It’s thrilling to be here today – I think it’s a real celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship. I think what we see in this room is representative of a much bigger global shift that’s happening, a new era – not only of African solutions to African problems, but also African innovation solving global problems. This headline is from NYT a month ago. I lived in Nairobi during the 2007 election, when Ushaidi (testimony) as developed. It was used in Haiti…. One of my favorite quotes is from Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s short story “Discovering Home” where he writes of Nairobi: Our worst recession has just produced brighter, more creative matatus – spirit of constant innovation.
Acumen Fund is a non-profit venture capital fund….. we dream a world where all people have access to the critical goods and services they need – including affordable health, housing, water, energy – so that they can me decisions and choices for themselves and pursue lives of greater purpose. We seek to create dignity, not dependence; choice, not charity.
So this is what we do: Acumen Fund raises charitable funds and then invests in visionary entrepreneurs bringing affordable, life-sustaining services like healthcare, water, housing, alternative energy to the poor. We raise money from people all over the world, people who want to see their philanthropy used to invest in the wellbeing of others, not as hand-outs but as levers for change. We find incredible entrepreneurs who see the poor not as passive recipients of charity, but as vital human beings with unlimited potential who want to make their own choices. We invest patient capital – equity and loans – and we are willing to wait a long time as the entrepreneurs experiment to discover what it takes to bring something so fundamental as clean drinking water to the poor in ways that can sustain and grow over time. We measure everything we do both in terms of financial results as well as social impact. Any money returned to Acumen is then reinvested in other enterprises serving the poor, so that we have a virtual circle of capital – in fact in the last year alone we’ve had more than $1.5M returned to Acumen
We currently invest in India, Pakistan and East Africa We’re beginning to explore West Africa So I want to share a few stories of patient capital so that you have a sense of what we’re talking about…..
In case you were getting distracted thinking about lunch I’m going to start with a story of toilets 140m people in East Africa who don’t have access to safe sanitation… this photo was taken in the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, famous for flying toilets Read in the guardian on the train down that we’re “300 years off course” MDG goals for sanitation
David Kuria, a Kenyan entrepreneur who has been working on sanitation solutions for years, developed a public-private partnership model to deliver safe, clean, affordable sanitation in Nairobi’s slums and central business district of Nairobi. He has a 5 year build-operate-transfer agreements with local municipaliites
And customers pay to use toilets, and Kuria supplements income to the facilities with kiosks, shoe shines.
No “normal” investor would want to take a risk like this – and you can’t blame an investor seeking to maximize financial returns. Kuria’s model is challenging at every level – gov’t partnership, customer adoption/behavior change. In the Mathare facility, where the But our patient capital has allowed him to scale. And today Ecotact has already established 22 facilities serving an average of 14,000 customers daily (for a total of 4.3M toilet visits in 2009). The company plans to establish 200 facilities across the country over the next five years
The next story I want to tell you is about bed nets – which is a really story of developing African solutions for African problems. Until 2003, all of the long-lasting nets were produced in Asia despite the fact that more than 90 percent of malaria is found on the African continent. Sumitomo and Unicef partnered with Acumen who made a loan to A to Z Textile Manufacturing in Arusha, Tanzania. We all believed that we needed to invest in African solutions to African problems.
And really, this was a global effort. The technology was developed in Japan; the financing came from a global organization based in NYC; the United Nations bought most of the nets; but Anuj Shah, the entrepreneur made it all happen in Arusha.
Today, that factory employs 7,000 people, mostly women; and they make about 19 million nets every year. That translates into more than 35 million lives who can get protection from malaria. We need more African solutions to African problems; and then the world can make those solutions work and keep development real.
A story of housing – Kenya has some of the largest slums in the world In 200X We invested in Jamii Bora, a Kenyan MFI that was starting a for-profit housing development corporation. Jamiii was sstarted by a group of 50 slumdwellers – largest MFI in Kenya. Came to us for a 250k loan to build 2000 homes
When I first met them all they had was a plan. The residents would do everything themselves, from making the bricks to the roofing tiles to constructing each and every house. And the mortgage payments would be structured to match what people had been paying in rent in the slums, AND that the houses would have solar lighting and an environmentally sound drainage system. Most people thought they were crazy, and again no traditional investor would invest.
And indeed they started to build Things took longer than planned – again where patient capital is important
But they persisted.
Kapeutei – waste water recycling system
But nothing would prepare me for going to back in January….
D.Light has sold over 200,000 solar LED lights in India and TZ, touching more than 1 million lights
A few months ago, I visited the opening of its 285 th plant in India. The company now serves more than 400,000 people and has recently signed a contract with government to bring safe, affordable drinking water to 300 more villages.
Lifespring Hospitals has 9 hospitals
Kashf, a microfinance bank in Pakistan with more than 300,000 borrowers
1298, the first private ambulance company in India with the ethos of “service for all”, uses google earth technology and a sliding scale pricing system, 10 - 100 ambulances, now positioned to grown through partnerships with state gov’t
And since I started with talking to you about shit, I might as well mention artificial insemination. Jassar Farm is trying to increase productivity of pakistani cows. This is Savior – the first cow born through successful embryo transfer in Pakistan, weighing in at 40kgs instead of average ~30kgs
To wrap up – I mentioned earlier that I lived in Kenya during the disputed election in 2010. it was then that I truly saw the power of building successful businessnes that serve the poor. This is Dorah Nyanjah – one of 80 franchisees of the Sustainable Healthcare Foundation in Kenya – a franchise network of clinics that served almost 500,000 patients last year.
She built her clinic, with an investment of her own capital in Kibera - in one of the most challenging markets in the world because / in her words / that’s where the need is. People are willing to pay for her service because
Just after the disputed presidential election in Kenya – which Nthenya will speak about shortly – Kibera was at the heart of the worst violence in the country. International aid agencies pulled out of the slum. Food aid couldn’t get in. Clinics closed….
But Dorah stayed. She slept at her clinic for four nights straight to make sure her customers got the care they needed. She knew her business depended on it. And in return, when looters arrived at Dorah’s door, her customers formed a shield outside to defend her and her property. To me, that is the ultimate testament to the power of Dorah’s work. It’s hard to find entrepreneurs as skilled and committed as Dorah. But she’s an example of what’s possible, and why we must keep getting smarter about how we support entrepreneurs who are getting critical goods & services to the poor.
What’s exciting to me, despite all of the questions and challenges around our work, is to step back and think about what’s possible. When you think about the idea that 20 years ago we were just developing the modern concept of human rights, and 15 years ago the modern concept of microfinance – it’s thrilling to think about the conversations in this room 30 years from now. I think the key is to keep asking the right questions (rather than always searching for answers) and to continue to move from a grant orientation to an investment perspective But rather than searching for “the answer” we must always get better at asking the right questions – 60 yrs ago no human rights, 30, no microfinance, we have a real opportunity…WE CAN DO THIS/WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD IN FUNDAMENTAL WAYS, AND I BELIEVE THAT AFRICA WILL BE AT THE CENTER OF LEADING THAT CHANGE &quot;We hope that when we act on global problems in the future we will not only have the heart, we will not only have the money, but we will also use the brain . &quot;
Patient Capital for an Impatient World CATHERINE CASEY, # ACUMEN FUND