Once in a Lifetime Opportunities

Kasia Stochniol, MBA 2014

In 2011, at 26 years of age, Kasia Stochniol (MBA 2014) packed her bags and moved to Nairobi, Kenya. After previous professional experience as a consultant, she joined the early team at M-KOPA, a social enterprise that today is bringing affordable solar power to over half a million low-income consumers across East Africa.

The experience inspired Kasia to pursue a graduate education that would allow her to advance her career within the social sector. “I wanted two things from HBS: a more rounded business education, especially in finance, and advanced business skills,” she says. “To address the difficult challenge of scaling social enterprises, you need sharp business skills.”

As Kasia approached graduation and researched her post-graduate possibilities, the stars aligned when she saw Acumen, a social venture capital firm, on the list of available opportunities through the Leadership Fellows Program. She was familiar with Acumen through her work at M-KOPA (in which the firm was an early investor), and recognized that the program “would allow me to enter the social space at a sustainable salary level – an important consideration given the debt I carried from school. The fellowship enabled me to take a role I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to consider.”

Measuring success at the consumer level

Kasia joined Acumen in 2014 in New York City as an Innovation Advisor focusing on impact measurement. Her mandate: develop and apply a “lean” approach to effectively and efficiently measure the impact of Acumen’s portfolio companies.

“We developed Lean Data as a smart way to listen to our customers and understand the impact of our products and services on their lives,” Kasia says. In the past, organizations like Acumen would have to send a small army of assessors to conduct face-to-face interviews with low-income customers living in rural, hard-to-reach areas. “Today, we can use mobile technology to conduct short phone interviews or SMS (texting) surveys.”

Before Kasia’s arrival, Acumen had little customer or impact data to work with. With mobile technology, however, Acumen has found “an efficient way to listen to low-income customers at scale. Their feedback creates a virtuous circle that helps Acumen’s portfolio companies improve their products services, while helping Acumen to understand and measure its social impact.”

Both Kasia and the Lean Data initiative have proved successful. Since joining Acumen she has been promoted to Associate Director and the team has grown from four to twenty people. In fact, Lean Data has been so successful that the majority of the team’s work is now conducted on behalf of external clients, including other leading impact investors.

“In my first year,” says Kasia, “we were trying to get people to realize how important it is to listen to consumers and to build a culture of customer-centricity.” Now, the Lean Data team has embraced a vision “to listen to millions of customers around the world and unleash the power of data to drive social impact.”

Reflecting on her Fellowship, Kasia notes, “The Leadership Fellows Program is an enabler and catalyst for graduates to work in the social space after business school, and to apply their skills to some of the most interesting and challenging problems facing the world. I am very grateful for it.”