Tag Archives: Acumen Fund

There’s a first time for everything: the TA Initiative summit; Nairobi, Kenya

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Veronica Mahiga of Unilever and Charles Oboth of Gulu Agricultural Development Co

On May 14-16, Acumen held its first summit of social enterprises and global corporations to explore opportunities for collaboration aimed at expanding access to critical goods and services for poor communities in East and West Africa. The event was the formal kick-off of the Technical Assistance (TA) Initiative, a partnership between Acumen and Dow launched as a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative.

The event in fact represented many firsts:

  • The first time Acumen had launched a formal effort to provide technical assistance grants to social enterprises
  • The first time Acumen had partnered with a network of corporations on technical assistance opportunities
  • The first time we brought together leading corporations and pioneering social enterprises to identify common ground and complementary strengths in the development of more inclusive and sustainable markets. Image

Godfrey Mwindaare of Acumen, Dorcas Onyango of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, and Yulanda Chung of Standard Chartered

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Ross McLean of Dow Chemical at site visit with Acumen Investee, Sanergy

Though the TA Initiative Summit ended on May 16, it has left us with great momentum and some valuable insights. The Summit was truly, in the Acumen spirit, an experiment—a chance to learn by doing. It required a leap of faith from the attendees, from the ten social enterprises that joined from across East and West Africa, and the corporate participants who joined from Michigan, Johannesburg, Dubai and London. The corporate participants came for a chance to learn and identify new opportunities for collaboration between corporations and social enterprises and left filled with ideas for working together. The enterprises were given an opportunity to network with potential corporate partners, and apply for technical assistance grants earmarked for this group.

What became evident during the summit was the desire of the 40 or so participants to make the most of the time together. It was palpable during the active break-out discussions, the buzz in the room during breaks, and the follow-up from many of the participants since. Though the most important indicator for success will be what happens after the summit, we have already heard great feedback from participants that the opportunity to explore partnership opportunities across the social enterprise and corporate worlds was a unique and valuable one. Dozens of commitments to follow up were created at the summit, and we will be going through them and following up with participants in the days and weeks to come.

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Alden Zecha of Sproxil, adding a new follow-up idea to the wall.

Our tremendous thanks go to all who joined, who took a chance to explore a critical new frontier in the spread of solutions to global challenges. And especially to Dow Chemical, our partner in the Technical Assistance Initiative, for taking this journey with us.

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Eric Martin of Cambridge Leadership Associates, the author, and Bo Miller of Dow Chemical

– Yasmina Zaidman is Acumen’s Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships

This blog first appeared on the Acumen blog

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Filed under Innovation, Partnerships, Patient Capital, Social Impact, Sustainability

TEDxSF – 7 Billion Well – Yasmina Zaidman

I’ve been invited to speak on the topic of global health twice in the past month, and both times I’ve said to myself, I don’t know anything about global health. That’s what comes from being exposed, in some degree, to the insane complexity of global health. I’ve seen health experts, health investors, and health corporations struggle mightily with the challenges of addressing the large-scale health issues faced by the poor. As a society, we’ve made incredible progress with some major issues like Polio and AIDS/HIV, and seen remarkable progress on issues like maternal healthcare and diarrheal disease, but there is so much further to go.

I won’t share all the numbers, but they evoke a feeling of profound shame that we still can’t resolve these imminently solvable problems. And that millions of people, mostly children, die as a result. I believe it is the shame of our age. But I’ve surrendered to the fact that I, and even my organization, do not have the answers to these big challenges.

But we know people who do.

I’m not talking about the brilliant scientists inventing the cures, or philanthropists who take generosity to a new level to make that possible. I’m not even talking about the heroic leaders who fight diseases like AIDS and cholera in the trenches, battling bureaucracies and apathy to provide healthcare in places that the world has abandoned. I am talking about the searchers, the entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to outsmart the most challenging and persistent problems that still hold us back on issues of healthcare – the tough questions of cold chain-distribution for vaccines and life-saving drugs, or the challenges of marketing to end-users who feel a fundamental mistrust of many institutions. The issues of pricing in the face of extreme poverty, and of building a business model accessible to all.

