Hiring a World-Class Marketer and Storyteller

What could be better than hiring the right person for a transformative job, one that allows them to use their skills, their passion, their energy and their knowledge to change the world?

I’m looking for someone to run all of marketing and communications at Acumen.  “Marketing” in the fullest sense of the word, the way Seth describes it as “transform[ing] the way you and your organization spread your ideas, engage with customers and most of all, think about what you make and why.”

I deeply believe that Acumen has a powerful story to tell.  And I know that telling this story in the right way to the right people won’t only be transformative for us as an organization, it will help the world understand that intractable problems can be solved, it will shift global conversations about dignity and inequality and connection, it will demonstrate the potential of a new breed of values-based leadership.

I’m guessing that the right person for this job has around 15 years of professional experience; is a thinker and a doer and a troublemaker in the best sense of the word; is someone who cares deeply, synthesizes easily, learns quickly.  You don’t have to be an expert in poverty or international development, but you do have to be a truth-seeker who cares about this work in real way.

Even if you’re not this person, I bet you know someone who knows someone who…..you get the idea.  So please spread the word.

I can’t wait to read the applications, because I know that I’ll be surprised and delighted and that I’ll learn a lot from all of you.  (If you do apply, please take a risk and shine).

Here’s the full job description, so you can just forward this post to the right people.

Or forward this link: http://acumenfund.theresumator.com/apply/KenPu7


Acumen – Director of Marketing and Communications

Acumen is hiring a Director of Marketing and Communications, a seasoned marketer who thrives on taking the complex and making it meaningful, visceral, understandable, and personal.  We believe we have an important story to tell about the transformative impact we, and the world, can have on poverty.  It is a story of innovation, of possibility, and of human dignity.

You are someone who cares about the problems of global poverty and of inequality, and you bring world-class talent as a marketer, a communications professional, and a storyteller and a thinker.  You understand that the future of marketing is about trust and relationship-building, about how an organization can represent and transmit a set of values in everything it does.  You are energized by the idea of digging in deep to understand what Acumen has to offer, and you have the skills and relationships to bring the latest thinking, tools, ideas and action to sharing our unique story with the world.

About Acumen

Acumen started as an idea. Thirteen years later we have a proven model that combines the best of charity and investing to change the way the world tackles poverty.

Acumen is changing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in companies, leaders and ideas.  We were one of the early pioneers that created the field of impact investing.  Our companies have improved the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people by providing them high-quality, affordable water, sanitation, healthcare, housing, energy, agriculture and education.   We offer leadership programs that bring together the world’s best talent to focus their skills, capacity and moral imagination to solve the world’s toughest problems of poverty.   And we invest in the spread of ideas to share what we are learning, in order change the way the world tackles poverty.

We see each investment as a provocation, a chance to support entrepreneurs who dare to build solutions where markets have failed and traditional aid has fallen short.

See who is talking about us here.

About the Role

Reporting to the Chief Innovation Officer, this role requires:

