Corp certification!
On Sept 24 B Lab UK hosted the event “Change is coming” the official launch of 62 certified UK B Corps at Proud Galleries in Camden, London. The B Corp movement is gaining momentum and now there are over 1400 companies across 42 countries that are B Corp certified and a number that is growing by the day. In this event it was inspiring to hear the founders of Bridges Ventures, COOK, Fairphone, and Streetlife talk about their businesses and their road to become B Corps. It was also a great gathering to network with the B Corp global community as many leaders were present such as Bart Houlahan, (B Lab Co-Founder), Marcello Palazzi (B Lab Europe Co-founder), and Pedro Tarak (Co-founder of Sistema B, B Corp South America).
There was also a big announcement made by Bart that B Lab is establishing a Multinationals and Public Markets (MPM) Advisory Council as of January 2016 as a strong response for the growing number of multinationals and publicly listed companies that are interested in joining the B Corp movement. In a video message delivered by Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, he announced that Unilever will participate in the MPM Advisory Council and invited others to join them to achieve a collective vision of a global economy where all businesses work to create a more shared and durable prosperity for all. Yes, change is coming!
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.