Remarkable People

muhammad-yunus

Muhammad Yunus and the possibility of collaboration

Editor’s note: New contributor Priya Pingali joined Acumen Fund in October 2008 as a Portfolio Intern. She earned her B.A. from Brown University, where she studied Economics and International Relations. Prior to joining Acumen Fund, Priya spent time working with child victims of sexual exploitation in Bogota, Colombia.

By Priya Pingali

Last Tuesday night, Rob Katz and I had the privilege of attending a talk by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, hosted by NYU’s Stern School of Business and its Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Not surprisingly, the hall was packed with students, faculty and professionals, but very luckily, we were offered a couple of reserved seats right up front! One of the original pioneers of social entrepreneurship, Yunus and the Grameen Bank are shining examples of how businesses designed to serve the poor can have a profound impact on the lives of millions.

The stories of Grameen Bank (and the other businesses founded by Yunus) are clearly well known, but I would be surprised if anyone had walked away that night without a revitalizing sense of optimism, if not pure awe and admiration. Yunus’ journey began in one village in Bangladesh, with no plan except for the idea of lending $27 to a group of 42 people. Today, the Bank has about 7.5 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women. It manages over $1 billion in small loans, lending $100 million per month, and is currently making it possible for 34,000 students to enter higher education with loans and scholarships. Among his other ventures is Grameen Phone, the nation’s largest phone company and employer of 300,000 telephone ladies, and a solar energy company that currently sells about 8,000 solar systems a month. Yunus has also dedicated his efforts to the eradication of night blindness in Bangladesh by selling fortified vegetable seeds.

In a soft spoken yet powerful manner, Yunus challenged the audience to remove our “profit-maximizing glasses” and to regard making money not as the means and the end, but as the means to a social end. Admittedly, he seemed almost to be preaching at times, but judging by the standing ovation and roaring applause received, he had inspired the room of future leaders and entrepreneurs to reject the traditional (and outdated) trade-off between creating successful businesses and serving the poor.

I was personally moved by his emphasis on how insignificant the differences between all humans are. Hearing this at a time when the entire world, it seems, is yearning to believe once again in the possibility of collaboration, I was reminded of the importance of working to eradicate poverty, not just for the sake of reducing inequality, but in service to the idea that everyone in our world deserves the same chances in life.

Comments

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]