GSIF Blog Post (with Jessica Mun)


  1. Value Proposition

    Acumen Fund creates value by preserving the dignity of its customers and investing in social enterprises serving low-income communities around the world. They recognize that there is a problem with merely giving away charity aid because it doesn’t empower people to stand up on their own feet and it ignores their dignity. Acumen wants to change that and create value by investing in local businesses that can sustain themselves and boost up the confidence of local low-income communities. By funding these social enterprises, they are developing their customers to become leaders and serve their own communities instead of Acumen Fund doing this themselves. Acumen also provides word-class online courses that aim to educate and challenge people to make an impact. Within their main objective, they have sub-projects. One of their recent ones is the KawiSafi Ventures, in which Acumen strives to provide clean, affordable off-grid energy in Africa. This is just one of the examples that show how Acumen provides the basic resources, such as electricity, necessary for leaders to emerge in low-income communities.

    2. Customer Segments



Acumen Fund’s customer segments are driven by their approach to investment of “patient capital.” Patient capital seeks to thread the needle between market-based approaches and pure philanthropy. Rather than measuring success in terms of financial returns, patient capital seeks the goal of maximizing social and humanitarian outcomes and Acumen uses this framework for solving the problem of poverty. The Acumen Fund is seeking to create value for the entrepreneurs and innovators interested in solving poverty in the developing world across Asia, Africa and Latin America. In short, Acumen is attempting to leverage the talent and motivations of social entrepreneurs for the world’s benefit, and to develop large-scale solutions to a problem in one particular country that will likely also be relevant to other countries (Agrawal & Kumar, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Business Models The Case of India). One of Acumen Fund’s main selling points is that they are interested in providing resources for “seed” ventures who are just starting out and envision a long trajectory before their product or service is fully launched. This is an important aspect of the value that Acumen Fund creates because of the flexibility and risk tolerance the investment company is affording a budding entrepreneur or innovator. And Acumen is open to a variety of problems that entrepreneurs are passionate about solving, so long as it fits the organization’s larger mission of reducing poverty – even “fringe” ideas if it displays promise: “The starting point for innovation is an idea of a need that isn’t being met, coupled with an idea of how it could be met. Sometimes needs are glaringly obvious, such as like hunger, homelessness, or disease. But sometimes needs are less obvious or not recognized—for example, racism or the need for protection from domestic violence—and it takes campaigners and movements to name and describe these” (Mulgan, The Process of Social Innovation, MIT Press Journals). While the end goal, of course, is to reduce poverty and increase access to clean water, health services, education and housing, Acumen Fund focuses on leveraging their resources to provide value to the entrepreneurs who are set on accomplishing this mission.

3. Channels

The main way that Acumen reaches its customers is through “partners,” or donors, who financially contribute to the organization. Acumen prefers this term because their partners are also relied on heavily for important expertise and perspective who share the same goal of reducing poverty worldwide. Because Acumen is an investor in social and humanitarian entrepreneurship, these channels through which Acumen operates are vast, varied and diverse. The organization functions through banks, health clinics, agricultural fields, schools and the energy sector. Acumen prides itself on working in some of the most challenging parts of the world with some of the world’s poorest people. 

4. Customer relationships




Acumen Fund is a company that is dedicated to establishing working business relationships with its investees, the governments that the investee will be building capacity in and corporations or co-investors when necessary to benefit the low-income customer. And all three are equally important to Acumen’s success. A level of trust, oversight and due diligence must be afforded to the investee, who must state their case and explain why their product or service will help achieve Acumen’s overall mission of reducing poverty. They must also devise their own pitch for why their business model will be sustainable over a period of time and create real impact and prove a worthy investment for Acumen. Governments must be looped in to the partnership as well in order to receive state support and ensure that all marketing and business dealings are done correctly, professionally and in accordance with state procedures and regulations. The government will likely not be a costly customer, however, they may request certain certifications or accreditations in order to operate in an open and legal manner. “Social entrepreneurs add new actors to an existing system: customers and government” (Osberg & Martin, Two Keys to Sustainable Social Enterprise, Harvard Business Review).Relationships with co-investors are more on the terms of the entrepreneur, but Acumen Fund will have a vested interest in the other sources of funding a product or service is receiving.