  • World-class marketing and storytelling experience.  You have more than a track record in marketing, brand management, communications and storytelling.  You understand that marketing ultimately is about creating meaningful connection that drives action, and that a catalytic approach will accelerate the impact of our work by creating broader and deeper understanding of our values, our progress and our impact.  This will help us continue to lead our sector and be a beacon for what is possible in the fight on global poverty.  The chops you bring are in managing or advising big or upstart brands, in thinking strategically and in telling stories.  You are digitally native or know how to find and manage talented people who use video and online tools to create change.
  • Demonstrated capacity to develop, refine and transmit Acumen’s message to key stakeholders—our Partners, our Advisors, our peers, and our community around the world.  You are skilled in taking a rich, complex message and boiling it down to its essence.  Better yet, you have the audacity, imagination and skills to activate our teams around the world to systematically discover, raise up and share important and inspiring stories—stories from from the slums of Kenya, from the mountains of Pakistan, from smallholder farmers in Ghana or from the poorest state in India—to teach our community and the world about how to make real and lasting change in the fight on global poverty.
  • Strategic thinking, solutions design and internal/external evangelism. You are a highly strategic thinker, comfortable with sophisticated financial products and interested in the nuances of poverty alleviation, who will mine the richness of all we are learning and empower our global organization to share what we are learning in more exciting and visceral ways.
  • Exceptional writing and communications skills.  You will ultimately have the final word on all external and internal communications by Acumen and will serve as a key advisor to Acumen’s Management Committee and to the CEO.  You must be a strong writer who is comfortable managing and representing the multiple voices of Acumen.
  • A deep commitment to our mission.  We are looking for a leader with evidence of empathy, passionate curiosity, and a commitment to helping others. You have a demonstrated interest in creating large-scale change, and you have relevant exposure to work in the social sector, whether locally or globally.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Evolve Acumen’s current marketing and outreach to create much stronger connection to and relationship with the Acumen brand and the values it represents.  Strengthen Acumen’s positioning as a go-to source for ideas on the role of patient capital in fighting global poverty.
  • Enhance Acumen’s brand salience, brand engagement, brand congruence and brand velocity. Help our key stakeholders understand what we do, why we do it, and how it’s relevant to them.  Ensure that they feel heard, and that they can meaningfully engage with Acumen and with our work.  Invite leading-edge thinkers into our work to ensure we stay highly relevant and innovative.  Create experiences that uniquely amplify our message and draw partners to us in a deep and meaningful way.
  • Create a system to surface, develop and publish compelling stories based on our work. Drive discovery of the best thinking at Acumen (using new or old forms of technology) and quickly transform these insights into stories that can be used to accelerate the work of  Acumen’s Business Development team, our Communications team, the Office of the CEO, and Acumen’s Country Leaders, accelerating our ability to raise funds, to share what we are learning, and to influence a broader conversation about new ways to solve seemingly intractable problems.
  • Oversee global communications, including all press and PR across all of Acumen’s geographies and all of Acumen’s digital properties (including video and online fundraising). You will lead and manage the team responsible for sharing our best front-line thinking and insights across five regions, whether through Op Eds and external media, thought pieces that move the conversation in our sector, or materials for communications with Acumen’s key funders, Advisors and Board members.
  • Provide direct support to Acumen’s CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, and work with the Chief of Staff to the CEO to ensure maximum impact of her communications—whether written, in the press, or in public speaking opportunities. Continue to position Acumen’s CEO as a key thought leader in development and social enterprise, positioning her for increased visibility in global conversations on the role of capitalism, philanthropy and markets in creating a more inclusive economy.
  • Lead a matrixed global team of eight, including a core team of four professionals based in New York

Qualifications & Characteristics

Passion, entrepreneurial spirit, and rejecting the status quo are just a few of the things that Acumen team members have in common.  They also share a commitment to, and enthusiasm for, the organization’s mission and business model, coupled with respect for our core values: generosity, accountability, humility, audacity, listening, leadership, integrity, respect.

Ideal candidates for this role also have:

  • 15+ years of work experience, ideally a blend of private, social or non-profit sector.
  • Highly creative, comfortable with ambiguity, interested in big, thorny questions.
  • Strong network of relationships with thought leaders in your space, and the capacity to effectively enlist and engage leading thinkers and doers to support our work.
  • The ability to thrive in an ambiguous environment, provide leadership and direction to the team when there are curve balls, and to lead with inspiration, resilience and resolve.
  • High capacity to collaborate across matrixed teams, as well as the ability to exert influence both with and without formal authority.
  • Eagerness to travel globally across the developing world (anticipated 10-20% travel).
  • Permanent authorization to work in the United States.


Acumen offers competitive compensation for the international development sector, commensurate with experience. Compensation includes a base salary, an annual bonus based on achievement of individual and organizational goals, health insurance, and an employer-sponsored contribution to a defined contribution retirement program.


This role is based in Acumen’s New York City office at 15th Street and 9th Avenue.


For Consideration

Please apply online through this link to submit your resume and answer the following two questions. Feel free to have your written responses refer to websites / videos / published work online.

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Describe three brands you have worked on and what you did to make them succeed

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, so candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Posted in Acumen | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Daschund in the Wild

For no other reason than that we all need a laugh…a 30-second video I shot, with all due apologies to Allastair Fothergill and his team.

(yes, that’s one of my two dogs, Stella.  And yes, that’s me narrating.  No idea how my accent became South African).

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Another Hero I’ve Never Met

I recently had a powerful conversation with a friend about humility and arrogance.  We talked about the danger and allure of arrogance, how blinding it is and how much it keeps us from seeing each other’s humanity.

