Acumen Blog

John Collery

Is Impact for You?

John Collery is a Global Fellow working at Avani, a company that creates pine needle gasification power projects for remote communities in northern India. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of Global Fellows, application deadline is December 13th! 

As part of a recent interview, I was asked what advice I would give to business school students who are looking to make a move into impact investing or the social impact world more generally. Having made that move relatively recently, its advice that I hoped I could give.

Racking my brain I quickly answered, talk to mentors, talk to friends, talk to professors. Read. Read a lot. Join clubs, befriend people in the industry, go to conferences. Build yourself a rock solid twitter feed and begin to get an understanding of one or more areas of development. Pretty standard stock answer but giving nothing that most people would not already have figured out.

Thinking about the question over the past few days, my answer should have been more straight forward. Kind of.

Ask yourself, how much can you give? I don’t mean this in a simple way and the answer should not be ‘a lot’. I mean it much more broadly and far more seriously – how much of the life that you have now are you willing to give away? Throughout my time at business school I made a conscious effort to put myself into the world of social impact. What does that mean? For my internship I worked with an agriculture focused PE firm in Delhi, while most of my peers were in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco. It was hot, dusty (see below), frustrating, and a little unnerving at times, but ultimately a huge learning experience.

tumblr_inline_mwpu0vPRqa1sr6arh

I put myself forward to lead a project that took me back to India and back to agricultural technology during my second year and which, to be honest, consumed about 50% of my time during school. I dealt with all the things that a manager on a product design project has to deal with while not getting paid. It was invaluable.

tumblr_inline_mwpu56Cgex1sr6arh

When everyone else was spending their post business school summer chilling out before starting work, I was humping the Metra at 6.45am from Evanston to Chicago to work with an awesome impact PE firm for experience, exposure, and little else. The contacts I made were worth more than sitting on a beach somewhere. I’m still doing work with the company and will continue to seek guidance and advice well into the future.

And then Acumen. Flung to the farthest corners of India, working in a harsh environment, being generally uncomfortable, but genuinely happy about it. Tonight I won’t watch a game, see friends at a bar, indulge the food geek in me, or go catch a show. Even if you are based in the office in New York, travel is a mainstay. And thats not unique to Acumen. I think of the team I worked with in Chicago – Peru, Eastern Europe, India, Sri Lanka, Mexico – non stop travel. Early mornings, late nights, and weekends. Non stop.

This is not a poor me story. I love doing what I do. I write this simply as a reference for others.

The common denominator across all of the people I’ve worked with is a deep commitment to building strong businesses that serve the interests of the underserved. Businesses that return profit, certainly, but just as importantly, businesses that build for a better future. No one is here for a notch on the resume. No one is here for plaudits. Of course, there are no selfless acts but in our industry, the rewards are the colleagues, the intellectual, moral, and business challenges, and ultimately, the outcomes we are working towards.

If that’s something that drives you, something that gives you energy, then this work will not feel like giving up anything at all. At Acumen, Jacqueline talks about living a life of immersion. If that sounds like giving up too much, it probably is, and maybe impact work is not for you.

If not, now’s the time.

Comments

Welcoming Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Director

We are pleased to announce Naeem Zamindar as Acumen’s new Pakistan Country Director. Naeem joins Acumen from his consulting company, Zamindar Capital, which he founded in 2009 to help companies leverage technology to accelerate social and economic development. His 25-year career combines experience in venture capital with multiple high-level operational and leadership roles. Naeem worked at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley, helping build companies in the digital, new media and wireless broadband space. In Pakistan, he was CEO of Wateen Telecom, where he engineered a turnaround, taking the company from losing $2 million per month to generating $1 million positive cash flow over a matter of three years. He was also a founding member of Pakistan’s leading telecom company Mobilink and, as its Chief Strategy Officer, built a nationwide fiber-optic network through the acquisition of four companies that now form Mobilink’s broadband division. [Read More]

Catalyzing the Growth of Social Enterprises with SAP

To accelerate the growth of our social enterprises in East Africa and India, we have joined forces with global business software leader SAP. Leveraging SAP’s technology and global business expertise, this unique collaboration will bring together Acumen entrepreneurs working in different sectors and countries to deepen their business capabilities and expand access to solutions to help them address global poverty. [Read More]

Dispatch from Pakistan: Hope in Place of Fear

There is fear in the streets of Pakistan. I sit in traffic, just a few hundred feet from my hotel where my next meeting is scheduled. I could arrive at my destination in five minutes if I walked, but it is not advised to walk. On the right side of my car, four men pointing automatic weapons stand in the back of a police van. Just in front is a black SUV with four commandos in the back, each with AK-47s, I think, though I’m no expert in guns. Let’s just say they are very big and look very menacing. A few cars to the left is another gun-filled vehicle pushing other cars out of its way, presumably to join the caravan of the armed. Sirens are wailing. [Read More]

ANNOUNCING A NEW INVESTMENT, FIRST ACCESS

Acumen announces its new investment in First Access, a data analytics company improving access to formal financial services for low-income East African communities. In East Africa, only 22 percent of the population has access to formal financial services with the region’s poor having even less at 10 percent. First Access presents an opportunity to increase the ability of these low-income communities to save, manage risk responsibility, invest in such critical services as education, and ultimately rise out of poverty. [Read More]

ANNOUNCING THE 2015 PAKISTAN FELLOWS

Acumen is proud to announce the selection of our third cohort of Pakistan Fellows. After a competitive application process, we’ve chosen a diverse group of 20 leaders working in provinces across the country. This year’s Fellows are fighting poverty and changing lives across Pakistan through unique initiatives that range from advocating for vulnerable prisoners’ rights, to creating solutions to address low-quality education, to developing branchless banking channels for low-income customers, and more. Read more about each Fellow and their inspiring work below. [Read More]

Lean Data Goes Deeper

One of the most interesting questions we’re grappling with right now on the Impact team at Acumen is how to develop a more robust, rigorous, and transparent form of quantifying the social value our companies create. While I don’t believe we will ever fully understand all the social value created – and while there will always be room for debate and interpretation – I do think today we have the tools to get a lot closer to customers and hear how they value products. [Read More]

ANNOUNCING THE 2015 INDIA FELLOWS

Acumen is proud to announce the selection of our second cohort of India Fellows. After a competitive application process, we’ve chosen a diverse group of 20 leaders working in 13 states. This year’s Fellows are fighting poverty and changing lives across India through unique initiatives that range from providing affordable menstrual hygiene products to marginalized women, to making quality education available to children in conflict zones, to designing innovative sanitation solutions for the urban poor, and more. Read more about each Fellow and their inspiring work below. [Read More]