5. Revenue streams

Acumen is reliant on its partners for donations, advice, expertise and leadership to be able to carry its mission forward. Acumen attempts to walk that fine line between pure philanthropy and market-based approaches. One social entrepreneur described this same process: “This has been achieved, not by asking for charitable support (there is little of that sort of money left anyhow) but by offering products and services that they want, which we can deliver on, while also meeting and funding our social objectives” (Daniel Snell, Building sustainability into your social enterprise). Acumen ranks its donors in a hierarchical system to display both the quantity of donors that have contributed to Acumen’s cause as well as the quality, notoriety and level of commitment that the organization’s donors have demonstrated. Acumen’s “stewards,” those corporations, institutions or individuals who have donated over $5 million to Acumen, include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Metlife Foundation. “Leadership” donors, like Barclays and USAID, have donated over $1 million to Acumen. “Keystone partners,” those who have donated at least $500,000, include American Express and the Woodcock Foundation, and the list goes on up to note those donors who have contributed at least $10,000 to Acumen. 

6. Resources

Acumen Fund doesn’t simply supply their leaders and companies with money that gives them flexibility and security to grow. They also provide access to expertise and networks of advisors who have deep sector, channel and customer experience. Moreover, Acumen also offers active post-investment support and guidance in the areas of strategy, governance, customer insights and fundraising. By engaging a large network of advisors and support systems as well as the funds, Acumen provides the essential resources needed to empower local communities to start their own businesses. In addition to business start-ups, Acumen offers a Fellows program and +Acumen, both educational programs that aims to build global leaders with the potential to positively impact their community.

7. Partners

Acumen’s partners/donors include organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other individuals who financially contribute to the social enterprise start-ups between the range of $10,000 and $5,000,000+. Their partners also include the passionate and ambitious leaders they fund to start their breakthrough companies and develop it into a profit-making business that will serve their low-income community.

8. Activities

Acumen’s key activities are providing a platform and a network of social entrepreneurs and partners who will provide the basic resources needed to help businesses start. These resources include funding through patient capital, access to expertise, early-stage investments, and post-investment support. While they help guide these leaders through their company’s growth and development, they are mostly hands-off because they want to challenge the leaders from low-income communities to become confident in their own abilities to make a positive impact in a sustainable way. Of course, Acumen does not just fund anyone, but they pay attention to the character and motivation of their social innovators and help fund their social enterprises and new technology that could assist them in developing their business. Some examples of the businesses they fund include “its health portfolio, which supports a low-cost hearing aid project, a telemedicine network connecting four private eye hospitals in India, an anti-Malaria bed net project in East Africa, and development of a portable, low cost point-of-care device that is capable of detecting dengue fever (and could be developed to detect other diseases in the future, such as HIV, malaria, and measles)” (Meehan, Kilmer, & O’Flanagan, Investing in Society, Stanford Social Innovation Review).

9. Cost Structure

Acumen’s costs involve reaching out to donors and other partners who can provide other resources such as education and financial/business advising. They are more value-driven organization rather than a cost-driven because they want the businesses they fund to contribute back to the low-income communities so that the company leaders are motivated to do things for the good of the community as a whole. I believe the founder used her own money from working in investment banking to start the non-profit organization that could lend money to poor people which is the fixed cost. Acumen’s variable costs are the people they hire along the way and the money that may be needed throughout the company’s growth and development. Acumen is also an economy of scope because they leverage resources for a diverse range of companies that can help their communities with the variety of products and services they produce.

GSIF Blog Post #8

The most profound takeaway from Kawasaki’s talk is the starting mentality he advocates for when setting out on an idea or venture. He said that success starts with the mindset of pushing to change the world, instead of the default entrepreneurial perspective of making money. Specifically, Kawasaki encouraged aspiring change agents to enhance quality of life and right a wrong, and the rest will follow. This point directly fits with the Ukweli team’s strategy for our venture. With the goal of selling test strips to women in need for two cents, the idea was never to make money, but simply to run a self-sustaining business that serves vulnerable women in Sierra Leone while operating to reduce maternal mortality in the country. We may not be profitable, but we sure will create impact.

Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule really resonated with me. The Ukweli venture is a complicated one with many different stages and various stakeholders with differing needs and abilities, each of which may require a slightly different pitch to adequately explain our venture. I found this point of Kawasaki to be a breath of fresh air and an excuse to stop and reflect. I often find myself asking clarifying questions in my team meetings to be sure I am following the various stages of our venture, including supply chain and systems management designs, phases and aspects of the venture. Kawasaki helped me remember to boil the venture down into the basic, most important and need-to-know parts of Ukweli. This helps me keep everything straight and will in turn help me explain the venture to a lay person, both in America and in Sierra Leone.

