20 Image above: Listo designed its sleek, contemporary interiors to provide a welcoming environment for low-income customers too often served by indifferent agents behind bullet-proof glass. Photo courtesy of Listo, used with permission. AMON ANDERSON / SARAH WILLIS Tackling Poverty Close to Home: Why Acumen is Boosting Financial Health in the U.S. Unchecked markets that overlooked low-income communities. Top-down aid programs that distorted the dynamism and efficiency of markets. Interventions that created a cycle of dependency rather than empowerment. When Acumen first launched in 2001, that’s the global development landscape its founders surveyed. In the 17 years since, the organization has invested more than $110 million in 108 companies across East and West Africa, South Asia, and Latin America to change the way the world tackles poverty. The goal, then and now, is to utilize the best of business to unleash the entrepreneurial potential that is inherent in all people, generating the social innovations our world desperately needs. The more Acumen learned and grew—and to date, Acumen investments have impacted more than 230 million people—the more the firm came to believe that the Acumen approach could change the way the U.S. addresses poverty, too. Acumen America was launched in 2016 with a focus on health, workforce development and financial inclusion, three sectors where the potential for social impact is high and smart capital can unlock change. The aim of the financial inclusion portfolio, supported by MetLife Foundation, is to build a future where low- income Americans enjoy improved stability, protection and prosperity. (Note: MetLife Foundation is a NextBillion partner.) In 2017, more than 40 million Americans lived below the poverty line, which sits at $24,339 for a family of four. But poverty-line statistics massively understate the number of Americans who struggle financially: In many parts of the country, particularly the big cities where most of the jobs are, the cost of living requires considerably more than $50,000 (more than twice the federal poverty level for a family of four). In our nation’s capital, for example, a family of four with two working parents must earn over $74,000 to cover food, childcare, housing, medical and