Lessons Learned: Being an Acumen Fellow - Acumen

Lessons Learned: Being an Acumen Fellow

By Waqas Ali on September 09, 2013

Waqas is the founder of Hometown, a shoe company in Pakistan, and is a Regional Fellow in Pakistan. Acumen is now accepting applications for the Pakistan Fellows Program Class of 2014.

Acumen invests in life-changing companies and leaders, and launched its Regional Fellows program in Pakistan last year. After an intense application, a phone interview, and a selection conference, I was accepted as one of the 20 selected fellows. I had no idea how much I would learn from my experience with the organization in the coming years. Half-way through my fellowship, the diverse people, tough conversations, leadership training, and lessons in risk-taking and humbleness continue to inspire my journey at Acumen.

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Diverse People

I never imagined the extent of the diversity of the fellows. I am fascinated by where they come from, what they are doing and what they strive to do.

Take Safdar Hussain, a fellow from Quetta, Pakistan. He graduated in computer science from Al-Khair University Peshawar and is helping to build the Institute for Development Studies and Practices, which aims to impact 1 million lives by ending the exclusion of youth from education and livelihood opportunities in Pakistan. From planting and selling flowers, to building classrooms with mud, to installing solar panels, Safdar has done it all over the last 10 years.

On the other end of the spectrum is Sameen Shahid, a fellow from Karachi. She holds an MPA in International Development from Harvard Kennedy School and is leading an education media campaign, Zara Sochiye. Her goal is to establish education as a high priority issue for policy makers and politicians in the country.

Tough Conversations

The fellowship program requires meaningful, often tough conversations. Why are these conversations important? Almost every innovation in the human history is the result of meaningful conversations. During our first seminar with Jacqueline, we discussed the foundations of a good society. During our learning trip to Chitral, we questioned how the indigenous people of Kalash Valley managed to build a hydropower plant for the community. People were laughing out, asking for help, sharing their ideas bravely and commenting on the food of Murree. These conversations led to new ideas and built lifelong friendships.

Leadership Training

I dropped out of college in 2009, and learned about how humans interact using the web and mobile. My work helping craftsmen make and sell high-end products globally requires me to have sufficient skills in finance, communication and operations; Acumen has played an import role in helping me acquire these skills.

Acumen trains us by bringing in world-class leaders while simultaneously teaching us to be honest at what we do. The seminars range from the Adaptive Leadership framework to financial planning in building a sustainable business. Our next seminar in Lahore will cover Operational Expertise, where we will learn the essentials to execute on and scale our companies and impact.

Risk Taking

All the fellows take risks to create an impact. For instance, Shahid Rehmat now engages diverse youth in interfaith dialogues to discuss issues including extremism and religious conflicts. Isfundiar Kasuri works to serve the unreached and most needy population in the post-disaster environment. Changing lives takes more than hard work; it takes time and courage to stick to goals as ambitious as theirs.

I have taken similar risks at Hometown, pushing our craftsmen to do their best. I believe that leading the change is worth the risk.

Being Humble

Moral Imagination, described as “The humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be,” is at the core of Acumen’s leadership model.

While it is easy to identify good over evil, it is challenging to be aware of suffering of others with the wish to relieve it. I like to think that I have been on both sides of the fence: the one who needed help and inspiration, and now, the one who is trying to give back and inspire others. Without humbleness, it is hard to imagine that I could have made it this far.

Acumen is now accepting applications for the Pakistan Fellows Program Class of 2014. The deadline is 23 September 2013. If you are an entrepreneur or intrapreneur (a leader within an organization) who has been driving a social change project for the last 2-3 years, apply now!

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