Why Focus on Leadership
Challenges of poverty are not easy to solve. Markets have little incentive to be more inclusive and governments are overwhelmed or negligent. Well-intentioned individuals or organizations have tried to build universal playbooks or solutions in a box, but these have not stood the test of time. Today’s complex challenges require a long-term commitment to changing the goals, structures, and rules of existing systems to build a world where everyone has an opportunity to live a life of dignity.
We need leaders who are rooted in moral imagination, showing self-awareness, resilience, grit, authenticity, integrity, and a willingness to learn from feedback and failures. We need leaders who don’t pity the poor, nor do they romanticize them. They ground their work in our shared humanity.
We need leaders who can navigate the unknown in an ever-changing world. Individuals who can bridge divides between rich and poor, the public and private sectors, global and local, shareholders and stakeholders. We need moral leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability and willingness to bring diverse actors together, to solve problems with people (not for them) and to shift systems by mobilizing multiple stakeholders to drive change.
Fortunately, high-potential change agents are emerging everywhere. We have an opportunity to empower them as individuals, build connections, and deepen relationships across populations, sectors and geographies to create a powerful global ecosystem for change. We believe fellowship is as important as leadership because together we can achieve much more than any one of us can accomplish alone.
What We’ve Created
The Fellows Program currently runs in East Africa, India, Pakistan, Colombia & West Africa
In total, our 37+ courses have been taken over 750,000 times
Acumen Fellows have impacted over 8 million lives in the course of their work
Acumen has directly invested $1.5M in 6 Fellows’ companies
Fellows have raised $20M from introductions made by Acumen
Our courses have been taken everywhere in world except the Vatican, North Korea, San Marino, and Palau
In 2006, we set out to create a powerful set of tools and experiences for emerging leaders in the social sector. We started a Fellows Program, first a global one and then programs in East Africa, Pakistan, India, and as of 2018, in Colombia and West Africa. During their first year, Fellows remain in their jobs while taking part in five week-long seminars (25 days total). Over the last two years, we’ve combined the deep in-person moral leadership curriculum with virtual interactions and coursework between seminars. Fellows receive training, practical tools and the space to explore their own leadership journeys while connecting with innovators across Acumen’s local and global communities. After their first year, we create communities of practice that enable the Fellows to hone the skills, behaviors and attitudes that will accelerate the rate at which they create change.
Our Fellows are entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and organization builders, and we stand 546 Fellows strong. We supplement our tools and experiences on moral leadership with courses that we offer on +Acumen, which include hard skills.
We created +Acumen in 2014, and it has become the world’s largest online course library for the social sector. Our courses have reached over 400,000 learners from 192 countries, enabling them to become more active and effective at disrupting the systems that keep people trapped in poverty. We’ve partnered with experts on topics such as human-centered design (IDEO.org), systems practice (The Omidyar Group), changing customer behavior (Dan Ariely, Duke University), and measuring social impact (Lean Data). +Acumen develops online learning experiences that focus on creating transformative mindsets, so that learners can foster the use of new knowledge to adapt to changing conditions. For example, Sabrina Premji and Afzal Habib took +Acumen’s Lean Startup Course when they founded Kidogo, an organization bringing low-cost, high-quality childcare and education to Kenya’s slums, while Virginia Hamilton helped the U.S. Department of Labor reevaluate and improve its methods to better serve unemployed Americans through +Acumen’s Human-Centered Design course. +Acumen was an early online learning platform for the social sector with a unique approach - create an active, engaged community which allows continuous learning.
Now, with 12 years of experience under our belt, we’re setting out to create a global university reimagined to better equip today’s leaders to address the complex and interconnected needs of society. Over the next five years, we will build a vanguard of 10,000 moral leaders that will drive the transition to a more inclusive, sustainable society. This University will be geographically distributed, deliberately diverse, locally rooted and globally connected. It will be focused on building the character, skills, and networks to solve problems of poverty in the 21st century.
James Kassaga Arinaitwe
(Global Fellow 2015)
In a country of almost 50 million, 70% of children who enroll in school in Uganda drop out before completing primary school. At Teach for Uganda, James is improving the status of education by training teachers and placing them in rural, low-income government schools as full-time teachers for two years. James was inspired to launch Teach for Uganda having worked closely with Acumen Fellows in India who introduced him to Teach for India.
(India Fellow 2015)
Smallholder farmers in India do not have access to technology and tools to grow their businesses, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty. Raghav leads multi-stakeholder efforts with the Indian government, regulators, policy-makers and multilaterals to link 500,000 farmers to build entrepreneurial ecosystems around smallholder farmers enabling them to sell their produce freely and at fair prices.
(Pakistan Fellow 2016)
Co-Founder Sara Khurram started Sehat Kahani to address the lack of healthcare facilities, particularly for women, in Pakistan. Today, with 40 centers serving over 40,000 patients in Pakistan, Sehat Kahani is leveraging technology and has become one of Pakistan’s largest telehealth companies.
Core Pillars of the Acumen Fellows CURRICULUM
Based on Ron Heifetz’s work, Adaptive Leadership is a practical leadership framework that supports Fellows’ ability, both individually and collectively, to catalyze and embrace the gradual and meaningful process of creating change.
Grounded in Marshall Ganz’s life's work, the Authentic Voice curriculum allows the Fellows to develop the capacity to articulate a hopeful vision, speak across lines of difference, and move others into action.
Good Society Readings
Modeled off The Aspen Institute, the Good Society Readings explore the meaning of a just society, and the moral and historical foundation of social change through text based dialogue. Fellows reflect on core human values and cultivate a richer understanding of their social change work in a broader historical context.
The Acumen Fellows Program's Polarities Management curriculum is based on Barry Johnson’s work and aims to cultivate an individual’s ability to lead effectively when opposing but interdependent and equally important values are in tension.
Fellows explore the concept of Systems Thinking through frameworks and on-the-ground application by working collaboratively on live challenges, enabling them to better understand larger, systemic problems and design more effective interventions.