I also found Kawasaki’s idea of hiring “infected” people to be important to the Ukweli team. But this point will also be a challenge. We are not on the ground in Sierra Leone year round, and therefore it will be difficult to validate the performance of our employees and assess the level to which each is working hard to champion and sustain our venture. Perhaps I have more skepticism than some of my other team members, because I have never been in the country I am attempting to help. But simply put: if we don’t locate and hire these “infected” people, Ukweli will get stuck and experience major obstacles.

Kawasaki’s point of asking women for their opinions on the business model or venture as a whole was an intriguing one, but it is definitely a memorable takeaway from the talk. Though there is actually mixed evidence to suggest that women in a position of power would be less likely than male leaders to go to war or act aggressively toward adversarial nations, that is actually not the point: I believe the larger point is to ask for diverse opinions and to be inclusive when designing a complex venture and business like Ukweli. People with different backgrounds, life experiences, knowledge about special interests and yes, biological makeup, can offer input that is vital to include and account for in a large scale venture. These people think of points to consider and can foresee specific obstacles that another person would not think of. For example, for Ukweli, women might foresee specific issue with a group of four white American males offering medical technology to a potentially poor pregnant female.

The other two points of Kawasaki that I found to be significant were his ideas of thinking different and polarizing people. It’s so easy, especially for me, to want to unify people, satisfy everyone and be agreeable. I’ve been involved in these types of thorough discussions with my role on The Brown and White, particularly on the Editorial Board, where we have batted around how much we should weigh the prospect of angering people with our opinions and the alumni comments we often receive, which are typically negative. But the truth is, sometimes, you can’t please everybody, and you have to push through with what you believe is right, which is what I ultimately believe Kawasaki was getting at.

In terms of the business model, Ukweli’s OEM partner Wancheng will manufacture the test strips from their facility in China and ship the product to Sierra Leone upon order. The quality control part of the team will need to ensure that the product will function under the conditions presented in Sierra Leone. Ukweli’s job will be to train Peer Supervisors and sell to them, who will then sell to the various clinics with trained CHWs who will be able to best disseminate and sell the product to the women in need for an affordable price. Once clinics begin to run low on supply of the test strips, they will need to contact Hassan, one of Ukweli’s employees, to order more and sustain the system.


GSIF Blog Post #7

  • The Ukweli team needs to validate that modern medical technology is a viable means of detecting and curing disease
  • The Ukweli team needs to assess whether Mother Support Groups are an important stakeholder to market and communicate with about our product
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate whether the Community Health Workers in Sierra Leone can adequately read the instructions for and administer our UTI and Pre-eclampsia test strip
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate that radio, graphic posters and print news are the best means of raising awareness and educating about maternal mortality and our product
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate whether distance to a health clinic plays a role in the likelihood that a woman would visit the clinic (and consequently miss out on time cooking, farming, etc.)
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate that the test strips work accurately under the temperature, climate and precipitation conditions in Sierra Leone
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate which language is most effective for communication purposes by province, gender, job type and familial role
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate the differences in our venture as they relate to seasons
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate our profit level and business sustainability (or lack thereof) after speaking with sources and medical experts on the ground to gauge interest
  • The Ukweli team needs to validate the means of transporting our product from China to the medical clinics in and around Makeni


  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the test strips do function optimally in the typical conditions of Sierra Leone
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the most effective “buyer” of our test strips are Peer Supervisors, and not to pharmacies
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the training and certification process is enough to sustain the venture and allow CHWs to adequately screen women for UTIs and pre-eclampsia
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the test strip is affordable for local health clinics
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the terms of the two employment contracts will be obeyed and upheld
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that test strips will be accessible for all women and families within the Makeni region at the launch of the venture
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the test strips will be able to be distributed from the port in Freetown to Makeni easily and in a timely manner
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that data collection will be challenging…. This is still something we need to work out to ensure our venture is proven successful, which will be hard since we won’t be in country for the entirety of the operation
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that the funds we will have set aside for a 12 month venture will be enough to sustain the business for that period of time
  • The Ukweli team has hypothesized that training and re-training will be done and completed thoroughly for the necessary local health officials, including new health officials who may be hired after the venture’s launch date


