Rob Katz

Katherine Fulton on “Acumen’s Moment”

I am in New York City today, attending the 2007 Acumen Fund Investor Gathering.? This annual event is an opportunity for NextBillion ally Acumen Fund to engage its stakeholders – investors, entrepreneurs, partners and supporters – in a discussion of where the fund has been and where it’s going.? Today was my first Investor Gathering, and it was an event I won’t soon forget.

The first speaker was Monitor Institute President Katherine Fulton.? Fulton, who before joining Monitor Group, co-lead the Global Business Network, delivered a compelling speech entitled “Acumen’s Moment.”?She began her remarks arguing that Acumen Fund finds itself on the front lines of a “battle for the soul of philanthropy.”? A weighty metaphor, to be sure, but her message rang true to me: why isn’t philanthropy more effective?? Fulton suggests that Acumen is leading the way from an Industrial age of philanthropy – dominated by family foundations – to a more market-driven system that values entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainability.? And with more and more billionaires in the world – nearly 1,000, according to Fulton – the opportunity to change philanthropy is now.

How is Acumen Fund leading this change, and waging this so-called battle?? Fulton suggests they are taking four key stands.? First, Acumen has a clear and compelling mission, address global poverty, from which it does not stray.? Second, it occupies a unique space at the intersection of charity and markets, exercising what Fulton calls an “imaginative, empathetic and focused use of power.”

Third, Acumen has developed an enviable worldwide network, including in-country offices in Kenya, India and Pakistan.? With its supporting network – many of whom were present today – Acumen can leverage its investments and knowledge unlike other, traditional charities.? Fourth, Acumen has chosen to develop, rather than simply participate in, the field of social innovation.? This final stand is demonstrated by Acumen’s leadership developing portfolio data management tools, social impact assessment frameworks, knowledge sharing partnerships and new investment vehicles.? While Acumen has no responsibility to develop the field, per se, it has chosen to subsidize the cost of significant new tools and methodologies that will help those of us in its universe.

Fulton’s speech set the stage for a truly inspiring day – more to come on that soon.