The year 2009 has been an extraordinary one for nonprofits. But how has the press covered our sector over these turbulent 12 months? As you likely know already, NPQ has been following the news through its Nonprofit Newswire and what we at the Nonprofit Quarterly have found in the course of that is something of a split between national and local topics. Below we will look at what we see as being some of the themes nationally and what they were more likely to have been on a local level. Before anyone argues the obvious about this impressionistic account, however, we know not only that this list is not exhaustive and that most of the following story types likely showed up at both levels.
Naturally, issues of fraud and bloated salary outrages showed up both locally and nationally with disheartening regularity particularly when so many other nonprofit staffers were taking pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs as a part of the collective restructuring that has been occurring. Discussions of renewed fundraising efforts abounded at the local level as did stories about communities pulling together in extraordinary ways as they attempt to backfill after the appalling greed of under-regulated market lords were allowed to lay waste to the lives of so many families in so many of our communities.
So to end, we thought this next story just in from Southern New Jersey was a weird small metaphor for the story of the year which is that nonprofits of all sizes and missions have faced up to the chaos of their environments and the needs of their communities with an equanimity and tenaciousness that is awesome and their communities have witnessed that strength of purpose and maturity and have begun to move forward to help in new ways. It is a moment to note and watch. Stick with us over the coming year as the Nonprofit Quarterly continues to cover and make sense of the stories and trends in our sector.
Using Patient Capital to Build Transformative Businesses
Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.
Tremendous wealth is being created in the world today thanks to globalization and the power of technology and markets. Yet there is a growing gap between rich and poor. Something must be done to extend the benefits of the global economy to the majority of the world’s population that lives on less than four dollars a day.
Poor people seek dignity, not dependence. Traditional charity often meets immediate needs but too often fails to enable people to solve their own problems over the long term. Market-based approaches have the potential to grow when charitable dollars run out, and they must be a part of the solution to the big problem of poverty.
Very low-income people are too often invisible to businesses and society. Businesses see no significant market opportunity and governments view low-income areas as having insufficient tax revenues to pay for basic services like clean water, healthcare, housing and energy. Building new models that provide these critical services at affordable price – in the face of high costs, poor distribution systems, dispersed customers, limited financing options and, at times, corruption – requires imaginative business solutions and partnerships supported by investors willing to take on a risk/return profile that is unacceptable to traditional financiers.
We believe that pioneering entrepreneurs will ultimately find the
solutions to poverty. The entrepreneurs Acumen Fund supports are
focused on offering critical services – water, health, housing, and
energy – at affordable prices to people earning less than four dollars
The key is patient capital. We use philanthropic capital to make disciplined investments – loans or equity, not grants – that yield both financial and social returns. Any financial returns we receive are recycled into new investments. Over time, we have refined the Acumen Fund investment model, built a world-class global team with offices in four countries, and learned what does and does not work in growing businesses that serve low-income people.
Acumen Fund was incorporated on April 1, 2001, with seed capital from the Rockefeller Foundation, Cisco Systems Foundation and three individual philanthropists. Since then our network of investors and advisors has grown to include a wide range of individuals and organizations who share our belief in using entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.