Each of the Acumen Fund Fellows was challenged to work with a small business to help introduce a new product. Despite the product’s social benefit and low cost, adopting it meant giving up the way things had typically been done in the local community.
Heidi Krauel was assigned to the New Delhi, India, offices of D.light Design.
Of India’s one billion people, half don’t have access to reliable electricity. Many households depend upon kerosene lanterns to meet their lighting needs, even though kerosene is hazardous, polluting, inefficient, and expensive.
D.light Design CEO Sam Goldman has more than ten years experience founding and managing ventures across India and Africa. He introduced the concept for D.light in a 2006 Stanford University design competition and launched the company in 2008.
D.light introduced portable, affordable lamps with solar-rechargeable, super-bright light emitting diode (LED) technology in that does not emit pollutants.
Heidi’s job was to help the company develop a distribution and marketing strategy.Close
Joel Montgomery was assigned to the Karachi, Pakistan, headquarters of Micro Drip.
In Southeast Pakistan’s Thardeep region, small farmers rely on monsoon rains and field flooding to grow their crops. Flood irrigation is inefficient in yielding the most from plants; unreliable with the area’s erratic weather patterns; and wasteful as there is a looming water crisis in Pakistan.
Directed by Dr. Sono Khangarani, Micro Drip was launched in 2005. “I thought of all the farmers I’ve met in this region,” explains Sono, “and felt sick at how severe their level of poverty could become as a result of global warming and lack of water.” Saqib Khan, featured in The New Recruits, has been chief operating officer at Micro Drip since 2007.
Using low-cost drip irrigation technology, a Micro Drip system supplies water directly to the roots of plants in small, calculated drops. Drip irrigation maximizes plant growth and ensures major cost and water savings.
Joel’s job was to help improve Micro Drip irrigation system sales.Close
Suraj Sudhakar worked with Ecotact, a Nairobi, Kenya-based company.
In Nairobi’s slums, more than 65% of the population lives without basic services such as water, sanitation and solid waste collection. The health risks are enormous: poor sanitation can lead to typhoid, diarrhea, cholera, and intestinal worms. Lack of sanitation is said to be linked to a quarter of all deaths of children under age five.
Inspired by the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Sanitation is more important than independence,” Ecotact was founded by architect David Kuria, now Ecotact’s CEO.
With the Ikotoilet, Ecotact introduced the concept of a “toilet mall.” Customers pay a few coins to use the facility, which is conveniently located, clean, and private. The Ikotoilet may also have showers, a barber shop, a snack outlet, and a newspaper vendor.
Suraj’s job was to support the introduction of an Ikotoilet in the business district of Nairobi and to help establish Ikotoilets in the nearby but worlds-away slums.Close
Acumen Fund is the nonprofit global venture fund that sends a group of fellows, including Heidi Krauel, Joel Montgomery, and Suraj Sudhakar, to apprentice with the social enterprises in which it invests in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Acumen uses a venture philanthropy business model known as patient capital. It involves a five-to-seven-year financial investment supplemented with extensive management support services. Without the anticipation of high financial returns, patient capital jumpstarts small, local, basic-services businesses that benefit large, underserved populations.
Incorporated in 2001 with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation, and three individual philanthropists, Acumen today has a large community of investor-partners and a thriving fellows program. Acumen has offices in New York; Hyderabad, India; Karachi, Pakistan; and Nairobi, Kenya. Jacqueline Novogratz is founder and CEO.Close