I am talking about entrepreneurs who want to bring their creativity and relentless drive to deliver value for customers to the issues of healthcare, focused on meeting the needs of the poor. And that’s what I talk about in this short TEDx talk for the TEDxSF event, 7 Billion Well. Not because I think entrepreneurs are the answer to an issue like maternal health, but because I think they are a critical part of the solution on a whole range of issues where we need a new approach to listening to and empowering the patients themselves. And we are just at the beginning.

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November 26, 2012 · 12:11 am

What’s in a Cause?

I had the chance today to join a Huffington Post Live discussion on the impact (or lack thereof) of causes promoted by for-profit companies. Having spent the past several years developing strategic partnerships with a range of major corporations from Dow Chemical to Ferragamo, I have a point of view on what it means for companies to take on the work of making the world a better place. The discussion had a great mix, from Jeffrey Robinson of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers University to social entrepreneur Kesang Yudron,  Founder of Padhma Creation, and outspoken blogger Ruzan Sarwar, among others. A great group, an animated discussion, and some great insights for me on what makes people skeptical of these partnerships as well as what makes people hopeful about the impact they can have. 

During the live chat, I summed up my view on what makes for a good marriage between a corporation marketing a product and a good cause as follows. The partnership should be:

1. Strategic – Meaning, aligned with the brand and strategy of the company so that it grows with the company and doesn’t fade away as trends shift. Great examples are P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program and the Tory Burch Foundation, both driven by the strengths and values of the companies behind them, and as a result, built to last.

2. Impactful – today we debated what the standard should be for impact, but I admire partnerships that support and highlight the work of existing organizations doing great work. I’m a big fan of FEED, which has focused on issues where small individual gifts really do add up to change. FEED generates those gifts through purchases of bags that essentially sell at cost+charity. With a lean operation and powerful brand ambassador in the form of Lauren Bush Lauren, they have delivered millions of meals through 13 respected non-profit partners including the World Food Program and UNICEF.

3. Generous – again, though there is no perfect standard for what is generous, charitable giving should be considered an investment in the legacy of a company and in the creation of a more sustainable future for all. This is a far cry from viewing it as one small slice of a marketing budget. Companies may start small, but great partnerships increase their generosity as they grow, rather than cashing in on short-term marketing benefits. 

With each of these, the choice rests with the consumer. Which cause-related product will you buy and wear, what statement will you make? And more importantly, how will these choices lead to bigger changes, larger acts of generosity, and a deeper understanding of the ways in which the world is interconnected. It may seem like a tall order, but I am a believer that the tools of business and the informed decisions of consumers, combined in the right ways are ONE important tool in our fight to end poverty, injustice and environmental degradation. Please do check out the discussion

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Antonia Bowring – Inspiring on many dimensions

In this, my second profile in the series “Celebrating a Whole Life,” I am privileged to write about Antonia Bowring, a woman who has inspired me for many years and who truly deserves to be celebrated. Antonia is someone who I have admired for her thoughtful choices and honesty, but what first amazed me about her was something I discovered in a freezer.

I was impressed by Antonia from the moment I met her. She was facilitating the first staff retreat I attended with Acumen Fund nine years ago, and her approach to guiding us through complex and sometimes delicate conversations was both intimate and commanding. She had the complete trust of our CEO, and I was so curious about her story – who was this woman who could pop into our three day meeting to help us as we shaped some of the key elements of our strategy as a freelance consultant.

