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The Need for an Open Mind: A Generosity Day pledge

Photo credit: currencyofgiving.com

The more I read and hear, the more I understand that the social impact sector is built on openness; passionate people, willing to take a risk, take action, and be atypical. Three events in the last month inspired this realisation; a day of celebrating generosity, a dinner with Muhammad Yunus, and a series of thought provoking discussions.

My realisation started with Generosity Day – on the 14th of February. I celebrated it in an effort to do away with the cliché roses and candy image of Valentine’s Day – and in Mumbai, to also step away from the politicisation of the day, as a “vulgar” display of Western culture by extremists. On the day itself, I practiced small acts of generosity like leaving a large tip or buying chocolates for my colleagues. And while it felt good, it felt insufficient. I wanted to carry on the experiment for more than a day.

I was fortunate to attend dinner with Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus during his recent visit to Mumbai. Yunus shared his ideas on ‘social business’ with the group – representatives from organisations that operate in the social investing and social enterprise space in India. A social business is a non-dividend company set up to solve a social problem. Again and again, the conversation steered to – but how do we raise capital without profit-incentive? How do social businesses stay project driven?

Yunus responded – we raise capital by clarifying purpose, by supporting good people. Investors are not un-willing to support good mission driven companies, with resilient purpose and a clear mandate of solving the problems of poverty. In spite of its apparent naivety, the simplicity and purity of his message struck me.

According to Yunus, what really makes a social business successful is the commitment of the entrepreneur – the drive, the passion, the ambition but also the ability to be kind, willing to listen and open to learning. Yunus classified these individuals as ‘good people’. And while our models to tackling poverty might slightly differ, at the end of the day for us at Acumen Fund the right kind of people and entrepreneurs matter; individuals who are open to listening and learning. After being around for 10 years, one of our “Ten Things We’ve Learned About Tackling Global Poverty” is – ‘Great people, every time, no exceptions’.

At the Acumen Fund India office, we often get the opportunity to hear from our advisors or people of expertise in the sector. In the last three sessions we’ve had, these experts have chanted the same mantra: the ‘secret sauce’ of successful investing is finding the right entrepreneur. And I started to put these two together. It struck me – the traditional view of generosity is having an open heart – but really it is as much about keeping an open mind. Sharing intelligence and knowledge stem from this ability to have an open mind – as do successful social businesses.

In a sector that is trying so hard to solve a gigantic and complex problem like poverty – individuals need to strive to keep their minds (and hearts) open, and not be closed or blocked. Open to new experiences, and new ways of understanding. And at times, open to being idealistic, open to taking risks and open to failing. This openness and sense of belief is a breeding ground for innovation, and provides a foundation on which to build our work.

So while it may be challenging, in honour of generosity day (or month, or year!) I vow to give more, listen better and be more open, readily welcoming new challenges, both of the heart and especially of the mind.

Keya Madhvani is a Business Associate in Acumen Fund’s India office.

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