Rich Ideas

A customer at an Acumen funded water project in India
Acumen Fund, via Flickr

How can businesses solve serious health and social issues in poor communities? Marina Santee and Mike Procter look at the work of Jaqueline Novogratz, bringing businesses and communities together.


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Marina Santee.

Voice 2 

And I’m Mike Procter. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A young woman runs through city streets. She runs for exercise, to stay healthy. She is about to have an amazing experience. The woman’s name is Jaqueline Novogratz. She is from the United States. But she is in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

Voice 2 

Suddenly, Jaqueline stops. She sees a small boy. He is wearing a blue shirt. But this is not just any blue shirt. She recognizes the design. When she was a child, she had owned a shirt like it. But she had given it away many years before. Jaqueline runs to the boy, and looks more closely at the shirt. It is the same shirt she had given away, in the United States.

Voice 1 

Today’s Spotlight is on Jaqueline, and her organization, the Acumen Fund. The blue shirt became an example for her. When she gave it away, she did not know where it would go. Now, she was connected to the boy through the blue shirt. But she was not just connected to the boy. She felt that all people are connected. And Jacqueline wanted to help other people see this connection. She believed that these connections could make a big difference to all people.

Jacqueline explains on the Acumen Fund website:

Voice 3 

“I dream of a world where every human being can get the goods and services they need: health, water, homes and energy. This way they can add greater purpose to their lives.

"Imagine a life where you cannot pay the school costs required for an education for your children. Then a child gets sick or bad weather destroys your home. We need to find ways to get services at low cost so people are not always in those bad situations.”

Voice 2 

Jacqueline wanted to connect rich people and poor people. She wanted to connect business people and their communities. And this is why she began the Acumen Fund. The Acumen Fund invests in people who have good ideas to improve their own poor communities. They give loans and other support to businesses. This method of support does not see poor people as victims without hope. Instead, it sees poor people as business people of the future.

Voice 1 

Jacqueline fears that people lose honour when they just receive aid. Receiving aid can also stop people from using their own skills to solve problems. They begin to depend on the people who give the aid. This is why the Acumen Fund looks for good business people, who want to improve their communities. And this is why the fund gives loans, as well as other kinds of support. She says:

Voice 3 

“What makes the Acumen Fund different is that we find solutions. These solutions remove those barriers from individual families. Then they have a better chance of solving their own problems.”

“We invest in some of the best experiments in the world. When we find those things that work we have a model. We can share that model with the rest of the world.”

Voice 2 

One example of this is in Tanzania, in East Africa. The Acumen Fund invests in a company called A to Z. A to Z employs more workers than almost any other business in that country. They produce fine cloth shelters. A person sleeps under this fine cloth. The cloth keeps insects away while the person sleeps. This has prevented many, many people from catching the disease malaria.

Voice 1 

Another example of the Acumen Fund’s work is in the Indian state of Bihar. The population of Bihar is huge but the people are some of the poorest in India. And they have a particular problem as a result. Sasha Dichter works for the Acumen Fund. In a talk to the organization TED, he explained:

Voice 4 

“Ninety percent of the people in Bihar do have not electricity. They use oil, called kerosene. When kerosene is your only kind of light, you will probably be burned. Also, you will use it as little as possible. Worse, the smoke from the kerosene, and from stoves kills people. More than a million people die each year from breathing smoke in their homes. Also, they are spending 10 to 15 percent of their pay to buy these dirty fuels.

When we see a problem like that we do not try to solve it. Instead, we look for a person who can.”

Voice 1 

The Acumen Fund found such a person. His name is Gyanesh Pundey. Gyanesh was raised in Bihar but he worked in America as an engineer. He could not stop thinking about the kerosene problem in Bihar.

