’s orientation program: reflections on design - Acumen’s orientation program: reflections on design

By Acumen on October 24, 2011

Jocelyn Wyatt is Co-Lead and Executive Director of and a former Acumen Fund Global Fellow in the Class of 2007. recently chose 8 individuals to comprise their inaugural class of Fellows, and training has recently begun in Palo Alto. launched in September with an action-packed two-week orientation program for our eight fellows. One highlight was a four-hour silent hike, led by our board member, Pam Scott, which gave the group a moment to reflect during an otherwise intense program. Not all of the program was so “Norcal”, we also took time to read and discuss Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and poems about beauty.

From the very first conversations about, Patrice (Patrice Co-Lead ), Fred (Fred Board of Directors), and I believed the organization should include a fellowship program. We saw it as a way to build a cadre of future leaders who could spread Human-Centered Design throughout the social sector.

I was fortunate to be both an Acumen Fund fellow and an Aspen Institute First Movers fellow. While these two programs were very different in many ways, one of the things they both focused on was building community. The time my fellows and I spent together was intense and exhausting, but the conversations we had were some of the most reflective and inspiring I’ve experienced. The relationships I built with my fellowship classes at Acumen and Aspen are some of the most important in both my personal and professional lives.

Acumen Fund’s two-month orientation program in New York served as inspiration for the design of the two-week orientation program in Palo Alto. Patrice, Fred, and I spent weeks designing a program with the overarching theme, “What Good Looks Like.” We wanted to get our eight fellows up to speed about design and social enterprise, help them map their networks within and outside of IDEO, and develop leadership skills through their work and discussions with one another.

A few things we learned from the orientation experience:

Allow time for reflection. We wanted to make the experience intense and make sure that the fellows spent as much time together as possible during these two weeks. We were nervous that they wouldn’t know what to do if we gave them free time. We were warned the schedule was too intense, but we pressed ahead. As a result, the time together felt rushed and everyone was exhausted by the end of orientation.

Next year, we will build more flexibility into the schedule so that the fellows have time to socialize more casually and reflect on all they are seeing, hearing, and thinking about.

Teach leadership through storytelling. When designing the orientation program, we spoke with many people who had planned similar programs. A great piece of advice I received from Barbara Bush at Global Health Corps was that people learn leadership by listening to people talk about their experiences as leaders.

One of the best sessions we had was with Eve Blossom from Lulan Artisans and Jan Piercy from Shorebank International, where the two women shared highlights and challenges from their lives in an open and honest way. The intimate setting, with twelve of us sitting on couches in a circle made this conversation feel truly honest and special.

Mix it up. One of the most effective aspects of the orientation program was the wide variety of activities in which the fellows participated. I believe that people develop leadership skills in many different ways and that you can ultimately reach everyone in a group by trying different approaches.

Here are some examples of activities from the orientation: we invited speakers for small group and panel discussions; we spent a weekend together at a house in Russian River; we cooked many, many meals together; we did Accumen Good Society readings where we discussed engagement and inspiration; we participated in active team-building activities; we shared our work with one another; we undertook a three-day design project with College Track; and we discussed our goals and norms as a group.

Most importantly, we spent time together. Lots of it! And at the end of the orientation, the fellows reflected that they felt truly like a family. They trusted each other, liked each other, and were ready to embark on an intense year of work together. Despite all of the ways we might improve upon next year’s orientation, our primary goal for this year was very much met!

Jocelyn Wyatt is Co-Lead and Executive Director of and a former Acumen Fund Global Fellow in the Class of 2007. This post originally appeared on’s blog.

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