Apply by Monday – looking for two great people

I’m looking for two great people to join my team, most likely in New York.  Both roles have incredible potential for impact.

One person, for the more junior role, is a crackerjack writer, thinker, synthesizer.  He or she will have wondered if her writing and organizational skills could be coupled with her passion for international issues and global development.  And she’ll discover that the answer is “yes.”

The other person, for the more senior role, is a fearless fundraiser, defined as I and you see this role in its fullest way and with all the strategic potential that implies.  This person will externally represent and build cornerstone partnerships for Acumen Fund, so she must be a natural storyteller and builder who has the grace, presence and poise to be thrust into any meeting or relationship (individual, institutional, corporate, government, you name it) and leave the person on the other end thinking, “Wow!”

The links above have all the specific details.

If this job is for you, or if you know someone you think is perfect, let me know AND apply directly.  We have audacious goals, for this team and for Acumen Fund, and I know we’ll get there.  I can’t wait to find the two people who are going to help make this happen.

The deadline is next Monday.  Please spread the word.

Raising kids is hard, surviving childbirth shouldn’t be – Make it Obvious.

This is a guest post from my Acumen Fund colleague James Wu, creator and curator of the wonderful Search for the Obvious website.

Search for the Obvious began with a simple idea: the most brilliant solutions to the world’s problems are all around us; sometimes, we just need a little help noticing them.

We are going beyond shedding light on these solutions.  We are highlighting some of the world’s most pressing problems and recruiting people to help us change the way the world thinks about them and to increase the urgency in solving these problems. The first Search for the Obvious challenge was Make Sanitation Sexy, and the winners were featured on GOOD, Design Observer, and YouTube (our winning videos got a million and a half views!)

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, Acumen Fund is partnering with ABC  News’ Be the Change: Save a Life and launching a challenge on maternal health.  We are looking for you (or your wonderful friends) to create the most inspiring, sticky ways to shed light on this global problem.

Not convinced? More than 1,000 women die each day due to complications during childbirth – 99% of these women live in developing countries. By the time you have finished reading this post, it is likely that one woman has died in childbirth.

Here’s what you can do. Use your creative genius to communicate this message: Raising kids is hard. Surviving childbirth shouldn’t be. Show the world that moms deserve better!

Here are some ideas for what you can contribute:

  • The most retweetable tweet of all time
  • A New York Times-worthy column that would make Nick Kristof proud
  • An iconic print ad or poster
  • Guerrilla marketing or public art that commands immediate Instagram and yfrog-ing action
  • A must-see must-share video that would hold its own against TED’s Ads Worth Spreading

Enter your submission to Search for the Obvious maternal health challenge by April 17th. Winners will be announced on May 9th (the day after Mother’s Day).

Make Europe yours

I’m looking for a stellar self-starter who makes things happen to join my team.

Success means that a year from now, Acumen Fund will have a higher profile, deeper relationships, a stronger and more engaged community, and significantly more funds coming from Europe to support our work.

This is an opportunity to represent Acumen Fund across a major geography and be at the heart of the evolution of our sector – and if you’re really good, to help define how the sector evolves.

I don’t care if you’ve done not-for-profit fundraising before, but you must have sold things, created things, and gotten people to take action through your ability to build genuine relationships and your powers of persuasion.  You must have real working experience in the developing world – ideally India, Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa.  You must have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of our sector.

This is a unique opportunity for the right person.  All the details are here including the link to apply.

Applications close on February 6th.

Have any questions – ask away

Reposting this short video that’s featured on Acumen’s website.  A great chance to ask questions about whatever interests you.

I love the use of annotations in the video (feels like the closest I’ve gotten to doing green screen martial arts in the Matrix).

And it’s great to see our team turning this around in 24 hours.  Enjoy.

Keep up with the Acumen Fund Fellows

The Class of 2011 Acumen Fund Fellows are an incredible group of people working with our investees around the world.

This year’s class has enthusiastically taken on blogging – it’s a great chance to see what they’re up to and get a glimpse of the front lines in this hard, important work.

Their blogs are here:

  • Benje Williams (The Fragments that Remain) is working at Pharmagen, providing low-cost water, in Lahore, Pakistan
  • Khuram Hussain (The Healthy Archer) is working with Ecotact in Nairobi, Kenya to help make sanitation sexy.
  • Bavidra Mohan (Imagine Something Different) is working in Shenzen, China with D.Light, which manufactures and sells solar lights to replace kerosene
  • Mario Ferro (Imagine there is no…) is spending the year with Husk Power in Bihar, India, helping get affordable power to remote villages
  • Shane Heywood is in Kitale, Kenya, helping Western Seeds get high-yield hybrid maize to smallholder farmers
  • Brenda Williams (GlobalLink Consulting) is in Hyderabad, India, helping get safe, affordable water to Indian villages
  • Wendy Wallace (Adventures of Wendy) is working with Lifespring Hospitals helping bring high-quality, low-cost maternal care to thousands (and we hope eventually, millions)
  • Chika Fujita (Feel the Wind, Live Like the Wind) is in Mumbai, India, supporting the growth of the Dial 1298 ambulance service across India
  • Bryan Farris (Rising Pyramid) is in Lahore, Pakistan, helping Ansaar Management Company expand the only for-profit housing development for the poor in Pakistan

These Fellows all have incredible stories to share, and I know from experience that the more people that follow their stories, the more their stories will be shared.  Jump in, and happy reading.

