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.


Four Emerging Leaders Building the Future of Pakistan

With 60% of Pakistan’s population living under less than a dollar a day, the external narrative of Pakistan is characterised by what the country lacks; a lack of security, a lack of women’s rights, a lack of access to education, and the list goes on. What this narrative ignores are the individuals who work tirelessly to plug those gaps. From human rights to education to food security, Acumen Pakistan Fellows are affecting change through organizations committed to tackling poverty. Their work is truly inspiring, promising a hopeful future for Pakistan. Here are four fellows that are building this future for Pakistan and come together periodically to share learning experiences and grow as leaders. Through five seminars, the fellows have strengthened skills of adaptability, communication, empathy and problem solving through listening. If you are committed to creating change in your community, apply now to be an Acumen Pakistan Fellow. The deadline is 29 September. [Read More]

Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]


Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

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]