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Accelerator for Ventures Serving Displaced People

Refine and develop a scalable business model that advances sustainable livelihoods for forcibly displaced populations in East Africa


June 21, 2022

10 Weeks

The Problem

Forced displacement is one of the defining social crises in our lifetimes. The number of forcibly displaced people (FDP) — a population that includes refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers, hosting communities, and those displaced by conflict or climate impacts — surpassed 80 million in 2020, and projections suggest that 250 million to 1 billion could be displaced worldwide by 2050 from climate change alone. 

Eastern Africa is being affected by a series of destabilizing social and climatic shocks that are forcing displacement. This is especially concerning given that the region currently hosts over 4.5 million refugees and 8 million internally displaced people. Humanitarian efforts—while critical—often do not address the longer-term, systemic challenges around employment, economic opportunity, and self-reliance presented by this crisis for the region's millions of refugees, asylum seekers, and people displaced by climate change. Most forcibly displaced people will never return home, and durable solutions within hosting communities are needed.

Refugee owned, refugee-led, or refugee-supporting social enterprises can help to unlock the potential of forcibly displaced communities with business models that promote self-reliance: the social and economic ability of forcibly-displaced people and their host communities to meet their essential needs without external aid. To assist social entrepreneurs who work in or seek to expand into this space, this accelerator will equip leaders with the moral leadership lessons, business skills, and learnings from our portfolio companies to confidently scale their enterprises and build scalable, inclusive, and sustainable solutions.

Learn How To:

  • Refine and develop a profitable and scalable business model
  • Identify key opportunities for growth while supporting either displaced or hosting communities through market, workforce, and value-chain entry points
  • Develop the hard-edged leadership skills necessary for building better, inclusive, and sustainable business solutions
  • Sharpen your presentation skills and practice pitching to an audience of investors and entrepreneurs — with a chance to receive a share of US $75,000 of grant funding
  • Build a professional network and community of social entrepreneurs in East Africa who are committed to tackling displacement and inequality

Who is Qualified to Apply?

This accelerator is open to entrepreneurs who:
  • Run a for-profit social enterprise based in Kenya, Uganda, or Ethiopia
  • Are advancing self-reliance in and between forcibly displaced populations and their hosting communities in at least one of the following ways:
    • Serving communities vulnerable to displacement, forcibly displaced populations and/or hosting communities as customers
    • Providing decent work and employment to communities vulnerable to displacement, forcibly displaced populations, or hosting communities
    • Sourcing from communities who are affected by displacement, communities vulnerable to displacement, or hosting them
  • Have a demonstrated track record of at least 1-3 years, some market traction, and are preparing to scale
  • Favorable consideration will be given to teams promoting climate resilient solutions
  • Learn more about qualifications in the below FAQs

How it Works

Over 10 weeks, two members of your leadership team will learn the essentials for building a scalable business model that achieves both profitability and impact. Working virtually alongside a close-knit cohort of entrepreneurial peers, you’ll examine how your business model currently serves forcibly displaced people and their host communities and test strategies to further access the FDP market. You’ll learn how to finance your business as it scales, practice pitching, and receive feedback and tips from Acumen’s network.

As a participant, you’ll also have access to industry and impact-specific case studies, video tutorials and practical readings, and receive invaluable one-on-one support and guidance from our team. Each week, you’ll complete assignments designed to help you think critically about your business model and introduce best practices to reach and serve forcibly displaced populations, and then join weekly interactive Learning Labs alongside your cohort members to give and receive feedback and learn together.

Throughout the journey, you’ll dive into Acumen’s Moral Leadership practices, like Listening to Voices Unheard and Partnering with Humility and Audacity. These skills are vital for any leader looking to reimagine what society and the workforce can look like and drive actionable change.

The program will culminate with a virtual closing session where you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your venture. The top three ventures selected will receive a share of US $75,000 of grant funding. 

Time Commitment and Course Access

You should expect to spend at least 8 hours per week on the readings and assignments. Most of this work can be done on your own schedule.

One or two participants from the leadership team of your social enterprise (i.e. CEO, Co-Founders) will be required to take part in virtual 2-hour sessions with the cohort each week. Up to 10 people from your enterprise may receive access to the curriculum materials.

Supported by the IKEA Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and in partnership with the Refugee Investment Network

What's Included:

  • Five Learning Labs alongside your cohort of entrepreneurs
  • Three one-on-one consultation calls with Acumen’s team for individualized support on customer experiments, financial model and pitching
  • Video tutorials on customer discovery, sales and marketing, financial modeling, pitching, and more
  • Case studies from social enterprises that have successfully scaled while contributing to sustainable livelihoods for the forcibly displaced
  • Opportunity to pitch to a group of investors and donors interested in the FDP space, eligibility for a share of $75K in grant funding, and possible inclusion in Acumen’s investment pipeline
  • Graduation into Acumen Academy’s Foundry: an alumni community designed to accompany leaders from around the world by connecting them with resources and relationships to amplify their work