  1. I think I bring an important sense of reason to my team. I find myself asking critical questions to my teammates when we find ourselves debating difficult and complicated subjects, such as our concept of operations, supply chain and venture sustainability. That’s not to say I’m a “no” man, but I more see my role as one that pushes our team to think of all scenarios and to foresee as many potential roadblocks as possible so that we can prepare in advance, considering that not much can be done in Sierra Leone once we are ready to launch. I try to envision myself “parachuting in” to a team meeting, not knowing what our venture is trying to accomplish nor our means to achieve that goal. Doing this gives me a more unbiased mentality and frees me to ask clarifying questions to topics that I haven’t seen a clear answer to up to that point. This mentality also helps me refine my own ideas and my teammates’ ideas, and narrows them in specificity and grounds them in real, practical issues that could arise in our venture if we do not think critically. Of course, we can only analyze as much as we can about the way our venture will run at this point: we are not currently in Sierra Leone and have not had meaningful personal contact with the stakeholders on the ground, who may share insights that will cause us to shift and adjust and adapt in country.


These traits that I feel I bring to the team have sharpened my perception of my personal strengths, and have shaped the way I see myself when interacting in a group setting. On the contrary, I do not feel that I always am up to date and do the best I can to fully understand others’ roles, and can at times fail to see the interconnection between everyone’s various parts. Especially in Sierra Leone, I feel I sometimes lack the vision to see all of the team’s responsibility weave together seamlessly into one coherent venture that will launch. I sometimes think that depending on who is asked to describe our venture, a different narrative might result based on that person’s ideas, as opposed to one synchronized vision of our venture. I should work toward improving at seeing the bigger picture and seeing how each teammate’s roles functions to advance the venture.


GSIF Blog Post #6

The Ukweli team will require IRB approvals for our research with a Urinary Tract Infection test strip in Sierra Leone. In order to accurately test whether our strips work effectively or not, we will need to engage Community Health Workers to collect data on both how many women come to get tested, what the reading was and the accuracy of that reading. Therefore, our venture will clearly involve human subjects, but because it will involve only minimal risk, it is my understanding that Ukweli will qualify for expedited IRB review. The information collected will not be identifiable, but will involve intervention of some sort.


There will be a few challenges to address as we consider our research design for IRB approval. The first is, as with any research experiment, getting the subjects to partake in the research or, in this case, getting women to the health clinic to get tested. But in our team’s case, a woman deciding to get tested can only be beneficial to her, because getting tested with an Ukweli strip could lead her to acquire the necessary medication upon a positive reading. The second major challenge in our research design is empowering the Community Health Workers to meticulously collect data on the women who get tested, so that the Ukweli team can be assured that the hard numbers collected are accurate and reflect the true conditions on the ground in Sierra Leone. This is key to any adjustments that are necessary to be made on our end in order to ultimately create a better product that is more reliable and that will actually reduce the maternal mortality rate. The Ukweli team will need to create a survey or some other means of data collection that is easily accessible in the Community Health Clinics that both patients and medical staff can complete in order to assess both the quantity of tests being performed and their quality (effectiveness).


I really happen to like the logic model diagram and way of thinking about this project, so I’m happy it is something we discussed in lecture. It has helped me to organize my thinking. Probably the biggest input is just the sheer time and resources available to us as Lehigh students to really invest into solving such a large scale sustainable development challenge like maternal mortality in a country an ocean away. Being in higher education in America and at Lehigh in particular affords students like us both time to think through this complicated matter, since we are not in the workforce and likely are not depended on for income within our families, and the funds to explore, perform research, travel and create and sell a product and market that product.  Another important input is our team’s partnerships with World Hope International and with Wancheng, our OEM company based in China. These partnerships will help us make the last critical jump: from having a product that could reduce mortality to getting this product into the women who need it to actually reduce mortality.


Our desired outputs include hiring staff full time in Sierra Leone to run our venture’s concept of operations  from the time the strips arrive at a port in Freetown to the woman getting screened at a nearby medical facility. An important longer term desired output will be “spreading” the dissemination of the test strips out within Sierra Leone, since we are currently focusing on very specific provinces or districts within the country. But a truly successful operation in Sierra Leone would be country-wide in order to provide equal access to UTI screening and subsequent treatment regardless of location. And a public information campaign would be a third important output of our venture. Education and awareness is often the biggest barrier to developing successful change, and change is exactly what our venture is about in the health field.