Voice 2 

His answer was rice. Farmers in the area grow a lot of rice. Gyanesh discovered that he could make electricity from the rice plants. With a friend, he developed a new business, using money from the Acumen Fund. Now, many villagers use the waste from rice plants as fuel. Using generator machines, the waste produces low-cost electricity in many villages. Raghunath Prasad Chauhan is a farmer with four children. He explained to the Acumen Fund:

Voice 5 

“It was dark. And because of that there were so many problems. People stole. And snakes and dogs would bite. My children could not study at night. Since the electricity came, my children can study at night. It is also good for business... I used to live in the dark. Now I live in a world full of light. It makes me feel happy from the bottom of my heart.”

Voice 2 

These are just two of the many business ideas the Acumen Fund supports in Africa, India and Pakistan. Their projects include clean water projects, toilets, health care, and many more areas. And it all began with a little girl giving away her blue shirt. Now Jacqueline Novogratz uses her story to encourage big businesses and young people with money to invest in poor people with good ideas.

We leave the final words to Jacqueline Novogratz:

Voice 3 

“In many ways this is the most exciting time in history. We have the tools, the resources, the skills and the ideas to solve the big problems of poverty. But it will take all of us, every one of us, to make that happen.”

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Alan Harris. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Rich Ideas’.

Voice 2 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Do you think businesses can help solve serious health and social issues in poor communities?


Avatar Spotlight
D Nguyen
said on February 26, 2012

Thanks to Jacqueline who had had a meaningful idea and has made it real. She’s right, the poor people should solve their problems themselves with the helps of other people, otherwise they would be depend on the aid that they receive. In my country, we have this adage: “Đừng cho má»™t người nào đó con cá, mà hãy cho anh ta cái cần câu và dạy anh ta câu cá” which mean “Don’t give someone a fish, give them a fishing rod instead and teach them how to fish”. I hope there will be more charitable organization would do such thing.

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 18, 2013

I greatly ppreciate Jacqueline with her organization-Acumen Fund.That is a good idea for supporting and helping people which don’t make them rely on on the aid from others.
I wish this project and organization will develop and expend more on over the world.
Have a nice day!

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on March 19, 2013

A seed is the beginning of a new life.
Thanks Spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 21, 2013

This is wery good idea.Thank you for help…

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 27, 2016

thank you I’m glad for this and I hope there will be more charitable organization would do such thing.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 27, 2016

Everyone, good topic
This fund makes a excellent work helping poor people to leave the poverty, is a good economic model.
But we need of the huge companies connect to the communities and see the powerful ideas of the poor people. Many young people want to study and progress for the families and countries.
Blessings everyone

Avatar Spotlight
Ahmed Goldi
said on February 27, 2016

Really It’s amazing idea from Jacqueline to invest in the poor people as thay always suffer so we should give support to them

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 28, 2016

Thank for Jacqueline’s Idea and I think Life will become better when everyone have a dream to help poor people.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on March 04, 2016

From: Severino Ramos da Silva (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))
To: Spotlight
Subject: To answer the question that was asked above
Date: Friday 04, March 2016

Dear Marina Santee, Mike Procter, Alan Harris, and Nick Mangeoller:

Yes, I do. In my country there a big number of poor people that come from Africa, Angola, Haiti, and other countries. However, here in Brazil there are many communities and social issues to help poor people. Such as Solvation Army, Waste Recycling, any volunteers to help poor people, business men, and etc. Also, the Govenrment receives these people from their countries in our country and help them with homes, food, clothes, health care, and other things. Thank spotlight to show us more one important matter.
Your regards,
Severino Ramos da Silva

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 20, 2017

I always admire the person who know the way to help others to improve their lives. I think matters is not money, it must come from heart. If you do not have the faith, you will do wrong way although you have a lot of money. And the way Jacqueline and her organization implementation is so creative and meaningful.

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 22, 2017

Thanks Spotlight for sharing a great stoey for people.
Yes they do. Businesses are very helpful, they make our lives grow up. I believe a good business with the connection of all people will help the world get rid of poverty.