A colleague at Everytable stands in front of a colourful wall.

Acumen America: “Rebuilding a system that works for all Americans”

29 October 2020

The social and economic devastation being felt across the United States in the wake of the pandemic is hitting communities that were already facing significant challenges. We spoke to Catherine Casey Nanda of Acumen America to find out how Barclays’ donation from its £100m COVID-19 Community Aid package is helping entrepreneurs to provide vital emergency support at a time of crisis for the 100 million Americans living in poverty.

“The US is facing dual generational crises with the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism, which have exposed existing inequality in the workforce, financial and healthcare systems.”

Catherine Casey Nanda is discussing the impact of COVID-19 coupled with the racial injustice faced by low income communities of colour in the US. As Director of Acumen America, a non-profit investing in social entrepreneurs tackling poverty, Nanda has spent the past 13 years supporting companies providing critical services and relief for the most vulnerable people in society.

The needs that the organisation is working to meet are huge – and have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown. From children in under-resourced communities unable to access education; to isolated older people struggling to buy food; and people with substance addictions unable to physically access essential addiction services.

Acumen America is one of hundreds of organisations around the world to benefit from Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package, designed to offer critical support to those hardest hit by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

The bank’s partnership has enabled Acumen America to provide emergency grants of between $50,000 and $250,000 to social enterprises working on the ground. This has included resources to expand access to food, shelter and job training.

Young child playing with abacus counting frame.

Acumen America’s beneficiaries include MyVillage, a network of childcare providers expanding access to affordable early childhood education.

We’re looking for companies that not only deliver as a sustainable impactful business, but that can change the systems they operate in and help us build a different society

Catherine Casey Nanda

Director of Acumen America

People working and talking at Bitwise’s offices.

Acumen America’s beneficiary Bitwise trains low income jobseekers for careers in technology.

Delivering critical relief to vulnerable communities with Barclays’ help

“Barclays came with an early commitment through its COVID-19 Community Aid Package, which really helped us to get off the ground quickly and make grants to these companies,” says Nanda.

As a founding partner in Acumen America, Barclays has helped the non-profit right from the start to build a portfolio of 22 companies in the workforce, financial and healthcare systems – which now reaches over 25 million Americans.

“Fundamentally we’re looking for companies that not only deliver as a sustainable impactful business but that can change the systems they operate in and help us build a different society,” says Nanda.

The non-profit’s beneficiaries include MyVillage, a network of childcare providers expanding access to affordable early childhood education; Boulder Care, a digital health company tackling the opioid crisis with virtual treatment for addiction; and Esusu, a credit building platform helping people with low income gain access to financial services.

Nanda believes that many of the solutions to the issues caused by the pandemic can be found by supporting entrepreneurs, who can bring fresh thinking to some of society’s most entrenched problems.

“Right when the coronavirus crisis hit, we saw the impact in the communities that our companies work with and recognised that, while there would be different government programmes that would come to help people, often they wouldn’t be nimble enough to meet some of the immediate needs that our companies solve,” says Nanda.

Moving toward greater inclusivity

Nanda suggests that the bold and collective leadership seen from social entrepreneurs during the pandemic has been supercharged by Barclays’ support.

“Barclays is showing real corporate leadership around investing in the kinds of solutions that will make our communities and societies stronger as a whole,” she says. “Partnerships like these are going to move our communities toward greater inclusivity.”

By 2024 Acumen America hopes to grow its portfolio to 68 companies reaching 75 million people, but, Nanda says, “we know that’s not enough”.

“With the challenges we face in the US right now, we need to focus on scale beyond our direct investing and how we catalyse broader systems to change, both through our companies and through our own voice and influence. We really want to become a leader in rebuilding a system that works for all Americans.”

How partners are responding to pandemic pressures

A tech startup offering mental health support; an upskilling project for low income jobseekers; and an innovative Los Angeles food-chain are three of the companies Barclays’ partnership is helping Acumen America to support during the crisis.

MindRight: mental health coaching for young people

MindRight is a Newark, New York based tech startup providing mental health coaching to young people – which has seen a significant increase in demand during this challenging time. “MindRight provides culturally responsive, preventative, mental health coaching, primarily via text message to communities that have faced trauma,” says Nanda. “They’ve had around a 20% increase in utilisation from young people since the coronavirus pandemic.”

Bitwise: training low income jobseekers for tech careers

US employment has been decimated by the effects of COVID-19, with the disadvantaged being the worst hit. Bitwise, which trains low income jobseekers for careers in technology, has expanded its reach with the help of the Barclays-backed emergency fund. “When the coronavirus crisis hit, Bitwise set up a platform called OnwardCA,” says Nanda. “It’s a one-stop shop for displaced workers to help find jobs, training and resources. It was so successful in California that they've now expanded into more than half a dozen states.”

Everytable: targeting food insecurity in LA

Everytable is a food chain that is responding to the issue of food insecurity in Los Angeles. “They are an early stage retail food business, which you'd think would get quickly put out of business in this crisis,” explains Nanda. “The founder had to shut down most of their retail outlets but immediately recognised there was going to be growing food insecurity in Los Angeles. They provided 700,000 meals in 2019, but between April and July this year they provided 2.3 million meals. They’re doing it through different delivery models and getting food into the hands of vulnerable seniors and students who are out of school.”

Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package

Barclays has established a £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package to support communities impacted by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It consists of two components: charitable donations to non-profit partners working in the communities where Barclays operates; and a commitment to match personal colleague donations to their chosen non-profits who are helping COVID-19 relief efforts in their communities.

Find out more about Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package.