Fellows

Img1

A Visit with Organic Cotton Farmers in Northern Uganda

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted on Tamsin Chislett’s blog on Thursday, May 18.

Acumen Fund’s East Africa Fellows visited some of our organic cotton farmers yesterday. It took a while to get to the village, not least because a truck driver had broken down on a narrow road ahead of us, locked up his truck, and disappeared with the keys.

We were forced to turn round and take a ‘shortcut’ on a village road through the bush, mowing down a few small bushes on the way in our big rickety bus. When we eventually got there, the farmers gave us a very warm welcome, dancing along the path to the bus to greet us. (A few were very enthusiastic – as a general rule, the later we are to meet farmers, the more of them will have started on the waraji (gin) sachets…). The children danced, sang and drummed, a brilliant performance which if I remember rightly from last time I saw it means something like, ‘Thank you to the government for all you have done….but please can you stop messing around and do lots more essential things’. (That may have been a non-literal translation).

Stella translated while the East Africa Fellows introduced themselves, and farmers stepped forward to describe their work with the ginnery. I was worried to begin with as the first few farmers all said the same thing – “The organic programme has helped me pay for my children’s school fees” – which is hardly enlightening, and sounds like we’ve rolled these farmers out to give the company an ego boost. But I needn’t have worried: eventually a young man stood up with a piece of paper and listed 10 questions he had for the visitors. It became clear there was a bit of confusion – the questions were really for the cotton ginnery – but I had to smile when he read out a long list of demands and queries on all the topics that were really bothering the farmers. It’s difficult to write this without sounding patronising, but the fact that a young farmer stands up in front of 100 other farmers & 25 visitors and reads out a pre-organised list of demands is actually brilliant. I’d take that over a pre-rehearsed ‘the ginnery is great’ comment any day, because open and honest back and forth discussion with farmers is much more valuable, and this way we at the ginnery can try to get to the bottom of what the farmers really need instead of imposing what we think they need. It also of course reminded me that there’s lots of work to do – and that things that I de-prioritise back at the ginnery because there’s lots going on, are actually day-to-day concerns for farmers. It was definitely motivating to hear the issues straight from farmers’ themselves. The session closed with another dance and the Fellows joined in, which, judging from the farmers’ smiles & laughter, almost made up for our late-ness.

Lastly, two photos that I love… The first one, of children watching the dance through an ipad screen: And the second, of the dance following us out all the way to the bus:

___

Tamsin Chislett is an Acumen Fund Global Fellow working in Gulu, Uganda with Gulu Agricultural Development Company, a for-profit cotton ginnery in Northern Uganda that is providing former refugees with critical support to regain their livelihoods. Tamsin is from the United Kingdom and worked at Bain & Company as a management consultant, and she has previously worked with TechnoServe in Zimbabwe as a volunteer consultant.

Comments

Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

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]