A Women’s Salon Like None Other

65: # of women who gathered last week at an event hosted by Acumen founder/CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz. Women shared their stories, insights, lessons, fears, and hopes.

50: # of years fell between the youngest and oldest guest.

20: # of seconds you had to unfold from a reflective sitting position and stand up strong in front of everyone to express your answer to one of the two questions posed prior to the event:

For the older generation:

If you could go back and change one decision in your life, what would it be?

For the younger generation:

What is your biggest fear?  What’s holding you back?

Guests responded with written answers to these questions, and this “word cloud” reveals the variety of answers.

There were Wall Street executives. High profile lawyers. Young artists. Entrepreneurs. Writers. Recently engaged professionals. Mothers. Daughters. Friends. The single room that housed everyone provided an unintentionally symbolic space. The older generation sat in a nearly complete circle of chairs and spoke openly and freely about their lives, regrets, and things they would have done differently, if…. The younger generation was enveloped by this collective wisdom and honesty, forming the inner circle of cushions on the ground, from which they spoke about fear, hope, and uncertainty.

As the sun set, answers to the questions started flowing:

  • “My greatest fear is that I’ll arrive at a place in which I think that ‘I’ve arrived’ – I do not want to feel like I have stopped learning and feeling challenged.”
  • “My greatest fear is that I will not give the right amount of myself to those I love – I fear that I will give either too much or too little.”
  • “I regret that I didn’t embrace entrepreneurship in my 20s. Everyone told me to go work for someone, learn what I need to know first, then do my own thing. They were all wrong.”
  • “I regret that I spent my entire life rushing – to that next appointment, to that next dinner…”
  • “If I could change one thing, it would be to have had more frivolity and fun …”
  • “What I would do differently: Listened, learned, and laughed more – less PowerPoints, meetings, or not following my gut….and I would have made every decision through the lens of never accepting the unacceptable”

Inspiring advice followed too:

  • “As you move to different stages of your career, look behind you and be a mentor for a woman who can learn from you. Take your growth and as it propels you forward, help others propel themselves forward.”
  • “I have had a very successful, very happy life. Unfortunately I remember very little of it because I spent decades worrying! For the worriers out there, take time to seriously think about your worrying – and stop. It’s a destructive habit which saps your energy and hurts your soul.”
  • “I have finally learned that to rely on a team is actually not only smart but efficient and effective. My message is, ‘you do not need to do it all yourself. There is no shame in not knowing how to do something. What is important is having the talent to find people who either have the information you need or the skills to help you reach your goal.’”

Five women, in different stages of life, each told a longer, more personal story to the room. From these stories, we reflected on what it means to own our voices and diversity, to redefine our expectations and flexibility around motherhood and career development, and to embrace the women around us. The storytelling was interspersed with beautiful, soul-moving music, performance, and dance. The energy was nothing short of incredible.

Guests left the evening with their hearts swirling with the thoughtfulness and honesty of each story. The focus on leadership, living a whole life, and embracing choices made (and to be made) allowed for a safe and intimate space that differentiated this evening from so many other “women in business” events. Rather than being “talked at”, the guests were learning and growing along with each speaker.

Maybe the night is best described in a tweet from one of its guests, the wonderful @swissmiss, Tina Roth Eisenberg:

“I think I am attending one of the most exciting evenings of my 12 years in NYC.”

Tina captured a photo from the evening and shares her answer to the first question on her blog.

This was the first salon hosted by Acumen Fund. We have a sneaking suspicion it will not be the last!

Clare Hunt and Carissa Vados are Acumen Fund Summer Associates in New York.


Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]