Outcome is the clearest part of this venture to me. The goal is to reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone by screening for UTIs at a very local level, so that once a woman recognizes her symptoms she is able to retain a higher quality of life. Hopefully along the way opinion and attitudes toward seeking medical help will change with the success of this venture, and increased knowledge and awareness will be a by-product of our efforts.


GSIF Blog Post #5

My experiences as a journalist, limited in pure time but rich in intensity and practicality, have demanded that I open up communication with strangers, be persistent and sometimes not take no for an answer. Above that, I have learned to always consider any and all sides of a potential story and to think critically outside of my shoes as a reporter about who might have a stake or want a chance to share their perspectives on a specific topic. Journalism has required me to give all sides a say; a “voice to the voiceless” and an opportunity to offer underrepresented or overlooked segments of society a role in our society’s discourse. A design process of mine would be one that makes a conscious effort to hear from all stakeholders in an unfiltered setting. My job is not to filter, time or cut off a stakeholder, but rather get a glimpse into their stream of consciousness. And to be clear, identifying all stakeholders and then getting ahold of each is no easy task – sometimes the hardest but most critical groups appear “unreachable.” It is my job to defeat that roadblock. After hearing from each stakeholder, unfiltered, then I get the opportunity to synthesize, analyze and interpret. I have had the chance to talk to five people, for instance, and my readers will not have heard from any. So now it is my job to bring them those five people’s perspectives, in context, unbiased. Thus, my design process would be inclusive, in-depth, thorough, authentic and true. I suppose whether I am effective at this is up to the audience and any stakeholders who feel they have been left out of the conversation. But the principal nature of me knowing I do not know everything and reaching out to those who do have knowledge and expertise in specific areas and then holistically reporting on the knowledge each stakeholder has shared with me should result in a successfully genuine and practical design.


My gut reaction is to say that validating the usability and technology aspects of my team’s project will be easier, simply because it is more scientific in nature. One question must be answered: do the test strips work? That is, do they accurately screen positives and negatives for UTIs? But of course the more complicated question is how do we know, from Lehigh, that the test strips are working in Sierra Leone? Here is where the team will need to rely on partners on the ground and Community Health Workers, who are the first line of defense to illness in Sierra Leone. And of course this will require developing standardized validation protocol, like simple surveys or data points that CHWs must enter regarding the number of correct readings versus the amount of false ones in order for us to know the success of the venture or whether we will need to make adjustments.

Validation of the business model will pose its own challenges as well, since we are not after the money in terms of a traditional profit. Rather, we are after the sustainability of the venture – that is, to employ people on the ground, to continue to pay our OEM partner to make and ship the product, to expand our infrastructure throughout Sierra Leone and other developing countries, and to continue to renew our marketing license.


I honestly don’t have a grand philosophy of engagement. I really just want to help people live better lives. I’m not really in it for anything more than the look on someone else’s face when I have made a difference. I do question the notion of “throwing money at the problem.” It takes hard work, hand-to-hand combat so to speak, and can’t be done without seeing the issue up close and speaking to an array of perspectives. I will share the moment that I dedicated myself to making change. I was on a 10-day service trip to DC the summer before my senior year. One of our tasks was to go to this one park with a high homeless population and speak to one or more homeless individuals for one hour. I spoke with a man named Ben for a full hour and was heartbroken when my time was “up.” Leaving him there was a very hard thing for me to swallow. Since then, I have known my place is to help people.


GSIF Blog Post #4

One of my favorite examples of how nature can be applied as a unique mentor in my life is by taking a look at the system’s pure tendency to fall back into harmony, adapt and avoid (for the most part) catastrophic change. Of course, I am referring to the carbon cycle. Earth is known to maintain near perfect carbonic balance in the atmosphere: plants take in carbon dioxide, animals release carbon dioxide through respiration. Carbon is also stored in rock deep within the planet. Even though the Earth is no doubt being pushed to its limits with how much excess carbon dioxide is being emitted combined with increased deforestation, it is still remarkable at how resilient the system is. For centuries now, humans have burnt coal and oil – and yet, even with recent reports indicating rising temperatures, the Earth has largely been able to absorb this shock to the system and maintain a level of homeostasis only now being eroded. The same can be said for the hydrologic cycle, which typically provides enough rainfall for vegetation through evaporation but also doesn’t evaporate too much at one time to drain the world’s oceans. These kinds of harmonic systems are true models for how I like to live my life: maintain ideal balance when possible, but when things get thrown off, the ability to adapt and absorb these changes will eventually make or break my success or lack thereof.


