Another face of Pakistan

I had the chance to spend last week in Karachi for the final round selection for the inaugural class of Acumen’s new Pakistan Fellows program.  From more than 500 applicants from all corners of this country of 175 million people, we had winnowed the group down to just 40 finalists and had, in the course of a day, to select 20 people as our first Acumen Pakistan Fellows.  The program begins in early 2013.

The images the world (and Americans in particular) sees of Pakistan are difficult ones.  Just yesterday a very troubling article came out in the New York Times about Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, where there have been increasing numbers of open attacks on members of the Hazara community.  The article suggests that the police and security forces are at best ambivalent about stemming the violence that has resulted in the deaths of 100 Hazaras this year alone.

This is one reality in Pakistan, and it is daunting to say the least.

Last week I saw another story, perhaps a quieter one and one that doesn’t scream for headlines.  These are the stories of the applicants to our Pakistan Fellows program: a woman from rural Punjab, the first in her family to get a formal education, who is working on extending credit and education to those who are still excluded from all formal systems; a woman with a Masters in Economics who left her teaching job at Fatima Jinnah Women University in Rawalpindi and is now creating a speed English literacy program for kids in the slums; another young man, a born entrepreneur from a very humble background, who somehow found his way to a quiet section of the library and began reading Harvard Business Review articles and then watching TED talks, and whose startup business Hometown (the website will blow you away) aims to have local artisans and leather-workers provide world-class quality shoes to the world; and finally, a man with a Master’s in Computer Science who is working in Quetta, Balochistan – the same city profiled in the NY Times piece – who is helping build a university from scratch to bring education to some of the most tough-to-reach, downtrodden populations, and is paying for it by creating small businesses ranging from biomass power generation to cut flowers.

These were just four of the 40 amazing people I met last Friday, each one with a story of hope, each one committing themselves fully to making positive change from the bottom up in Pakistan, each one leaving our panelists – all prominent business and social sector leaders – humbled at their spirit of service and commitment.

These are just four stories that never make the front pages – but they should.

Keep up with the Acumen Fund Fellows

The Class of 2011 Acumen Fund Fellows are an incredible group of people working with our investees around the world.

This year’s class has enthusiastically taken on blogging – it’s a great chance to see what they’re up to and get a glimpse of the front lines in this hard, important work.

Their blogs are here:

  • Benje Williams (The Fragments that Remain) is working at Pharmagen, providing low-cost water, in Lahore, Pakistan
  • Khuram Hussain (The Healthy Archer) is working with Ecotact in Nairobi, Kenya to help make sanitation sexy.
  • Bavidra Mohan (Imagine Something Different) is working in Shenzen, China with D.Light, which manufactures and sells solar lights to replace kerosene
  • Mario Ferro (Imagine there is no…) is spending the year with Husk Power in Bihar, India, helping get affordable power to remote villages
  • Shane Heywood is in Kitale, Kenya, helping Western Seeds get high-yield hybrid maize to smallholder farmers
  • Brenda Williams (GlobalLink Consulting) is in Hyderabad, India, helping get safe, affordable water to Indian villages
  • Wendy Wallace (Adventures of Wendy) is working with Lifespring Hospitals helping bring high-quality, low-cost maternal care to thousands (and we hope eventually, millions)
  • Chika Fujita (Feel the Wind, Live Like the Wind) is in Mumbai, India, supporting the growth of the Dial 1298 ambulance service across India
  • Bryan Farris (Rising Pyramid) is in Lahore, Pakistan, helping Ansaar Management Company expand the only for-profit housing development for the poor in Pakistan

These Fellows all have incredible stories to share, and I know from experience that the more people that follow their stories, the more their stories will be shared.  Jump in, and happy reading.

Here’s a video of these Fellows from last month, the day before they left New York.

Who do you know who’s going to change the world?

They might be anywhere in the world right now, but they’ve probably stood out their whole lives because they’re committed to social change, to empowerment and because they walk through the world with grace and humility.

They’re the kind of people who get things done in all sorts of crazy situations, the kind of people who keep their wits about them no matter what and no matter where, the kind of people who just seem to connect with others no matter where they go.

These are the kinds of people who might make up the next class of Acumen Fund Fellows.  Applications opened today.  Hear from Fellows in their own words – click on this video.

(if you’re having trouble with the link, you can also watch the video on YouTube)

Accepting applications for the Acumen Fellows class of 2010

Acumen Fund (where I work) is now accepting applications for our fourth class of Fellows.  The Fellows program is a unique opportunity to spend a year working directly with enterprises service low-income customers in India, Pakistan and East Africa, and to be part of a small cohort of dedicated individuals who are working to make real, lasting change in the world.  You can learn more about the Acumen Fund Fellows Program here.  And, from the Acumen Fund Blog:

We are excited to announce that the application process for the 2009-2010 class of Acumen Fund Fellows is now open. Applications will be accepted online until noon EST on October 20, 2008. Detailed information about the program and application the process, as well as bios of current and past fellows, can be found on our website. To apply directly, please click here.

We are looking for dedicated individuals with the moral imagination, the practical skills and the leadership potential to effect real change. The program thus far has been a resounding success – both for the Fellows and the Acumen Fund enterprises they support. Fellows have called their time with the program a life-changing experience, allowing them to build critical business skills and a better understanding of the challenges involved in serving low-income consumers around the world…

Please spread the word!