So I was already curious about her when on our second day at the offsite retreat I opened the freezer to find ice cubes and found small frozen pouches of milk and naively asked what they were. She was nearby and told me she was pumping milk for a baby she had at home. The whole concept was foreign to me at the time (though it is all too familiar now) and I suddenly had to replay the past 24 hours. In the past day of marathon working sessions, interspersed with the kind of intense social time that was possible for a team of about 11, she had been finding time to fulfill this commitment to an infant somewhere hours away.

Antonia became somewhat of a beacon for me as I thought about having a family years later. Wondering how it would all work, I would think of her and know that it was possible to achieve tremendous professional respect even in the midst of nursing a baby.  This may seem obvious to the many many women who do this every day, but to me, at that moment that I peered into the freezer, it was a revelation.

It had a big impact on me years later when I was nursing my first child and returned to work. Rather than aim for subtlety in managing the oh-so-fun process of pumping 3 times a day at work for months, I decided to be relaxed and open about it, wondering if perhaps some younger woman might make a mental note, as I had, that this was something that people do, and it can work.

Antonia has stayed in Acumen Fund’s orbit, and I have continued to watch her career and life with fascination, moving from success to success, now the mother of two beautiful boys and the COO of the Open Space Institute. The Open Space Institute (OSI) protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes for the public as well as for the sake of environmental conservation. She manages the systems and finances of an organization that has protected more than 116,000 acres and made more than 70 loans and grants for nearly $80 million to protect 1.6 million acres valued at over $530 million. From her work in women’s microfinance internationally to serving as a portfolio manager at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation – one of New York’s most innovative education philanthropies – and now serving on the board of ioby, a grassroots environmental organization, she has found so many ways to make a difference on so many important issues.

When I decided to write this series of posts I knew I would reach out to her. In part because I already owed her a tremendous debt for cracking open the idea of combining mothering and contributing professionally in such a powerful way, but also because I wanted to better understand her story.

We had dinner together recently and I was able to form a more nuanced picture of her work at the Open Space Institute, balancing the needs of two children a few years older than my own with her leadership responsibilities. She was refreshingly honest about tradeoffs she had made, but I saw that the same art that I had observed when I first met her to put the pieces together was still in full effect. She agreed to answer my five questions, and I had one more for her before we parted ways after our dinner. “What is the bottom line, when it comes to work – what can’t be given up?” Her response – “Making a difference.” I was so glad we’d stayed in touch and that I would have a chance to celebrate Antonia, and thank her, in writing, for helping show me a path I could learn from.

Here’s how Antonia answered the 5 questions I pose to all of the women I highlight in my Celebrating a Whole Life series.

1.     How do you define success?

When I “started out”, I defined it as “making a difference”.  By that I meant a difference in resolving the inequalities faced by many people – my focus was economic inequalities faced by women in developing countries.  I still want to make a difference….but my tableau right now is more local.  I can’t work if it doesn’t have a positive benefit for society one way or another.  But my definition of success now also includes raising two strong, capable, thoughtful, adventure seeking young men.  Oh yes, I’d love to define success by winning a tennis tournament. I know it will happen ONE DAY.

2.     What is your greatest struggle?

It’s such a cliché.  Its feeling like I don’t do much of anything well because I’m so scattered.  I do “ok” work; I’m an “ok” mom; I’m an OK athlete, I’m an ok board member; I’m not sure if I even rise to the ranks of “ok” life partner.

3.     What are you proudest of?

Hands down, my two boys.

4.     Who inspires you, in terms of how they live their life? 

I don’t recall her name.  She is the publisher of Julia Child’s cookbook series. (I can look it up.)  She was a pioneer in believing in the book and its impact.  And now in her 80s in VT, she is still a pioneer raising organic cattle.  I love that she still has a sense of adventure, creativity and she hasn’t just stopped “thinking” and watches TV all the time.

5.     If you had a free 8th day of the week, what would you do with it?

 I’d cook, I’d have friends over, I’d eat and drink with them, and we’d all have scintillating conversations because I’d have time to keep up on news and read books about philosophy!  (And I’d listen more to my boys in a non distracted way.)

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