Another example of my application of a natural process to my own life is the phenomena of tectonic plates and earthquakes. My thinking here is that while humans have improved in measuring the power of an earthquake, we are not really any closer to predicting when and where an earthquake could strike at a given moment. The lesson I take from this process is to always be prepared, and always build with stability in mind – whether that is physical building or mentally building capacity.


The “evolve and survive” life principle is particularly applicable to my GSIF project. The Ukweli team is currently in an advanced stage where we believe we have a viable product that is ready to be launched, but important details like a marketing strategy, funding, and logistics like employment and a tight concept of operations are now necessary for a successful implementation. Road blocks will come our way – they already have in our attempts to secure a marketing license, communicate with our manufacturer company in China and secure employees – but this motto of “evolve and survive” will certainly carry weight as we continue to push our project forward.


Cradle to cradle design in the Ukweli test strip project is a challenging concept to integrate, but I’m thinking if there’s a way to somehow use the natural elements present in a given situation to be able to “read” the applicability and effectiveness of the test strip at a given time. For instance, if our quality control measures show that the test strips will not function at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and at a humidity level greater than 80 percent, if we could harness the energy possessed at those conditions to provide an “accuracy reading” on the test strip, that could be one way to incorporate the cradle to cradle design into our project.


I remember the first time I found out through a friend that people in other parts of the world drive on the opposite side of the road, or even don’t have traffic lights or turn signals. I had never considered driving being any different in other countries from how it is in America, and I had to ask my mom for confirmation once I got home from school that day. I also remember the day my dad (I count him as a friend!) explained to me that not all diseases are caused by bacteria and there a bacterial disease and a viral disease or infection were not synonyms and do not receive equal or interchangeable treatment. And I’ll never forget starting at the world map in elementary school and just being so confused as to why the United States is split into 50 states but other countries aren’t necessarily (or at least the various provinces don’t show up on a world map like they do for America). I finally had it nailed down after a full week of debate with my friend: there are continents, and America is in North America, for which I live in New Jersey, which is a state within the country of America. That was a lot to take in for me!


GSIF Blog #3

The five major stakeholders for my project are the women of Sierra Leone impacted by Urinary Tract Infections, community health workers, hospitals, and both the regulatory agencies of government in marketing and the economy. Arguably the most complex of these stakeholders is the very first one I mentioned: the women in need who would actually be using the Ukweli test strip that our team is devoted to designing and selling. It would be easy to say that their motivation is simply to prevent and detect disease to live a full life of meaning – and economically speaking, to continue to raise children and contribute to the family’s finances and quality of life. But this would be too simplistic. There are challenges to this stakeholder, who might be more motivated to think short term in helping out the family and selling goods at the market and prioritize these real challenges over long term health. Community health workers are the natural next stakeholder for my team’s project, who are the front lines for the fight against communicable and non-communicable diseases in Sierra Leone, waging a battle in each little village across the country to combat poor health. This stakeholder is likely driven by a motivation to improve the health of their community and country, and are doing so in the best way that they can given their limited educational and professional training capacities.


Hospitals are thus motivated in a similar realm as the community health workers, but it should be noted that hospitals – and consequently its workers – are far higher up the “chain” or “hierarchy” in Sierra Leone’s healthcare order. But the mentality of their basic motivation to help keep citizens healthy and disease-free will likely differ from that of the community health workers. Doctors in hospitals, which are located mostly in urban settings and are not easily accessible to rural communities, are instead the “last line of defense” in Sierra Leon’s healthcare system. So while community health workers do the best they can given their middle school education on average, and are tasked with screening and referring, the burden ultimately falls on the doctors – burdened and oversaturated with a horrible doctor to patient ratio – to cure. Thinking of Sierra Leon’s healthcare system as similar to the U.S. judicial system, hospitals represent the “Supreme Court” of medical care; what they say, goes.