“Sometimes,” my friend shared, in a moment of deep candor and vulnerability, “even when I’m actively not being arrogant, I wonder if I’m being arrogant.”

I think we all know what she means – how easy it is to value our own strengths, how easy it is to take credit for our own successes, how easy it is to create separation, to be blind to the gifts of others, to forget that who we are and what we have is thanks to others.

Here’s how I was reminded of the wisdom of her words.

On my way into work yesterday I read an article in the New York Times about Tatsuo Osako, a man I’d never heard of, a man who is a hero to me…

Before getting to Mr. Osako, a bit of background.  I am the grandson of refugees, Holocaust survivors who escaped the Nazis in 1940 thanks to Chiune Sugihara, a Japanase vice consul in Kovno, Lithuania.

In 1940, Mr. Sugihara, defying his superiors, issued transit visas to more than 6,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Lithuania. These visas allowed these Jews, including my grandparents, to escape Lithuania and go by train to Vladivostok, Russia, and then to Japan by boat, saving them from the concentration camps.

The story of Mr. Sugihara is part of my family history.  My grandfather told this story to us countless times when we were kids, and long ago I read the 1979 book The Fugu Plan by  Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz, that documents this history.

Mr. Sugihara didn’t act alone.  Someone needed to escort these thousands of Jewish refugees on the boat trips from Russia to Japan and ensure them safe passage.  And that brings us back to Tatsuo Osako.   He was not a diplomat, he was an employee of the Japan National Tourism Organization.  Yet he spent nine months from 1940 to 1941 serving as this escort on boats going back and forth between Russia and Japan, a civilian playing a diplomat’s role because there was no diplomat to do the job.


Tatsuo Osako with a passenger on a ship

Sadly, I’ve never met Mr. Osako, my newly-discovered hero who died in 2003.  But, thanks that article, I not only learned about Mr. Osako, I learned, while barreling towards Grand Central Station, that the author of the book about Mr. Osako, Akira Kitade, was going to be in Grand Central Station as part of an exposition that day by the Japanese Tourism Organization.  Turning my day upside-down, I made my way to Vanderbilt Hall and found my way to Mr. Kitade, a quiet man in his early 70s in a black shirt and a trim tweed jacket.  Many years after the War, Mr. Kitade worked for Mr. Osako at the Japanese Tourism Organization, and though Mr. Osako never spoke about his part in helping these 6,000 Jews escape, Mr. Kitade eventually learned about Mr. Osako’s story and decided to write a book about it.

Making my way past the velvet ropes to the back of Vanderbilt Hall, I found Mr. Kitade and introduced myself.  I shared my story and he shared his.  Our conversation was kind, open, and also tentative thanks to language barriers.  I bought a copy of his book, still only in Japanese, and we talked about his hope that Stephen Spielberg will someday make a movie about Mr. Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler.”


Akira Kitade with the scrapbook of Tatsuo Osako. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

I also met Chikako Ichihara, the woman in charge of the Japan Tourist Board exhibition.  Though she was swirling in the rush of last-minute preparations for this expo that she’s spent a year developing, she stopped and made a few minutes to talk.  I found myself overcome with emotion, as was she, as I related my family history and shared my gratitude for her choice to include the history of Mr. Sugihara and Mr. Osako in the expo.   She shared some details I didn’t know about the Japanese government’s policies and about the heroics of so many everyday people who chose to take a stand and do something they knew was right. As we closed our conversation, she shared that her father had come from the same village as Mr. Sugihara, the man who wrote the visas that saved thousands of lives.

What a morning.  What a reminder, impossible to ignore, that so many people I’ve never met are part of who I am, that there are so many ghosts of everyday heroes who have paved the path for me.

We all have these stories in our lives, known or unknown to us.  They too often are lost in the blur of the everyday, allowing us to create a too-narrow narrative about who we are and what it took for us to arrive at today, at this place, at this life.

We are who we think we are, and we are also so much more thanks to the incalculable efforts of so many heroes, past and present, to whom we owe our gratitude.

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Courage quotient

What is your courage quotient?

What will it take to have you go towards:

…a feeling of discomfort?

…a place that is just outside where you normally sit?

….an action that you’ve talked about with a few people but have never taken?

…an idea you have that you’ve wanted to share, but you’re afraid it will get shot down?

…something that you’ve been building but have kept hidden away from everyone who matters?

