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

New Study By Acumen and Bain & Company Unveils How To Scale Adoption Of Agricultural Innovations

Acumen and Bain & Company today released Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agricultural Innovations—a new report to help entrepreneurial companies, and others, unlock the potential of smallholder farmers through large-scale adoption of agricultural innovations and inputs. The report’s insights and findings—which are the result of interviews with more than 300 smallholder farmers, sector experts and pioneer firm management—demonstrate the transformative power of providing smallholder farmers with the right access to the right innovations at the right time. In parallel, the report addresses why very few pioneer firms have been able to achieve the scale needed to provide smallholder farmers with access to agricultural products and services that have the potential to increase their yields and pull them out of poverty. [Read More]

Why India’s Economic Growth Depends on Vocational Training

India has an enormous population of young people – over half of the 1.2 billion people are younger than 25 years old. Yet, only 2% of its 500 million person workforce has any skills or training. The majority work in the informal sector (90%), where there are few opportunities for education other than what workers ‘pick up’ on the job. This reality limits overall productivity, as well as upward mobility. [Read More]

Letter from Jacqueline: My Week in Ghana

I am writing on a return flight from Ghana. The country has not seen a single case of Ebola, yet the impact of fear is profound. As travelers enter the country, attendants screen for high temperatures. Hand sanitizer dispensers are omnipresent. Hotels and conferences have seen massive cancellations. Everywhere are constant reminders of our fragility and the strength of our connectedness. [Read More]

Six online courses we’re taking this year

+Acumen’s free online courses are a great way to learn tools that will help you develop both professionally and personally. Whether you are a social entrepreneur who wants to market to your customers or a young professional that wants to strengthen your leadership skills, we are offering six courses this Fall that will help you develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to change the way the world tackles poverty. [Read More]

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]