Moral LeadersIn 2001, Jacqueline Novogratz founded Acumen, a nonprofit impact investment fund that supports sustainable solutions to problems of poverty. Acumen ensures to invest in moral leaders and argues that these are the people who will help influence efforts for poverty reduction around the world.

Moral Leadership

What makes a moral leader? According to Acumen’s founder, there are five central features: commitment, moral imagination, persistence, courage and faith in improvement. Commitment, persistence, courage and faith are familiar virtues that can be applied to purposeful contributions toward global poverty reduction. Moral imagination is a way of thinking that fosters targeted and more effective innovation. It involves having the humility to see the world as it is and the audacity to imagine the world as it can be. All of the above qualities are important to developing effective solutions to problems of poverty and are exhibited by moral leaders.

Moral Leader Aniket Doegar

Aniket Doegar, an Acumen fellow, is an example of a moral leader that Acumen has invested in. He possesses all five traits of a moral leader and his life’s work has shown this. An issue of particular interest to Doegar was the fact that only 40 million of 125 million farmers in India received full benefits from a national government initiative. One reason for this is that many qualifying citizens do not know about the benefits available to them. Doegar realized this and co-founded Haqdarshak, a mobile platform that connects citizens with the welfare benefits they qualify for.

Doegar took bold steps to solve a problem of poverty on a national level that he believed could be solved. He made a commitment to problem-solving at a young age, influenced by moral leaders in his life. His mother taught at schools for low-income families and his aunt taught children with special needs. Doegar’s dedication, persistence and faith surrounding social change turned into results for those in poverty through morally imaginative and courageous efforts.


Haqdarshak has screened 300,000 applicants and connected 250,000 to government welfare benefits. Acumen invested in Haqdarshak in September 2020, noting the fundamental values of the enterprise. Haqdarshak has grown from processing 500 applications a month to 36,000 applications a month. Amid the increased need for welfare benefits and Acumen investment, Doegar has set the goal to reach 100 million connected citizens by 2030.

Acumen Academy for Future Leaders

In 2020, Acumen launched Acumen Academy. Acumen Academy encourages moral leadership globally in a variety of ways. It is available to individuals and organizations as an online library of courses and other resources on leadership, innovation and social change toward global inclusion. Acumen Fellows started in 2006, form a cohort of moral leaders who have completed a year-long program at Acumen Academy that promotes empathy, immersion, understanding and action. Fellows commit to social change and together are more accountable, informed and innovative. Doegar is just one example of many Acumen fellows who have sparked change.

Moral Leaders for Global Poverty Reduction

Investments and support for moral leaders around the world are important for the continued reduction of global poverty. Acumen’s manifesto encourages everyone to embrace the qualities of effective, empathetic leaders. Embracing moral leadership and the perspective that all citizens of the world are born equal, helps further necessary global inclusion amid a time of rapid development and increasing need.

– Payton Unger
Photo: Flickr

Burn design lab
Cookstove visionary Peter Scott initially started Burn Design Lab (BDL) in 2010. After growing concerned about the deforestation issue in Africa, Scott became determined to develop the world’s best cookstoves. With parts from Bob Powell’s metal shop Meadow Creature and a workplace in Vashon’s Sheffield Building, BDL was ready to expand and test new designs. In 2013, Paul Means joined BDL as Research & Testing Manager, and between 2013-2016, a natural draft wood stove—which would become the Kuniokoa—came to be. By 2015, Peter Scott had left BDL to work with Burn Manufacturing Company to create a charcoal-burning stove. Now under Mean’s leadership, BDL has expanded its partnerships to Kenya, the Philippines, Guatemala and Ghana.

Burn Design Lab’s Process

Over time, BDL has established a detailed iterative approach to its development process. Instead of a hard step-by-step process of stages, the group has adopted more of a cyclical process. One cycle consists of conceptual design, computer-aided design, prototype fabrication, user research and laboratory and field testing. After a cycle, testing results and user input then goes back into the process to further improve the design. An iterative approach makes versioning easier and guarantees every step. Though this process may seem lengthy and repetitive, it offers a rapid turnaround and is easily adaptable. With this plan in mind, BDL has been very successful approaching many of its beneficent products.

Past Projects

In the past, Burn Design Lab has been quite successful executing different plans and solutions. In partnership with Burn Manufacturing Co. in Kenya, BDL developed in The Kunioka in 2016 for use in East Africa. With financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy and investments from Unilever and Acumen, this wood-burning stove revolutionized Kenya and Tanzania’s agriculture industry. Not only was this stove incredibly eco-friendly, but it was also cost-effective for farmers and plantation workers at only approximately $38.

In addition to its past projects such as The Kunioka, BDL has also been successful in its current endeavors. Right now, BDL has a partnership with the Burro Brand Ltc. to develop an improved shea roaster for the citizens of Ghana. The current process for roasting shea kernels is very unsustainable and has many health consequences. BDL and Burro have worked through many design and testing iterations to produce the best product for utilization. The goals of the project include reducing wood fuel consumption by 40 percent and reducing carbon emissions by 90 percent. As one can see, BDL has worked tirelessly to produce cookstoves that are both sustainable and secure.

Lasting Impact

Burn Design Lab has created a profound solution to a global problem. According to National Geographic, some three billion people cook with open or barely contained fires, leading to many negative consequences such as smoke inhalation. Other health concerns that people associate with this cooking style are respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease and lung cancer. As a matter of fact, open cooking fires produce about 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour. Sadly, those in low and middle-income countries must resort to this as they do not have easy access to reliable and sustainable energy.

BDL has made it its mission to design clean-burning cookstoves that release fewer emissions and require less fuel. With support and determination, Burn Design Lab is saving lives, promoting economic empowerment in developing nations and fighting deforestation.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr