Acumen Blog

10

Eboo Patel Responds to Acumen Fund’s Lesson #10 – Patient capital investing is built upon a system of values; it is not a series of steps to be followed

Acumen Fund is committed to sharing the learnings we have collected over our past 10 years. In this spirit, we have published  a document called “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.” Each week on the Acumen Fund Blog, we will be posting the next lesson in this series of “10 Things,” along with a guest response from a valued member of our community.

10. Patient capital investing is built upon a system of values; it is not a series of steps to be followed

I was on my cell phone in my hotel room saying good night to my wife when I heard the hotel phone ring. “Who is calling you at 11 pm?” my wife asked, a little annoyed. It was Ron Jensen. He wanted to come up to my room and talk with me, and he wanted to bring his family and his minister along. I was in my pajamas and I had turned off my brain long before, but I got the feeling this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I told my wife (who was probably reminding herself that she should have listened to her friends when they pointed out that ‘social entrepreneur’ sounded like a peculiar career for a husband) that I had to go.

I was at the Launch Event for the U.S. Ashoka Fellows in Houston. The Jensen family had made a huge investment in that program, and were interested in meeting the new class of Fellows. I had spent a few minutes with Ron and other members of the family earlier in the day, and I guess what they heard intrigued them.

I changed out of my pajamas and met the family at the door. They trooped in and sat down, and then Ron said in his soft-spoken way: “We’ve all been impressed by what you’ve told us about the Interfaith Youth Core and we’d like to know more.” I showed them the six-minute video Public Television had done on our first interfaith youth council in Chicago, and laid out the IFYC plan to create a training program and spread this model around the country. They listened politely, asked a few questions, and then trooped out.

The next day I saw Ron as he was getting ready to go to the airport. Ever understated, he said: “I like your vision and energy. We’re going to do something.”

I had a follow-up conversation with the Foundation’s Executive Director, told her our highest priority was to build the organizational capacity to shape a spread strategy. “Mmm hmmm, mmm hmmm,” she said on the phone. I could hear her jotting down notes. “Can you send me something on that? Make it short – one page, large type, get to the point, fast.”

A few weeks later, the IFYC received a check for $250,000 from the foundation. It was accompanied by a one page contract, which essentially said “For the organizational capacity to build a spread strategy”. It was in large type.

There was no other documentation. There was no long list of requirements. There was no, “If you don’t accomplish this, this, and this, then you won’t get that, that, and that” language. But there was one word that felt stamped on everything, although it didn’t appear in writing anywhere. That word was trust.

There are many ways that investors attempt to create accountability in their funding relationships. Lots of due diligence up front; long, painful processes with stacks of documentation; mile after mile of reporting requirements. I’ve filled out all those forms, sat in all those meetings, delivered reports on all those deadlines. I understand why folks ask for it – you’ve got to make sure people on the other side of table know the expectations and are fulfilling them.

But I’ll tell you this: I’ve never felt a stronger sense of accountability as I did holding that $250,000 check and that one page letter. At the time, it literally doubled our budget. “I’d rather die than fail to deliver on this investment,” I thought to myself. No form, no reporting requirement, no veiled foundation threat, has ever made me feel that way. Ron and the Jensen family trusted the IFYC and me. No way was I going to let them down.

I had a two-minute follow up conversation with Ron where I got to thank him personally. Mostly he listened, but I do remember him telling this story: “When I was in business, buying and selling companies, my batting average was just okay, but my slugging percentage was terrific. I believe the idea and organization you’ve got is a home run.”

The Interfaith Youth Core has grown twenty fold since that time. We are the single largest interfaith organization in the United States, hundreds of college campuses use our program models and we are an influential player in the academic, policy and media discourse on religious diversity issues. The State Department, the White House and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation have launched initiatives modeled after our program. It’s a long way from running a youth council with eight teenagers in a church basement on the north side of Chicago. Currently, we’re preparing a new strategic plan. Our objective this time around is much more ambitious: making interfaith cooperation a social norm. If spreading a program model was a home run, then creating a new cultural pattern is winning the World Series. Sometimes I smile when I think of how far we’ve come, and how different everything would be if I had decided to stay in my pajamas in that Houston hotel room. Sometimes I just shake my head.

A few years ago, Ron Jensen died in a car accident. I felt like I had lost a grandparent or a favorite uncle – that one person in the family who believed in your crazy dream and helped you make it happen. Most of all, I’ll never forget the lesson that Ron and his family taught me: Invest in people, ideas and institutions you trust. Don’t fake trust or invent surrogates for it. If you don’t trust it, don’t invest. And when you do trust it and decide to invest, go big, and treat people as if you expect them to be winners. They’ll rise to the occasion.

Eboo Patel is the Founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core, and a member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. Eboo’s core belief is that religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. He’s inspired to build this bridge by his faith as a Muslim, his Indian heritage, and his American citizenship. He has spoken about this vision at places like the TED conference, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, as well as college and university campuses across the country. He writes about it regularly in The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @EbooPatel

Comments

Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]