Fellows

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Partnering to support rising entrepreneurs: Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women

Entrepreneurs during the workshop

Last month, Acumen Fund’s Global Fellows partnered with Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women to deliver a workshop for a group of dynamic women entrepreneurs. The 10,000 Women initiative provides business and management education to female entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets.  Acumen Fund and Goldman Sachs have partnered for several years to deliver these kinds of focused training to women entrepreneurs in both India and Kenya. At this year’s workshops, like years past, each of the participating women have founded businesses in diverse industries such as energy, branding design, biotech, floristry, daycare and financial services.

As I nervously entered the training room, I grew increasingly anxious about facilitating sessions for a group of such accomplished and ambitious women; unsure which activities would actually be useful, relevant and engaging given their many years of experience.  My concerns subsided as soon as the other fellows walked in. The first session began with us sharing meanings and memories associated with our names. The passion and drive of these incredibly committed women was apparent in the stories they shared about naming their companies.

As Acumen fellows, we had the opportunity to lead sessions focused on reflective topics such as identifying each individual’s personal values, as well as more tactical sessions aimed at improving the participants’ ability to provide feedback and develop their negotiation skills. Our own fellowship had started with many of these activities during the leadership training we went through in New York in September. Now, with less than a month left in our fellowship program, it was a wonderful opportunity for us not only to reflect on how our perspectives had changed, but more importantly, to learn from the women as they shared their thoughts and experiences. Jeyalakshmi, founder of Universe Power Systems, proudly spoke about being the only female partner in the Emerson Power Network and the awards she’s received as recognition of her accomplishments.  Others chimed in as she recounted the personal and professional difficulties of starting her own business in a culture dominated by male entrepreneurs.

Throughout the many discussions, which were as diverse and dynamic as each of the participants, one theme consistently emerged: the importance of finding a balance – a balance between growth and sustainability; family and work; being an entrepreneur and a colleague; external expectations and personal aspirations; societal acceptance and internal satisfaction; all challenges and opportunities that these pioneers deal with on a daily basis.

Acumen Fund Fellows at the 10,000 Women event workshop (left to right): Andrea, Neha, Yousef, and Cherian (Benje Williams, Global Fellow '11, not pictured)

Like Acumen, Goldman Sachs emphasizes the importance of building a strong community through its leadership training.  They recognize that openly sharing and discussing personal challenges, triumphs, successes and opportunities for growth with a supportive community is critical for the continued development of those who participate.  As established entrepreneurs in an emerging economy, these women have internalized the often impermanent nature of their businesses, the importance of understanding and holding onto their values in incredibly challenging environments, and the ever changing roles they must play at home and at work.

At the end of the workshop, Swathi, a lady who’s tackled these challenges head on to pursue her passion in financial services,   highlighted that her biggest take away from the day was recognizing the similarities she shared with the other participants. She spoke about the sense of support she felt as the women shared their journeys and discussed their common challenges. This sense of shared experience and community was apparent throughout the day. In thinking about what she said, I also realized how important a sense of community has been to my own experience, working with Husk Power Systems in Bihar, India for the past nine months. Although we’re often thousands of miles away from one another, I’ve often relied on my cohort of Global Fellows to instill renewed optimism, a sense of shared purpose and a chance to learn from our collective reflections. A stable supportive community enables us to find the ideal balance we seek amidst the ever changing variables we face in our individual journeys.  Initiatives like 10,000 Women and the Global Fellows program foster these important connections to develop essential and supportive communities that empower members to create positive change in the world.

Neha is an Acumen Fund Global Fellow, working in Bihar, India with Husk Power Systems, which uses innovative biomass technology to convert abundant rice husks into energy that provides power to rural communities. Neha is from India and previously worked in international marketing for General Motors. She holds a B.S. in marketing and management from Purdue University and an MBA with a concentration in social entrepreneurship from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Read her blog at http://nehasnewadventure.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter @kale_neha

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