Fordham MBA Student Tackles Poverty Through Impact Investing

Submitted via Carey Weiss, Director of Sustainability Initiatives at Fordham University.

A Fordham MBA student focused in finance is helping to change the way the world tackles poverty as a summer associate at Acumen.  Chris Bullard, who is currently half way through his 2 year MBA in Finance at Fordham, is working with Acumen this summer to help scale businesses in developing countries that are directed at serving people in extreme poverty.

Headquartered in New York City with offices around the globe, Acumen is a non-profit impact investment fund that has over $100M in assets under management.  Rather than using donations as grants, Acumen invests capital as debt or equity into for-profit businesses that serve people making under $2.50 per day in sectors such as health, education, energy, and agriculture.  Acumen’s thesis is investing patient capital with a longer time horizon in order to catalyze innovation and give companies the flexibility to learn and iterate their models as they grow.

Chris is currently working on Acumen’s post investment team to help investee companies reach greater scale, increase financial viability, and ultimately maximize impact.  Through advising on the most common business challenges such as sales, distribution, operations, and technology, the post investment team enables companies to have a greater breadth of impact while simultaneously increasing the return on Acumen’s portfolio.

In Uganda, for example, Chris is helping SolarNow (an Acumen investee providing off-grid energy access) improve their sales strategy.  Using data collected by Acumen’s on the ground Impact team from SolarNow hundreds of customers and staff, Chris and the post investment staff have found that SolarNow’s value proposition was not strong for the rural poor.  Even though SolarNow offered a financing term of 12 months on its solar products to reduce upfront costs – the monthly bill was still too expensive for customers.  After the post investment team’s recommendations SolarNow extended the term of their asset financing model to 18 months and immediately saw an upswing in adoption and sales from the base of pyramid communities.

“Solving the difficult challenges that the world faces will ultimately happen through the private sector,” Chris said.  “This means we need smart people with backgrounds in finance and business to see that there is true economic value to be created through doing good in the world.  Most of the people I work with now come from large investment banks and consulting companies, and now want to use those skillsets to solve the really big important global problems.  My hope is that more students will open their eyes to this world of possibility.”