Both the governmental agencies tasked with monitoring economic growth as well as marketing regulations will be key stakeholders to my team’s project as well. Obtaining a marketing license, which would permit our product to reach the people of Sierra Leone and be accessible in pharmacies and health offices, is now a significant priority of our project. Therefore, our project is reliant on economic and marketing agencies to approve our product and to allow its resale without restriction to keep costs low. Looking at these stakeholders with rose-colored glasses, one might think that these agencies have the people’s best interests in mind, and would gladly award a product that meets medical and manufacturing standards a marketing license for the good of those in need, who would stand to benefit from our test strip, as well as for the rightful creators of the product. But alternative motivations must be considered here. Could the government agencies attempt to deny a marketing license, in hopes of blocking money from leaving the country and going to a foreign entity? Does the government stand to profit off of women contracting urinary tract infections? This thinking may come off as cynical, but it should show my ability to question, think of all angles and understand the complexity of a single stakeholder.


Solidifying both my team’s credibility and my own personal credibility are two of the most important goals for this semester. It has certainly been a game of “catch up” for me so far, given that half of my team was on this project last year as well. Therefore, I feel a strong need to carve my own niche of expertise within the group. The first means to validating our project will be to offer a presentation to a team of referees and peers alike. Importantly, these referees will have no prior knowledge of our project, and will therefore adequately assess our ability to convey our message, our goals and our means of execution. These presentations will also require us to answer tough questions and consider possibilities that we may not have previously considered. Our project will also become validated based on the success or lack thereof with obtaining a marketing license. This will be an affirmative answer to whether our project is viable in Sierra Leone, or if changes or modifications need to be made to our project. And a third means of validation would simply be evaluating the progress we have made come May upon looking back at where the project was at in January. After all, it’s all about advancing the project and the mission forward.


GSIF Blog #2

When working on any international venture, the impact of culture simply cannot be removed from the task; the two are embedded together, not two independent factors. This concept applies to my team’s Ukweli test trip project in Sierra Leone. Three examples of cultural issues that will affect the project and the mission of reducing the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone are the prevalence of “traditional” medicine, the conservative approach to masculinity that results in female restrictions in health settings and the stigma attached to survivors of major diseases like Ebola. The battle between scientific medical advances and traditional medicine is one foreign to me in America, and this increased competition will pose a viable threat to the success of our venture. Generally, men in America encourage female control of her health and will support a sick woman in seeking medical attention, but the same may not be necessarily true in Sierra Leone – especially if the doctor is male. And in America, we care for and cherish cancer survivors or stroke survivors or survivors of major car crashes or other tragedies – but in Sierra Leone, those who survived the Ebola epidemic are not treated well in society.


While these specific instances are rare in the United States, especially stigmatizing survivors of diseases, I have certainly seen instances in which women in a classroom setting are looked down upon or given microaggressions that attempt to diminish her intellect. And there are cases in which women may request a female physician – but men might do the same, so I’m not sure if there’s an adequate comparison there. Certainly differences exist in patient confidentiality standards and gender equity in the medical profession, as not only are there simply more doctors per patients but there are more female doctors as well. Some of these cultural issues are tough to compare to America, if I’m being honest. While I know there are segments of the population, especially Native Americans and Amish communities who prefer communal treatment and trust the strength of their community to heal over a doctor, I do not have personal connections to these groups and they are for the most part in the minority in terms of those specific beliefs.


It is hard to say which cultural practices can be leveraged, being that I am answering this question totally arbitrarily since I have never been to Sierra Leone. But from the outside looking inward, the cultural practices of a close family unit (many family members live together in one house) and of community members directly serving as health officials within those same villages can be leveraged to establish greater trust in our project. Greater trust means faster access to medical resources to save lives, which puts people back to their work to continue to earn money. Additionally, the deep roots of tradition, demonstrated in cultural dances and songs, can be leveraged for communication and educational purposes. Cooperating with community leaders well-versed in the nation’s African context will enhance our team’s mission as it relates to health and the local economy.


The African context is based in a much shorter-term economy, has larger gaps in quality of life, infrastructure and healthcare between rural and urban areas and has less accountability within the healthcare system when compared to the American context. These challenges will present themselves as the Ukweli team attempts to not only design a reliable product, but attempts to make it accessible and widely-used to maximize impact. A shorter-term economy could restrict a family or individual to choose between money and health. We will also likely see less access to hospitals and doctors in rural areas, or upon a doctoral referral, refusal by a rural individual to give up the time it takes to travel to such a far away city. And less accountability means les trust, less pay trickling down to CHWs and a lack of standards and procedures for medical training as well as drug testing.


