As morning broke on Day Two, the grounds of the Great Rift Valley Lodge & Resort were dotted with Good Society groups. Cohorts joined together, bringing a diversity of perspectives, for revelatory, at times tough, but ultimately enriching discussions built around Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Yunus Emre’s “The Drop That Became the Sea.”
But it was what happened inside the dome that really captured everyone’s attention. It was an incredibly moving afternoon on identity, breaking through barriers, bridging differences and struggling for justice.
A member of the very first class of Acumen Fellows, Jocelyn Wyatt reflected on her journey to find the leader in herself. Despite being given one opportunity after the next to lead, it wasn’t until she listened to the voice within herself and carved her own path by co-founding Ideo.org, an organization that uses human-centered design to improve the lives of the poor. She left us all with a good reminder: “There are many ways to become a leader and make change in the world.”
Pakistan Fellow Shamim Akhtar shared her unbelievable story of growing up as a boy in a rural village in Sindh. At three months old, her parents, who belong to a conservative Baloch caste, decided to raise Shamim as a boy to give her the opportunity to access an education. “If I hadn’t been raised like a boy, I wouldn’t have been able to learn, to be free,” she said. It was that freedom that gave her the confidence to continue to push the boundaries not only in her family but in her village and province as she brings education and opportunity to girls and women across Pakistan.
India Fellow Vimal Kumar bravely spoke about his experience as the son of manual scavengers, the India’s lowest caste. It became his identity as a boy and, at 11, school was especially hard for him as he faced ridicule and bullying. “I was angry not at the boys but at my parents for not being able to provide for me.” He found escape in cartoons and cricket, but he soon realized it was his mother who was the real hero, his “He-Man,” and he himself “had the power” to create a movement to bring dignity and opportunity to the scavenger community.
Teresa Njoroge told us how her life took an unexpected detour, six years ago today, when she landed in jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Seemingly overnight, she went from being a respected manager at Kenya’s Standard Chartered Bank to being convicted for stealing 19 million schillings from her employer. “I still remember the cold, hard face on the judge. They took away my humanity, my dignity, my identity.” Today, she is a free but changed woman who has committed her life to provide former female inmates with a Clean Start.
Teresa’s story was the perfect introduction for a powerful closing by Bryan Stevenson of theEqual Justice Initiative, dedicated to ending mass incarceration, confronting racial injustice and protecting human rights in the United States. As he shared some alarming statistics about the America’s justice system and entrenched racism, he offered up four poignant pieces of wisdom:
- “There is power in proximity when we stand next to the poor and the people we serve.”
- “We have to change the narratives that support poverty in the world.”
- “We have to stay hopeful. Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.”
- “To actually change the world, you have to do what is sometimes uncomfortable.”
It was quite the afternoon filled with stories of inspiring leadership, standing ovations, impassioned performances by Pakistan Fellow Daniyal Noorani, India Fellow Kaushik K. and Global Fellow Deepa Jeeva—oh, and a Holi flash mob!
Thankfully, there was a little break before heading back to the dome for the insightful post-dinner panel with our Global Gathering partners GE, Ford Foundation and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. And how could we forget the Talent Show! The songs, dance, poetry and more you brought to the stage got everyone off their seats. What can we say except that Acumen Fellows got talent!