Acumen Blog

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Monis Rahman Responds to Acumen Fund’s Lesson #4: We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities

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.

4. We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders, local money, and strong local communities

There is a vast ocean between good intentions and impact.  Sustainable impact requires deep roots in local communities.  It requires understanding regional sensitivities, dynamics and nuances.   It requires indigenous entrepreneurs with passion and courage to navigate unchartered waters to do what has never been done before.  And sustainable impact requires nurturing through local capital and ownership of purpose within the communities in which they operate.

It was punishingly hot day in June 2007 when I pitched ROZEE.PK’s online recruiting tools to a senior Human Resource executive at one of Pakistan’s largest companies.  With a sympathetic smile, he explained that credible companies post jobs in newspapers, not on the Internet.  Around this time, a well-established international job portal was just winding up its operations in Pakistan after licking similar market wounds.  But we persisted and offered our services free of charge for over a year with stoic patience.   We didn’t have the option of packing up our bags and going back to Dubai.  Pakistan was home.  So we customized our products to bridge the chasm between incumbent practices and rapidly evolving innovation.  We persisted and catalyzed a market that was not eager to change, because this was our market.  Today, four years later, more jobs are posted on ROZEE.PK than all of the newspapers in Pakistan combined and over 150,000 people have found employment.

Similarly, we have seen millions of well-intentioned foreign aid dollars being spent on worthy causes with little impact time and time again due to a disconnect with local realities.  And yet we’ve also seen high impact indigenous social ventures touching thousands of lives and executed on shoe-string budgets.  The difference has come from local wisdom, ownership and engagement.

The lesson of cultivating local leaders, local money and strong local communities comes from dozens of inspiring and heroic examples of success from Acumen’s portfolio across six different countries.

Whether it is a local microfinance bank figuring out how to circumvent exploitive aartis to help farmers get higher prices for their produce or a low cost housing venture cutting through painful layers of government bureaucracy through the powerful networks of local investors, the lesson is clear.  Impact is not made simply through a sound analysis of a business model in New York – it is made by the magic that happens across oceans, on the ground thousands of miles away.

Monis Rahman is the Chairman and CEO of Naseeb Networks, a new media company in Pakistan focusing on consumer Internet applications. He is also an Acumen Fund Partner.

Click here for the full “10 Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty.”

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