Our World

FaizaMawjee_071310

Summer Spotlight: Dignity and Grace for Pakistan

Acumen's Wall of Photos

It is now July 2010, and I am well into my summer internship at Acumen Fund. Earlier this month, when I read the devastating news about the suicide attack on the shrine of Hazrat Data Gunj Baksh in Lahore, in which nearly 40 people were murdered by suspected Taliban extremism, I was reminded in an extremely graphic way of why I am at Acumen and what I hope to accomplish here. The last two years have been brutal for all Pakistanis and while some of us choose to remain aloof and removed – safe in our houses on the right side of the bridge and behind our guarded enclaves, blaming the unseen hand of an unseen enemy – it was in fact only a matter of time before the inequalities and inequities that we have allowed to fester in our society caught up with us.

The Taliban, extremism, radicalism and terrorism is our wakeup call to a world that is changing, and a call to realize that neither the government alone nor traditional aid will bring about a just and equitable change in Pakistan. It is people like Jawad AslamRoshaneh Zafar and Dr. Sono Khangarani who will provide people with decent and dignified alternatives to handouts and begging. Unless people see a decent future for their children and themselves, one in which every citizen can maintain a basic standard of living, educate their children and live in a decent manner, the Taliban will continue to recruit from amongst the disenfranchised masses and provide them with a violent alternative to bring about their vision of equity.

Acumen Fund is the means to such a future – they are working to provide energy, clean water, healthcare, affordable quality housing, and improved farming methods to Pakistan, India and East Africa. They have approved $11.1 million to invest in Pakistan over the past decade in numerous projects that are expected to be self-sustaining and profitable business operations.

Before this summer I was no stranger to Acumen – they recruit regularly at my college campus (LUMS) and I was fascinated by the organization and its approach to ‘solving’ poverty-related issues. However, like many of my peers I put aside my idealism and decided to go the corporate route and to leave social entrepreneurship to the activists and dreamers. After my MBA, I worked at a major multinational in Pakistan and one day in 2007 I received an email from our CSR office which asked for volunteers from marketing, sales and supply chain to work with an Acumen investee – Micro Drip. I jumped at the opportunity and found myself immersed in the problems of selling drip irrigation systems to poor farmers in rural Sindh. To my surprise, I actually found there were many similarities between selling FMCG products to consumers in urban and peri-uran areas and marketing to rural farmers. Consumers, it seemed, wanted the same thing, albeit in different settings. Sales teams, more often than not, also encountered the same hurdles in selling to the BoP that they did to ‘regular consumers’. This was an eye opener and cemented my belief in the power of markets, even in the unlikeliest of settings.

It is this belief and a deep admiration of Acumen Fund’s mission and approach to some of the world’s most intractable problems that brought me here again in 2010. I was studying for an MPA at NYU and I decided to apply to Acumen Fund, my top choice for a summer position. My experience this summer has been nothing short of a revelation – every day at Acumen brings new surprises, challenges and a renewed commitment to their vision. Whether I am performing diligence for a potential investment, digging through data on older deals or consulting with entrepreneurs and colleagues in the country offices, sitting in Monday Morning Meetings or on portfolio calls, I am constantly reminded of why I am here.

Sitting in far away Manhattan, an entire wall covered with pictures of our investments (both active and exited) show our customers: a hopeful old woman, a hard-working man in his yellow turban, and wide-eyed children. These serve as a constant reminder that we must do our best to ensure that our customers get the goods and services they need, and can live with dignity and grace.

Faiza Mawjee is a Summer Associate on the Portfolio team at the New York office. She is an MPA candidate at NYU Wagner School of Public Service, specializing in international development. The Summer Spotlight series features posts by Acumen Fund Summer Associates from around the world.

Comments

Why India’s Economic Growth Depends on Vocational Training

India has an enormous population of young people – over half of the 1.2 billion people are younger than 25 years old. Yet, only 2% of its 500 million person workforce has any skills or training. The majority work in the informal sector (90%), where there are few opportunities for education other than what workers ‘pick up’ on the job. This reality limits overall productivity, as well as upward mobility. [Read More]

Letter from Jacqueline: My Week in Ghana

I am writing on a return flight from Ghana. The country has not seen a single case of Ebola, yet the impact of fear is profound. As travelers enter the country, attendants screen for high temperatures. Hand sanitizer dispensers are omnipresent. Hotels and conferences have seen massive cancellations. Everywhere are constant reminders of our fragility and the strength of our connectedness. [Read More]

Six online courses we’re taking this year

+Acumen’s free online courses are a great way to learn tools that will help you develop both professionally and personally. Whether you are a social entrepreneur who wants to market to your customers or a young professional that wants to strengthen your leadership skills, we are offering six courses this Fall that will help you develop the tools, knowledge, and networks to change the way the world tackles poverty. [Read More]

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]

DE-BUNKING THE BURDEN MYTH: IMPACT DATA GOES LEAN

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]