FIP 66: Profit vs. Impact 2/3 – with Tom Adams of Acumen

Today on the podcast Ashlee Tuttleman interviews Tom Adams of Acumen. As Chief Impact Officer, Tom leads the organizations’ work towards creating impact through patient capital investing. Acumen have pioneered Lean DataSM, an approach to data collection which helps to build more impactful businesses by providing them with data on their social performance, customer feedback and customer behaviour.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • What we do and don’t know about social performance – and why is that? Tom pushes us to examine our own biases.
  • Traditional aid can work, but sometimes a different type of approach is needed. People can pay for services instead of accepting pure charity. Tom tells us about philanthropic capital investment.
  • Tom talks about what it was like for Acumen to pioneer this type of program 20 years ago before anyone else had entered this space. It takes a lot of patience.
  • He tells us about what it is like to work in a space where standards and norms aren’t developed in the traditional sense. They’re looking for ways  to standardize social performance data on an on-going basis in the same way other industries do.
  • Need to build repeatable systems and methods to understand social performance. Impact from year to year will change. There is no playbook!
  • Acumen Invested in remote data collection to drive down costs. (SMS, text, phone calls etc. were an obvious place to start.)
  • There is always complexity around getting good data and avoiding bias. At its core, it boils down to listening to people and listening to your customers.
  • Be open to hearing about unintended consequences. Something that seems inherently positive can have unintended negative effects.
  • JD Power is a shining example of the successful use of consumer reports. Engineers had always ‘known best’ when it came to making cars. JD Power found they had more success when they included consumers in the equation and asked them what they wanted!
  • Invest in your monitoring and evaluation in the beginning of your work. (Needs to be a core part of a socially oriented organization).
  • Positive social change starts with listening to the user.
  • How do you get started in the beginning? Getting the basics of customer feedback in place can be simple. Net promoter score? General feedback? How likely are you likely to recommend? Build from there.
  • When it comes down to it, the basics of this work are continuous listening. You don’t need to overcomplicate it with specific measurements.
  • More remote you can be the more likely you can trust the data. (People are more likely to alter their response in-person). The goal is unbiased data.

Links to Resources:

Connect with Tom:




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