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Acumen Fellows Global Gathering: Recap of Day 3

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The time has come. What a whirlwind the last three days have been. The stories, the conversations, the music, the dancing, and the connections.

The morning started out with laughs, all thanks to Gayathri Vasudevan, the spirited Founder and CEO of Acumen investee LabourNet. It is her strength, perseverance and sense of humor that led her to give up a good job and comfortable life to challenge the status quo and enable secure livelihoods for the half billion people in India’s informal sector. LabourNet takes vocational “training to the doorstep” to address the sizable gaps in skills and capabilities within India’s invisible workforce. “These are people who learn on the job. For them every rupee matters. Productivity is critical. They get paid by the task they do.” Today, LabourNet operates 600 centers and serves more than 500,000 people.

Like Gayathri, East Africa Fellow Gerald Otim’s valiant effort to bring security to his mother, an unbanked smallholder farmer in Uganda, also required a hard choice. He gave up a job he loved to find a solution for his mother and countless others in rural Uganda who don’t have access to banks and the opportunity to save and build a secure future for themselves. It was in finding his purpose that he found the courage to commit himself to building Ensibuuko, which is now serving more than 240,000 farmers across his country. “It is from the courageous pursuit of a purposeful life that great entrepreneurs and leaders are born.”

It took courage for Global Fellow Benje Williams, a California native, to move to Pakistan and build Amal Academy, an education venture that helps low-income youth bridges to their career aspirations. Amal, which translates to “action” in Urdu, couldn’t be a more fitting word for Benje’s undertaking. He took action, not knowing what lie ahead, because he saw the potential in Pakistan’s youth and has found beauty, fellowship and hope in his new home. He closed his talk, reminding us all to have that we each have our role to play in the world and quoting a poem from Mary Oliver that he draws inspiration from today: Let us hope. It will always be like this, each of us going on in our inexplicable ways building the universe.

Throughout each of our journeys, Global Fellow Stephanie Speirs stressed both the value of sanctuaries as well as the importance of leaving them. While sanctuaries provide an important sense of security and safety for people, they can also present the risk of over-comforting us, eventually creating silos around us. Drawing upon two of the themes of the previous day, Steph challenged the crowd to consider what she believes may very well be the key to unlocking social impact—love and proximity.

It’s been a labor of love for Ned Tozun, the CEO and Co-founder of d.light to bring energy to billions of people without access. In conversation with Chris Anderson, he shared the adventurous, sometimes arduous journey that he and his business partner Sam Goldman took to scale their company, Acumen’s first energy investment. As the two entrepreneurs achieved professional success, Ned stressed the need for balance on a personal level. When you’re committed to creating impact, you often feel guilty for taking out time out for yourself but Ned emphasized the importance of investing in your relationships because it’s those family and friends who will sustain you in the long term.

Later in the evening, attendees came together for what was a beautiful culmination to a truly powerful week at the Bush Dinner. The tent came alive with two explosive performances by South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela and Kenya’s very own Juliani. But it was Jacqueline’s address that captivated the room as she spoke about the exchange of ideas, beliefs and philosophies shared over the last few days and the community built here in Naivasha that transcends borders, boundaries and lines of differences. We hope that you heed her advice and leave the Global Gathering with renewed conviction and courage and, even as you return to your respective homes, continue to hold each other up, feel one another’s strength and be each other’s sanctuary.