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People On Purpose: Vinay Nair

Editor’s note: this interview originally appeared in the “On Purpose” blog on September 4, 2012. Vinay Nair is a Business Development Manager for Acumen Fund in Europe.

Vinay Nair works in London for Acumen Fund, a non-profit organisation that invests in companies providing critical goods and services to the poor in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. He is a former Executive Director at J.P. Morgan London and Global Fund technical advisor to the Clinton Foundation. Vinay received his BA (Hons.) in Economics and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from the London School of Economics. He is on the Board of Acumen investee, Durable Activated Residual Textiles(DART), the Advisory Board of the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. You can follow Vinay’s thoughts and inspirations at @vinaynair

Why do you do the job you do?

Prior to joining Acumen Fund I spent eight and a half years working in the banking sector at JPMorgan, during which time I acquired a range of professional skills and worked with some great people. However, I was also spending my free time volunteering and exploring ways I could have a more substantive impact on my community and the world around me. After some time, I realised I wanted to spend my days engaged on work with greater impact.

Working for Acumen Fund has given me this opportunity, since at the core of the organisation is the nuanced belief that investment can be used to create positive social impact, but that investment alone is not enough. Our focus has been on affordable basic goods and services to the poor in areas where there is no social safety net, such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In a world of plenty, I believe there is more we can do to stand with the poor, and provide people with the capabilities to lift themselves out of poverty, and Acumen Fund focuses on this.

What are you most proud of?

On a personal level, my six-month old daughter! In a professional context, I’d have to say working for an organisation that is really developing better ways solve the world’s most intractable problems. I am also proud of a small enterprise I helped to initiate in Mozambique about three years ago, with a group of HIV positive women, to make and sell jam. Over 20 women now work with the organisation – and it all started with these incredible women – it’s something I’ll always be proud of.

What keeps you awake at night?

Can I mention my young daughter again here?! Aside from that… whilst I am an optimist, I’m often preoccupied with a sense of urgency over the huge needs that exist in the world. With most crises around the world, from the financial to the environment or food security, those who suffer most always seem to be those who have the least. Whilst it doesn’t keep me up at night, per se, I find this injustice tough to take, and I do think about how we can all positively contribute towards redressing this.

What were you doing 5 years ago?

Five years ago I was an Executive Director at JPMorgan, running a financial institutions marketing team. I’d been there for eight years at that point, and was starting to think how I could build on this experience towards something I really wanted to do. This itch eventually led to a sabbatical spent mostly in India working with social enterprises, the aforementioned time in Mozambique, a Masters at the LSE and since 2011, working at Acumen Fund.

What do you expect to be doing in 5 years’ time?

I greatly enjoy combining my experiences, skills, and values in my work and hope to continue doing that. I’ll quote Muhammad Yunus here, who said that the only place for poverty is in a museum – it is such a powerful vision and I hope we can chip away and make some real inroads towards that vision in the next 5 plus years.

If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would you do?

I’d have to take a Jack Bauer approach to this and try to achieve a lot in 24 hours! I’d start by embracing Keynesian economics to stimulate growth – and moreover, inclusive growth. I would spend time making the taxation system more progressive. In health, I’d kibosh the NHS Commissioning changes. Education, criminal justice…… there are a lot of areas and I could go on! I’d also reiterate the government’s admirable and ongoing commitment to international development.

Why are you involved with On Purpose?

I met Tom in the early days of On Purpose, just as he was beginning to establish the organisation, and admired what he wanted to do. It’s great to see the fruition of these plans today.

Last year, on Acumen Fund’s ten-year anniversary, we came up with a list of ten things we have learned to be true about tackling global poverty. One of these was “Great people, every time, no exceptions”. Indeed, similar to On Purpose, Acumen Fund is very committed to helping to train the next generation of leaders, with our Global Fellows Programme, Regional Fellows Programmes and +acumen chapters in cities around the world, including here in London.

I really admire Tom and the work of On Purpose towards filling this human capital need, and producing the people that may help make that poverty museum a reality.

On Purpose and Acumen Fund’s London volunteer chapter, London+Acumen, are holding a joint event on 12 September to highlight storytelling in the social enterprise space, and its importance for the sector. During this evening you will learn useful tips and tricks to tell great stories, as well as to get a chance to practise your new storytelling skills. The speakers for the evening will be Nick Jankel (Founder & CEO, WECREATE) and James Wu (Manager, Branding and Creative, Acumen Fund).  Register for the event here.

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