Acumen initiates fellowship to bridge gap in EA social sector

Sunday July 10 2011

By COSMAS BUTUNYI

Bridging the talent gap in East Africa’s social sector is the rationale behind a leadership development initiative led by social venture firm, Acumen Fund.

The fund, which has been investing in the region since 2001, has announced its inaugural class of East Africa fellows, who will undergo mentorship and leadership training.

The 20 fellows, selected from 538 applications, include young entrepreneurs and others who are involved in the management of projects that have social impact in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

Apart from financial and operational skills, they will also learn “the impact of real and lasting moral leadership,” according to Jacqueline Novogratz, the chief executive officer of Acumen Fund.

Drawing from Acumen Fund’s global fellows programme, it is a partnership with KCB, the KCB Foundation and the Edmund De Rothschild Foundation.

A statement from Acumen Fund indicated that the inaugural class of East Africa Fellows represents the emerging talent in the region.

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“Professionally, their backgrounds are diverse, from C-level executives of local renewable energy companies, such as Nuru Energy and Renewable Energy Ventures, and managing directors and chief accountants at financial institutions like Milango and Juhudi Kilimo, to entrepreneurs that have founded their own organisations focusing on education and youth empowerment, like Kuweni Serious, an online platform that focuses on creating corps of everyday change-makers among young, educated, middle class Kenyans,” the statement added.

Ms Novogratz stated that the programme is an investment in “the next generation of global leaders,” by providing them with tools and training necessary to cultivate innovative solutions and to address challenges brought about by poverty in their communities and beyond.

“Despite the hundreds of non-governmental organisations and the continued outpouring of foreign aid, East Africa remains as a region overwhelmed by extreme poverty,” she said.

The year-long programme is comprised of five multi-day seminars, where fellows will have one-on-one access to acclaimed speakers, trainers and mentors, and take one regional trip to learn more about varying models of social change in other countries. The programme will culminate in an innovation conference, when fellows will have the opportunity to showcase all that they have learned, their ideas on new initiatives and ways they can further enhance their current projects and organisations.

The nonprofit venture firm, Acumen Fund, also operates in South Asia, where it targets addressing poverty. In East Africa, Acumen Fund has invested over $17 million, so far focusing on a wide range of sustainable, scalable businesses — in agriculture, housing, health, water and energy — that use market-based approaches to deliver products and services to millions of rural and urban poor.

Even as the programme gets underway, optimism is brimming over the likely outcomes of the programme. One of those confident in it is Martin Oduor-Otieno, KCB’s chief executive.

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