It’s all too easy for all of us to get caught in behavioral ruts – patterns that have worked for us so far.   These can create parallel emotional ruts, a safe emotional space whose safety comes from nothing more than a sense of familiarity.

It’s like you’re standing at the side of a pool, thinking about how cold the water will feel when you jump in.  And the time keeps passing until it’s impossible to stop thinking about that first moment, that big shock that’s coming to the system.

It’s true, it might be a big shock.  But only for a minute, and then it passes.  The truth is that few of us will look back at our lives and think “I was too bold.  I was too courageous.  I reached too too far for the things that really mattered to me.”

No one’s asking you to be Lewis Pugh, not yet at least.


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GiveDirectly – What’s our baseline?

I recently had the chance to catch up with Michael Faye, one of the co-founders of GiveDirectly.   I first wrote about GiveDirectly in December 2012 after meeting with co-founder Rohit Wanchoo and being so impressed both by the approach they are taking as and by how they were going about building the company: a core great idea, being smart about leveraging technology, have a big focus on transparency and accountability, and run the organization with four volunteer founders and extremely lean staff (they were just hiring their first employee).

I met them early enough that my blog post was one of the first published pieces about their work.  Since then GiveDirectly has justifiably captured a ton of attention, including receiving a major grants from Google and from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and being covered in The Economist, on NPR, and in the New York Times.

GiveDirectly is a platform for giving unconditional cash transfers to the extreme poor in the developing world, primarily in Kenya.  Their target clients make about US$0.67 a day and they receive cash directly from GiveDirectly via mobile cash transfer.   A typical grant in Kenya of $1,000 is equivalent to two years’ income for a recipient.

The most intriguing part of the GiveDirectly story (and, naturally, the focus of all the press they’ve received so far) is whether giving cash directly to a poor person works.  Like most people, you probably have a gut reaction to the question of whether a typical recipient will spend the money productively or squander it.  Interestingly, the data show that, by and large, the money is spent productively: in a random selection of households in 63 villages receiving cash transfers, according to The Economist, “the number of children going without food for a day has fallen by over a third and livestock holdings have risen by half.”  Perhaps most intriguing, these one-time cash transfers appear to create both short- and long-term improvements in well-being.  That’s a big deal.   (the Economist has lots of great additional details on all of these data).

What’s interesting from a marketing and storytelling perspective is that the fact that cash transfers work isn’t new, it’s just new to the mainstream.  As Michael is quick to point out, more than $100 Billion is already being transferred by governments to poor people through both conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs around the world.  The biggest and most-studied cash transfer programs are the Bolsa Familia in Brazil (which is directly credited for 1/6th of the reduction in poverty in Brazil over the last decade, at a cost of just $12 per child – about 0.5% of GDP) and Oportunidades in Mexico.  These have been in place for more than a decade and have helped tens of millions of poor people.

What IS new about GiveDirectly, beyond the fact that the cash transfers are unconditional, is that they are creating a platform that makes the entire transaction – from funder to end recipient – cashless.  This creates huge potential efficiencies in a massive global money transfer system that is ripe for evolution, and if GiveDirectly can serve as a leverage point to begin to transform a $100 Billion industry, allowing more of the money that goes into these programs to end up, safely and conveniently, in the hands of end recipients, then they will have significant global impact.

It strikes me that there is yet another important leverage point for GiveDirectly that I don’t hear people talk about, and it’s around how to benchmark impact.  The typical benchmark, whether for a large-scale, rigorous randomized control trial or for simple observational analysis of an intervention, is a control group with “no intervention.”  Put another way, this means that when we study whether a $10 million program worked, our question often is: “was there a quantifiably discernible impact relative to a group that received no intervention?”  Put more simply: did our $10 million do more than nothing?

That’s a dispiritingly low bar.

Wouldn’t it make much more sense to demand that we show that our $10 million created more impact than we would have created if we had directly handed $10 million over to end customers?  To show that, for example, $10 million put into a seed company or a solar lighting company or a sanitation company created $100 million in value – in terms of savings or increases in productivity?    This thinking is what led Acumen to develop the Best Available Charitable Option (BACO) methodology, and it feels like it is high time that we all use this higher benchmark to assess our work.

Surely our goal must be that we can do better than, figuratively, dropping money out of a plane.