Here’s a video of these Fellows from last month, the day before they left New York.

Who do you know who’s going to change the world?

They might be anywhere in the world right now, but they’ve probably stood out their whole lives because they’re committed to social change, to empowerment and because they walk through the world with grace and humility.

They’re the kind of people who get things done in all sorts of crazy situations, the kind of people who keep their wits about them no matter what and no matter where, the kind of people who just seem to connect with others no matter where they go.

These are the kinds of people who might make up the next class of Acumen Fund Fellows.  Applications opened today.  Hear from Fellows in their own words – click on this video.

(if you’re having trouble with the link, you can also watch the video on YouTube)

Dispatch from Padrauna, India (Part 3)

[here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2]

My last night in Hyderabad, 100 people gathered at the Acumen Fund offices for an informal community event at which I and my colleague, Karthik Chadrasekar, spoke.  It’s always exciting to see such a large turnout and interest in our work, and I was struck particularly with the number of people I met who are working on entrepreneurial ideas to deliver power and light.

It’s not surprising, given the staggering numbers: 500 million people in India alone without reliable power (and 3 billion globally); 1.5 million deaths annually from indoor air pollution; and the poor typically spending 15% of their income on dirty, low-quality fuels – more than is spent on healthcare or education.

But of course all big solutions start at the beginning, not the end…with one system or pilot or idea that works so well that it is built to grow. And to make it all happen, you need the right person, or people, with a vision of how to make the impossible possible.

The idea behind Husk Power Systems came from Gyanesh Pandey who, together with his partner Ratnesh Yadav, began tinkering with renewable fuel solutions for the poor in 2002.  By 2007, Gayanesh and Ratnesh had settled on biomass as their preferred fuel source and had set up shop in the Indian state of Bihar, where Gyanesh is from.  Bihar is part of India’s “rice belt” so rice husk is abundant, as is poverty.

But no one had ever built an end-to-end system here that generates power and delivers it to villagers’ homes at an affordable price.

A Husk system (the brown stuff is rice husks)

Husk Power Systems began as an NGO, the Samta Samriddhi Foundation, that built one mini-system and wired the surrounding village.  The system uses rice husks to power turbines to create electricity, and the business model is powerful in its simplicity: create small-scale infrastructure (wires to thatch homes strung on bamboo poles); a predictable and reliable power supply from 6pm to midnight; and sell customers two CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs at a price that they can afford.

Or, as it is sold to the villagers: the cost of electric light to your home (which has never been delivered in the thousands of years this village has been here) is 300 rupees for the connection (about US$6) and less than 100 rupees (US $2.50) per month.

Uptake has been swift.

In every village we visited, house after house after house was bathed in the cool blue glow of CFL lights.  Homes in villages that had been dark or powered by kerosene for thousands of years were lit up.  And not just some of them.  Nearly ALL of them.  80% or more of them in every village we entered.

Demand – for this product, with this reliability, at this price – is not an issue, which sets Husk apart from nearly all of the businesses that serve the poor in the developing world.

This helps explain the pace of Husk’s growth: they had two systems installed by the NGO by early 2008, and a little more than 2 years later they have nearly 50 systems serving more than 100,000 people and growing at an accelerated pace.  The plans to scale are aggressive, with the goal of reaching hundreds and then thousands of systems in the next few years.  And that will bring its own challenges – of acquiring more turbines and building and maintaining more systems and building the salesforce and collecting payments from customers and training thousands of mechanics.

But what I find so exciting is to see a business serving the poor with a core model that works so well, one in which promise of meeting a need is matching up with the reality on the ground – high demand , hugh penetration, and high satisfaction from low-income customers, with underlying economics that work.  Having seen hundreds of businesses around the globe that aim to do just this, I know how rare it is.

And if business solutions to poverty are going to work on any sort of scale – not just delivering products to some but addressing social issues at their root – we need to start asking ourselves this question of market penetration.  All too often we look at the company level and ask if it is selling enough at a low enough cost to make the business work.  This itself is hard enough.  But for so many social problems, large-scale change will only come when market penetration (even if the market is just one village) – for safe drinking water, primary education, sanitation, vaccines, maternal care, etc  – reaches 70%, 80%, 90%, even 100%.

It is this depth of adoption that will fundamentally alter the infrastructure of people’s lives.

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