Acumen


Since late 2011 we’ve been working with Acumen Fund to help them clarify exactly what they stand for going forward. Acumen is one of the key pioneers of a new approach to investing in the developing world, founded and led by the respected author and thought leader Jacqueline Novogratz. Occupying a space somewhere between philanthropy, venture capital and traditional aid, Acumen’s approach has been much admired across the world. Following her lead, there are now hundreds of funds in a competitive sector dubbed ‘impact investment’.

From the turn of the millennium onwards, Novogratz and her team have searched for business ideas and innovation in India, Pakistan, West and East Africa that they can support with investment that puts social impact before financial return – what they have come to describe as ‘patient’ capital. Acumen has become an organisation committed to the success, happiness and dignity of some of the world’s poorest people.

For ten years, they were happy to trade as a ‘fund’, but as the organisation gears up for growth it will continue to search for companies that bring critical, affordable goods and services to the world’s poor. And with a growing worldwide network of fundraising ‘chapters’ and a global fellowship programme, it’s become about much more than just investing in companies.

Three things became clear as the project began. First of all, we felt their name should shorten to just Acumen, so we could strengthen the use of the word as both a name and a noun. The second was that this was an organisation full of brilliant writers and orators, and we should try and find a way to harness this. Thirdly, the organisation was widely admired and their brand reputation was great. But their brand identity did not match the strength of this reputation, and how they had evolved.

Eventually, after dozens of drafts, straightforward brand ‘narrative’ moved to an altogether higher level and together we produced a manifesto, which has become the key focus of the new brand:


Acumen: it starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair.
It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes capital work for us, not control us.

It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be. It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to admit failure, and the courage to start again.

It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency, breaks through bureaucracy, challenges corruption, and does what’s right, not what’s easy.

Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity



It’s quickly becoming the cornerstone for speeches, and, broken up into shorter sentences, ‘mini’ manifestos (shown above) are embedded into Acumen’s eight different logos that can be swapped in and out at will.


Here’s a short film of Jacqueline Novogratz talking through the manifesto.


Their ‘A’ is deliberately left unfinished, to communicate that their work is never complete, that they don’t have all the answers, and that they can’t change the way the world tackles poverty alone. The new brand colours, typefaces and angles are carried across a comprehensive rebrand: here are some early examples of the work done so far.


Acumen itself has an amazing list of advisors on its board, so we looked for ways to incorporate people like Seth Godin and Tim Brown (Ideo) into the scheme.


And the brand toolkit allows everything from quotes to statistics to be incorporated into the branding.

Electronically, we’ve developed a series of animations: shown below is a simple combination of the mini-manifestos and live action shot in the field on Acumen’s projects.


And there is a completely redesigned Acumen.org website, featuring long scrollable pages.



That’s just the home page: the site is designed to be fully responsive and there’s more here.


The brand is already rolling out into stationery, and is beginning to be used in their offices and environments.


We’ll add more to this case study as it develops over the coming months.

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Acumen CEO Jacqueline Novogratz has published a piece on the new manifesto and one of their advisors, Seth Godin, has been thinking about manifestos in general on his widely followed blog.