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Happy Generosity Day 2014

Today marks the fourth year of Generosity Day. I’ve heard from people as far away as Dubai and as close as a local preschool in New York City about their plans for Generosity Day this year. It makes me proud, and it humbles me.

This year, my celebration of Generosity Day is a quiet one. I decided this year that I wanted to focus my energies on the practice of generosity, rather than on further spreading the word about Generosity Day. So the Generosity Day team is not doing a big online media push or reaching out to the press. This feels right this time around. Generosity Day has always been organic and has always lived in the hearts of those who choose to celebrate it. Evolution is part of what makes this a real, living and breathing thing.

For all of you who are celebrating Generosity Day today, I encourage you to take a moment to remember that you are part of a global community that cares about the practice of generosity. This is a community that knows that we can choose to become the people we aspire to be, a community that understands that through practice we grow and evolve, a community that lives everywhere and is owned by no one.

I wish you a day of discovery and of joy. I thank you for the gifts you give to others, the gifts you give to this community, and the gifts you give to yourself.

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Quantitative Social Metrics for Impact Investing

I have this nagging feeling of an elephant in the room – in the room of impact investing, I mean.

On the one hand, we’ve made tons of progress.  I don’t just mean progress in terms of more funds being raised and more mainstream attention – though those are both good things.  I mean that it’s become increasingly accepted, conceptually at least, that for an investor to be an impact investor, she must actively intend to create impact, and she must actively measure the impact she is creating.

(E.g. the World Economic Forum report’s recent definition of impact investing as “an investment approach that intentionally seeks to create both financial return and positive social or environmental impact that is actively measured.”)

While we’ve made progress on the language, I’m not sure how far we’ve come on the “actively measured” bit – mostly because it’s really, really hard to measure impact.

Let’s not forget what’s at stake here though. We value what we measure.  And what we are able to measure today is financial return.

Think about it:  we have hard, objective measures on the financial side – or we will, as soon as more impact funds realize their returns.

And we have a framework for measuring impact (in the IRIS standards, and in GIIRS ratings) but no agreed-upon standard of what social impact data should be collected and shared by impact funds.  This means that, despite the incredible work of building IRIS and GIIRS, we continue to build an impact investing sector without agreement on what constitutes impact and what minimal data should be collected by impact funds.  If we continue to walk this path, my fear is that (say what we might to the contrary) we’ll inevitably end up ranking and sorting impact funds by the only thing they can be ranked and sorted by – their financial returns.

It strikes me that part of the way forward is by constraining our path.  What if what’s holding us back is too many options, if the Achilles heel of the 400+ IRIS indicators is that they leave even the most well-intentioned impact investor overwhelmed and a bit mystified?  What if part of the way forward is to narrow our search to the most important, most universal, most quantifiable data we can find that will give us one-level-deeper insights into what’s going on underneath the hood.  Quantifiable because this is the only thing that might start to balance the scales and be weighed equally with the financial returns we hope to realize.

For example, wouldn’t it be nice to understand who impact investors are actually serving?  To understand who the end customers are for the companies that make up various impact portfolios?  If this could be objectively assessed, and if we could gather this data easily, this data might start to tell us something beyond what we can find in the glossy prospectuses of impact funds.  We know, of course, that reaching the emerging middle class in urban sub-Saharan Africa and reaching the poor in rural sub-Saharan Africa are two completely different balls of wax, yet gathering data on who a given fund is actually serving has been, so far, nearly impossible.  And until we gather this data, we’ll never begin to properly understand how far market-based solutions can go to reach poor and underserved populations.

This is just one of the areas I’m excited to be exploring with our impact team led by Tom Adams at Acumen – using cellphones and text messages to quickly and reliably understand who end customers are, so that we’ll have the real data capturing who is actually being served across different geographies and sectors.  We successfully piloted this work last year with a Kenyan firm called Echomobile, and we’re rolling it out more broadly across the full Acumen portfolio.  The idea is to use technology, married with smart frameworks like the progress out of poverty index, to make it easier to get data and insights about real impacts on the ground.

I don’t know what these data will tell us, but I do know that the pursuit of easy-to-collect, quantitative data will be a first step towards differentiating the social impact strategies of the myriad impact investors in the marketplace.  And I think this will be part of the way forward.

This video of a talk I recently gave at Acumen’s Investor Gathering explored this idea in more detail, and it starts to outline what the end state of impact investing might be.  Let me know what you think!

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