Ruminating at the bottom of the pyramid, and thinking about what was written about the Acumen Fund yesterday and their work in India has led to some intense navel gazing on my side of the screen.
The article brings to light Acumen’s real acumen – the spirit of jugaad. And that is the articulation of the big picture, the context in which their work will reside. They are able to frame the problem, what is the "pain" that they are attempting to ease? Here is a snippet from the article that highlights the answer:
Acumen’s most crucial contribution to companies isn’t money. It’s the
ability to see old problems with fresh eyes and design new solutions
that work. Drishtee has put those skills to great use. Last April,
Novogratz paid a visit to Mishra’s office near Delhi. She sat down at
the table and asked him: "Where do you need help?"
"It’s the women," he replied. "They make better kiosk owners because
they open earlier and stay open longer." The problem was that many
banks in India don’t lend to women.
On returning to the U.S., Novogratz made a call to the Nike Foundation. She had already been in conversation with director Maria Eitel. Acumen received an immediate grant of $250,000. It gave $50,000
to Drishtee to train village women in basic business skills. Acumen is now in talks with an Indian bank to use the remaining $200,000 as a five-to-one guarantee toward a million dollars in loans. "We said:
‘Look, we’ll take the first 20% of your risk because we want to prove to you over the next three years that women are indeed bankable income,’" says Novogratz.
Novogratz’ key asset is the ability to discern the ‘real’ problem – widespread gender disparity in avenues, approaches, funds and support for women entreprenuers in most nations. I believe that there is significant data to show across the board that women have far better rates of return, as business investments, whether it’s Grameen’s experience in Bangladesh or Kiva.org’s in Africa. And as her work shows, she’s solution agnostic, preferring to pull together solutions from the basket of available means to best effect her desired solution.
You could say, she follows the user centered approach to create her investment management strategy,
Immersion –> Analysis & Synthesis –> Insights –> Rapid prototyping & tweaking–> rollout
Being solution agnostic is a powerful positioning statement. There is an incredible amount of trust and credibility being banked by a brand that can afford to announce itself to be focused on finding the best possible solution to a problem, regardless of their own particular area of expertise or experience.
Increasingly [alright, I’ve read about two, one is a small ad shop in NYC and the other in London] there are creative shops that offer to find you the best answers to your problems in business, regardless of the final components in the solution.