Reflections from Dubai

Pauline Nguyen is a volunteer who recently participated in an Acumen Fund presentation in Dubai, where Blair Miller presented her experiences managing the Acumen Fund Fellows Program.

I will be the first one to confess that I was pessimistic for the turnout at Blair Miller’s presentation about the Acumen Fund Fellows Program.   The feeling had nothing to do with Blair herself (who is quite fabulous in real life) but rather the type of people and lifestyle that exist in Dubai.

Professionals come to Dubai to work tax-free, live in luxury housing, enjoy fancy brunches, and travel to exotic destinations on the weekend.  In my honest and ugly opinion, Dubai is not a place with a lot of community-minded individuals.

Therefore, it felt very surreal to sit in a theatre in the Mall of the Emirates (Dubai’s excessive mall with its own indoor ski lodge) listening to Blair Miller, Talent Manager at Acumen Fund, promote the Fellows Program to an audience of 45 young professionals.

It was a tall order but even I, comfortable in my own luxury high rise, was inspired by her presentation to think deeply about applying for the Fellows Program.  The key highlight of Blair’s presentation was the focus on Acumen’s past Fellows.  The stories about the Fellows were easy to relate to as they were of the same age and stage in life as most of the audience members. I will assume (by the number of suits and Blackberry devices) that we were an audience between our late 20s and mid 30s, composed mainly of bankers, consultants, and other frustrated people working for the “man”/government. Basically, we were an audience who could use a change and some inspiration in our lives. Blair was telling us more than a story about a Fellow’s work- she was offering an opportunity to change our lives, to be that Fellow that builds more LifeSpring hospitals to bring safe birthing facilities to Indian women. Most expatriates eventually leave Dubai, but the question is:  Where to next?  Acumen’s answer:  Be a Fellow and make a tangible contribution to combating poverty in the developing world!

Another captivating part of the Acumen Fund Fellows Program was the calibre of the chosen participants.  It seemed that every Fellow had at least an expensive MBA and years of outstanding experience on their resume.   While I was a little intimidated, I still understood the message:  Acumen Fund wants the best financial and business minds (i.e. fanatic modelers welcome) to be their representatives in the field.  The Fellows Program is not asking volunteers to go to Africa and hold or adopt babies (no offense to those who do).  Rather, Fellows develop business plans, complex financial models, and contribute their business skills to make a tangible difference in a local social enterprise. Amazing stuff to think about!  Personally, I think it is much cooler and self-rewarding to be able to say “Yeah, I totally modeled five scenarios on how to alleviate India’s water scarcity problem” instead of “Yeah, I modeled five scenarios of a debt equity ratio that would yield the highest IRR.”

I would like to thank the Dubai for Acumen Volunteer Group for reaching out and inspiring us towards a more rewarding lifestyle. The Acumen Fund Fellows presentation was the second event organized by the Dubai Chapter.  I am excited for the Chapter’s next event which will be Acumen Fund’s Inaugural Fundraising Event to be held on April 7th at Cuadro Art Gallery in DIFC (for more information please email DubaiforAcumen@acumenfund.org). The event will be an opportunity to learn more about Acumen Fund and will feature a musical performance, good food and drinks.

I am eager to meet more individuals interested in Acumen Fund’s work, and hope to see you there!


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