Refine Your Business Model

Determine the best next steps to reach financial sustainability

Accelerate Your Social Impact

Change more lives, faster, by focusing on activities that work

Gain Valuable Feedback

Tap into the expertise of peers — and Acumen — to solve problems in real time

Join A Lasting Community

Build meaningful relationships with a community of like-minded social innovators


Module 1

Visions of Scale

  • Understand different customizable models for scaling your social enterprise
  • Develop a business model canvas that isolates key hypotheses for how your business model currently comes together
  • Define scenarios for how your social enterprise could successfully scale and map out your vision for growth and impact

Module 2

Customer Insights

  • Clearly define your core customer and value proposition
  • Design experiments to test your critical hypothesis
  • Conduct an experiment to better understand how customers interact with your product or service

Module 3

Aligning a Pricing, Sales and Marketing Strategy to Your Value Proposition

  • Build a value proposition canvas using data from customer interviews and experiments
  • Develop pricing models aligned with your value proposition
  • Learn sales and marketing tactics and strategies to optimize your scale strategy

Module 4

Building Your Financial Story and Model

  • Identify your major revenue assumptions and cost assumptions
  • Define major financial milestones for the next two years

Module 5

Operational Model: Team and Partnerships

  • Learn common operational models for social enterprises
  • Match your existing or desired talent with related skill sets and plan to expand your workforce in a way that’s inclusive of forcibly displaced communities

Module 6

Pitching the Strategic Story of Your Business

  • Identify the right types of capital to finance your business as it scales
  • Build a new and investor-ready pitch deck guided by Acumen's team of experts
  • Practice pitching your business to stakeholders
Today, we have a better understanding of our business and how to scale. We also have more confidence to do experiments and have been able to test our key assumptions.
John Nyagwencha CEO, Aqua Clara Kenya
We had a great product and story but the path to scaling was a bit vague for me. This program has shown me the clear steps I need to take, and given me the tools to achieve them
Azariah Mengistu CEO, ENZI
I’ve learned about moral imagination and how to reimagine the world as it could be — better for the people I work with. When I put myself in their shoes, I’m able to understand their perspective and design better solutions for them and for the planet.
Sumeet Kaur CEO, Spudnik Farms

Key Dates

Applications Close

April 12, 2022


June 21, 2022

Final Showcase

August 25, 2022


How to Qualify


Do I need to be from Kenya, Uganda or Ethiopia to apply?

You need to be a social entrepreneur running a for-profit business with primary operations in Kenya, Uganda or Ethiopia, though you do not need to be a citizen of these countries to apply. We encourage applications from local and female founders and individuals with lived experience of displacement.

What stage does my enterprise have to be in order to participate?

This program is designed for enterprises with demonstrated market traction (i.e. your enterprise generates revenue from your product/service) and a team equivalent to at least three full-time staff members.

What types of business models will be considered? 

We are open to different business models that serve forcibly displaced populations or communities that host them, or aim to improve the way they sell to, employ, or source from FDPs.

Examples of business models that include forcibly displaced populations:
- As customers: Company X has built a dedicated distribution platform for this hard to reach area, delivering everyday essentials to the burgeoning population of displaced people. Today, local kiosks can source products like soap, toothpaste, detergents etc. at competitive prices and without the shortages they used to experience.
- Providing employment: Company Y produces sustainable green packaging products for international export in Uganda. The company’s second production facility neighbors a host community and they’ve exclusively hired FDPs for the second plant.
- Sourcing from: Company Z trains Northern Kenyan farmers to grow hydrocarbon biofuels, as an alternative income stream as drought conditions have impacted yields of cash-crops. Company Z exports the hydrocarbon biofuels to domestic and international markets.

Special consideration will be given to models that advance climate resilience: the ability for target communities to prepare for, recover from, and adapt to climate change.

How will participants be selected?

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. If you are selected for an interview, a member of the Acumen team will reach out to schedule a 30-minute video call with you on the Zoom platform

When and Where


When will the sessions be held?

Most of the assignments can be completed online at your own pace before the submission date every week. Your team’s Lead Participants will be expected to participate live during the weekly 2-hour Learning Lab sessions. The calls with Acumen can be scheduled at times that are mutually convenient for you and your advisor.

Where will the sessions be held?

This is an online program. The weekly Learning Labs will be hosted virtually on the Zoom platform. You should have a stable internet connection and the ability to participate in video calls. After the close of the accelerator, grant awardees will be invited to attend an in-person convening in September, where they will have the opportunity to network with investors, companies, NGOs, and others supporting FDPs.

What are the program dates?

The program runs from June 21,2022 to August 25, 2022.

What happens after the program?

Following the program, you’ll join an alumni community of over 1000 social innovators around the world. We call the Acumen alumni community ‘The Foundry’ - where our aim is to accompany builders from around the world by connecting them with the resources and relationships to amplify their work in architecting a just, inclusive, and sustainable world.

About Acumen Academy

Acumen Academy is the world’s school for social change. Our mission is to unleash a new generation of social innovators and leaders with the character and competence to build a more just, inclusive, and sustainable world. Blending the best of online and offline learning, we offer anyone, anywhere access to the practical tools, practices, resources, and supportive community they need to achieve positive social change. The Acumen Academy community represents a new generation of social innovators and leaders committed to doing what’s right in a world that loves easy.

Learn more at www.acumenacademy.org.