Acumen has offices in New York, Mumbai, Karachi, Bogota, Nairobi and Accra. Last August, Avinash Mishra, a Senior Portfolio Associate in the India office, and Keya Madhvani, the Internal Communications Associate in the New York office, were nominated to attend the One Young World Summit in Dublin. Below, they share lessons learned at the summit.
In August of this year, we received an email – “Avinash, Keya – Congratulations! You have been selected to represent Acumen at the One Young World Summit (OYW) in Dublin!” We were both thrilled at the prospect of attending OYW, a gathering of 1,200 young leaders from over 190 countries in Ireland, our participation generously sponsored by Unilever and Barclays.
Each year, the summit brings together young activists and change makers under one roof to discuss, debate and hear expert Counselors articulate their opinions and solutions for some of the most serious issues facing our world today. The summit hopes to activate change from within corporations, non-profits and development institutions, inspiring new movements to solve the world’s problems.
Representing Acumen at OYW was in itself a huge honor, but at the conference we realized that even more significantly, we were representatives of the social enterprise and impact investing ecosystem.
The fields of social enterprise and impact investing, while growing rapidly, are still relatively nascent when compared to traditional philanthropy and government backed policy interventions. As we interacted with this international group representing a variety of sectors and interests, we were reminded to stay humble. Talking about Acumen and the sector more broadly, we received hard questions around the role of market-based solutions and learnings from our last 10 years of work in the space. Yet, the audience and the summit in general appeared enthused and optimistic that market driven solutions could be the answer for some of the world’s toughest challenges.
Listening to Dr. Muhammad Yunus highlight this in his talk on the power of social business and the ingenuity of entrepreneurship was a privilege. We also heard the same sentiment of building sustainable business echoed in speeches by Acumen Advisors Antony Jenkins, the CEO of Barclays, as well as Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, and it was further reinforced through the high levels of engagement in the session where some of the delegates pitched their social businesses.
While the interest in social enterprise was encouraging, the most profound takeaway was the affirmation of Acumen’s belief that we all need to work together. Investing in market based solutions is critical, but can only be transformative through partnerships with corporations to harness their skills and expertise, as well as governments and international agencies to achieve scale. OYW made this abundantly clear for the both of us – changing the world needs everyone, and the enthusiasm from delegates to work together to find these solutions was palpable.
It was in this way that the greatest success of the Summit was in amplifying the voices of a diverse, colorful and often unheard set of delegates. There were stories of hope triumphing despair, stories of individual courage and of the power of communities working together to find solutions to the world’s most intractable problems. Whether it was persevering in the face of poverty or global terrorism there was not a single person in the audience who was not moved or impacted by these stories.
What was even more powerful was the patience with which people listened to and discussed what could otherwise be deeply divisive, contentious and sensitive topics. At times all of us can be blinded by beliefs – religious, economic or political – and it is through the day to day work of our peers and their stories of grit that we learn to look beyond labels, and see the extraordinary. Only then can we all work collectively towards solutions.
Over the three days delegates were unafraid to articulate and question the failures of institutions, as well as the challenges that we all have to face, and yet there was a sense of growing optimism, a fellowship emerging and an acknowledgement that through partnership we have the opportunity and in fact the obligation to tackle the world’s issues now… Two months after we have returned back to our jobs at Acumen on our investing team in Mumbai and communications team in New York respectively, we could not be more grateful for the experience. We are more motivated than ever to work harder, faster, and together to change the way the world tackles poverty, and thanks to OYW, have an amazing network of individuals around the world to help us get there.