The African context offers less advanced medical resources than in America. Finalizing the test strip itself will not work in Sierra Leone. The product must be made and workable prior to the fieldwork. However, Africa’s context offers different communication resources and opportunities. Radios and word of mouth are likely to be more powerful tools to leverage in Sierra Leone than they would be here in the United States. Close neighborhoods may listen together to popular radio stations and programs, and the Ukweli team can take advantage. And much easier, on-the-ground access to medical professionals will benefit our team in Sierra Leone, compared to the more elitist feel of medical professionals in the U.S. Since most villages have at least basic public health officials, our team will be able to get a feel for which communities are most in need and what resources such communities are lacking.


GSIF Blog Post #1

I enrolled in this course for the same five reasons that I indicated in my initial application to be a Global Social Impact Fellow. But the main reason I am here is to solve problems and to help people. I am dedicated to solving problems and creating a more fair, prosperous and righteous world – and doing everything in my power to meet the diverse and sometimes overwhelming challenges that plague today’s world. This course and fellowship almost seem like a dream come true in that I have an opportunity to make real, tangible strides to advance solutions toward complex global sustainable challenges alongside my motivated and committed peers across all disciplines at a prestigious university. I cannot wait to learn from the other Fellows in the program, hear about their inspiring work and answer tough questions to improve myself and my team’s project, which at its core is about saving lives. In summary, I am in this course for no reason short of changing the world, making a positive impact on the world and, of course, impact.


Something that I am so enthusiastic about is the ability of this project and this course to change not only hopefully people, families and communities in Sierra Leone, but also for its promising nature to change me personally and fundamentally. And one benefit of this course that cannot be overlooked is how major-inclusive it is in the fact that everybody is expected to learn about all parts of social impact. Nothing stands in the way of business majors from understanding the technology aspect of a project, nor a political scientist from learning about the role of communication. One missing link will cause a project to fail in some regard, and the magic of interdisciplinarity is alive and well in this course. For me as a journalism student, this course will challenge me to practice good writing habits with the weekly blog assignment, and will challenge me to choose my words, both verbal and written, carefully and with precision when presenting in front of professional academics and my peers and through grant writing and research papers. And as someone interested in political science, I will have the opportunity to learn about various countries’ domestic policies, infrastructure, place in the world and the operational structure of their government. Importantly, I will also be pushed in new directions – even within my own areas of study, and much more so in topics I am less familiar with. Though I have extensive experience in writing, editing and multimedia, I have never designed a radio program before, which is one of my roles within my project. And I will also be asked to learn and understand the ins and outs of a foreign country’s healthcare system – something that I find fascinating but nonetheless will be a challenging task. However, I am confident that the course’s demands to self-discover a sense of leadership, perseverance and curiosity and willingness to try new things will allow for much personal growth with the result of a stronger and more versatile journalism student.


The primary problem in a situation like the one described in Kenya with a lack of optometrists is education. Once we identify the root cause of an overwhelming problem, we can work out from there. Similar to the Urinary Tract Infection test strip method, the first step before diagnosis is knowing that you have a vision problem. Though this may seem simple, a common issue is the individual “shrugging off” their complication and either just dealing or truly believing it’s normal. Getting eye test kits into the hands of individuals – especially youth as they mature and the elderly – will be the big task of addressing this issue. Of course, training optometrists is the ultimate goal here, which involves access to education and economic resources. But a more immediate investment into this issue would be to offer Kenyans affordable eye test kits, which would include a basic eye test chart and instructions (i.e. stand 15 feet away, cover one eye, etc.). With someone else “scoring” this individual, if the person taking the test cannot answer a certain percentage of letters correctly, he or she knows that they will have to look into medical assistance. Simultaneously, leveraging partnerships with medical organizations in Kenya and the United Nations, Lehigh University should propose a movement to train and educate individuals in an affordable way to result in a certification in optometry, who can then be deployed to regions most vulnerable. Therefore, this combination of easily dispensable eye test kits and low-cost optometry education would attack the issue of a lack of access to eyeglasses from two directions and subsequently result in a better vision, more productivity and a greater quality of life throughout the country of Kenya.