By Priya Pandya, Acumen Fund Summer Associate (pictured at left)
In early August, Acumen Fund Pakistan held a small dinner at the Sheraton Hotel. Some of our investees, key partners and advisors – including Shaukat Tarin, Zubyr Soomro, Zaffar Khan, Ali Siddiqui, and Shahid Firoz – discussed one of the biggest challenges of social enterprise in Pakistan—developing and retaining talent.
Deepti Doshi, our Talent Manager, kicked off the evening with an overview of the Acumen Fellows Program as the search for the next class of fellows begins worldwide. Personal stories by current and previous fellows Jawad Aslam, Ayeleen Ajanee and Adrien Couton gave insight into what Acumen is looking for in hiring, but also what an experience working hand-in-hand with the investees has offered them. Each of the Fellows echoed the sentiment that the reach and power of the Acumen Fund brand and network has been invaluable. Jawad, who has spent the last year working with the Saiban low-income housing project, has been able to use this experience as a springboard to start his own commercial housing development and management company.
Zahara Khan, CEO of Sehat First, asked the million dollar question: “How do you attract employees with field experience, technical expertise, business knowledge and a passion to serve the poor? And how do you compensate them financially?” It was great to see others in the room eager to share their experiences and lessons. People brought up passion a number of times as the essential attribute for all people in this sector. Sadaffe Abad, CEO of Kashf Foundation, said it best, “You don’t need to go high-end. Why target top-ranked universities? Why not recruit from within the community, where people have a stake in the success of the project. You need long-term strategy and clear profiles. You need two or three people who really share the values that are important to your company. Leadership is critical and culture is important. Once you get a few people to lead, it grows.”
Even after the discussion and during dinner, conversations ensued on interesting topics. I was most alarmed to learn from Zahara that, in her work, she comes across mothers who chew up tobacco and give it to their children to stop them from crying! Our investees have an array of knowledge and welcome the idea of having a sounding board to discuss their everyday challenges. There is much to learn and share as the notion of social enterprise slowly gains traction in Pakistan. Acumen Fund Pakistan plans to build on the momentum started from this event with future investee knowledge sharing workshops.