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Acumen Fund

About this page

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning. The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined Acumen Fund was in 2009. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it. We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration. The content we created in 2009 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about Acumen Fund and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.

Published: May 2010

Acumen Fund aims to create self-sustaining organizations that also have social impact (e.g., produce insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria).1 In our evaluations of Acumen Fund, we have not been able to answer key questions (see our blog post).

Details of our evaluations

We have considered Acumen Fund at 3 times: Acumen Fund applied to us for a grant in late-2009; we reviewed Acumen Fund's website in mid-2009, and Acumen Fund applied to us for a grant in late-2007. Details on each follow below.

2009 grant application

Acumen Fund applied for funding through our grant application process for organizations working on economic empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Acumen Fund did not advance past our Round 1 screen because it did not meet any of the criteria below. For more information about this grant, see our overview page for this grant.

Our criteria

We looked for the following in conducting our Round 1 screen and considered further any organization that met at least one of the criteria below:
  1. The charity primarily transfers cash directly to poor individuals
  2. The charity provided a rigorous impact study demonstrating program effect
  3. The charity is using donations to create profitable programs
  4. The charity primarily runs microfinance programs and can answer our questions for microfinance charities
For more information about why we chose these, see our reasoning behind these criteria.

Sources

Acumen Fund requested that all submitted materials remain confidential.
  • Acumen Fund. About us. http://www.acumenfund.org/about-us/about-us (accessed May 4, 2010). Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5pTzLgLjE.

2009 website review

In mid-2009, we reviewed the Acumen Fund's website as part of a process to identify top international aid organizations. (How did we identify charities for review?) We reviewed Acumen Fund's website to determine whether it met either of the following two criteria, which we believe indicate whether a charity is likely to eventually be able to meet our full criteria for a recommendation: (Why do we rely on information found on a charity's website?)
  • Does the charity publish high-quality monitoring and evaluation reports on its website? A charity meets this criterion if it freely publishes - on its website - substantial evidence regarding impact that (a) discusses how the impacts of projects or programs were evaluated, including what information was collected and how it was collected; (b) discusses the actual impact of the evaluated projects. (Why is monitoring and evaluation so important?) We seek enough evidence to be confident that a charity changed lives for the better - not simply that it carried out its activities as intended. Different programs aim for different sorts of life change, and must be assessed on different terms. We do not hold to a single universal rule for determining what "impact" we're looking for; rather, what we look for varies by program type. (For more, see, What constitutes impact?)
  • Does the charity stand out for program selection? A charity meets this criterion if it focuses primarily on (or publishes enough financial information to make it clear that 75% of its recent funding is devoted to) what we consider "priority programs." These programs have particularly strong evidence bases, enough to lower the burden of proof on a charity running them. (Why do we look for charities implementing proven programs?) Such programs include administering vaccinations, distributing insecticide-treated nets, and treating tuberculosis, among many others. (For more, see our full list of priority programs.)
Acumen Fund did not meet either of these criteria.

2007 grant application

Acumen Fund applied for our funding and recommendation for saving lives or reducing poverty in Africa, but did not advance past our Round 1 screen, which aimed at finding charities with strong self-documentation. For more information, see our overview page for this grant. Specifics of why Acumen Fund did not advance We used the following principles in conducting our Round 1 screen for this cause:
  1. Look for strong documentation that lives have been changed for the better. One of the challenges of this cause is that it involves trying to help people who are far away and from very different cultures than our own; the fact that a charity's described activities seem to make logical sense isn't enough, by itself, to convince us that positive change has occurred.
  2. Look for a sense of how many lives have been changed (and how they've been changed) by an organization's activities. A sense of how many lives are changed "per dollar" is essential to decide between logical but different approaches, so we focused on the applicants that seemed most likely to be able to provide this sense.
  3. Aim for a complete or near-complete understanding of applicants' activities. Our Round 1 application asked applicants to feature a single program, but we also took the size and scope of the organization into account: a large, comprehensive organization needs extremely strong documentation in order to give any sense of its activities and effects, whereas an organization with a simpler and more cohesive model might be evaluated with less documentation.
Acumen Fund was among the charities that did not provide this type of evidence and instead submitted evidence that gave descriptions of their activities relying on one or more of the following: anecdotes, newspaper articles, survey data (types of evidence that we are skeptical about, as we have written on our blog), and evidence of the size of the problems they were attacking - but did not give us information that gave us high confidence that their programs were creating positive life change, or information that we felt could begin to get at their cost-effectiveness in changing lives. It's possible that Acumen Fund has the information we want, and didn't send it due to misinterpretations of our application, time constraints, or other reasons. But due to time constraints of our own, we opted to focus on the applicants who seemed most promising.

Application materials

Acumen Fund requested that all materials remain confidential.
  • 1. Acumen Fund, "About Us."