An emerging ecosystem
What is the one thing that is holding you back from increasing impact manifolds? What role can this community play in helping you overcome this challenge? And what role can you play in helping others in the community in their challenges?
These were the questions that Acumen asked in preparation for our upcoming Acumen Fellows breakfast with Jacqueline.
As I thought about them, my mind went back to the previous weekend — doing some work and just connecting with several Global Fellows in Bahrain and Dubai — and the ecosystem that I felt apart of there. And three components that made that ecosystem so powerful and which started to answer the questions from Acumen.
One of the risks of being a nascent ecosystem in Lahore/Pakistan is that we get comfortable being a big fish in a small pond (and forgot about the giant ocean just behind us).
Talking with Asim in Dubai — as his roommate Alex made us Bulletproof coffee with ghee and coconut oil (all of which was completely novel to me) — he told us about the 1 billion-person idea he submitted to Singularity University and some of Peter Diamandis’ other philosophies from his book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.
And as we worked from beautiful co-working spaces / converted warehouses — and Asim shared about his venture with block chain technology (another novel idea for me) — I thought that even if Alex never reaches 1B, perhaps it’s the aspiration and pursuit that matters. And the inspiration it might have on others to think bigger.
Or as Asim Bhai put it later that night: Feder wouldn’t be Feder without Nadal.
And back in Lahore — as I was telling Jawad all of this over dinner — he shared a related idea from the Quran which says that we are to live between a hope that we are doing enough towards making a difference in this world, and a fear that we are not. That there is no role for complacency or even comfort or contentment with the work or impact that we are making.
And that perhaps we need each other in order to push our thinking and to explore what more can be done.
Another challenge of a nascent ecosystem is that we are not always exposed to different strategies and approaches to making a sustainable impact. And/or we don’t push ourselves to think bigger, to move beyond our passion by thinking more strategically.
Jacqueline recently shared an incredible NYT’s article about Jane Addams, where the author makes a powerful observation about Addams and her work (over 100 years ago) at the Hull House:
Addams had amazing capacity to work from the specific case to the general philosophy, and had the ability to apply an overall strategy to the particular incident. There are many philanthropists and caregivers today who dislike theory and just want to get practical.
It is this sort of doer’s arrogance and intellectual laziness that explains why so many charities do no good or do positive harm. Addams, by contrast, was both theorist and practitioner.
And sitting around the table with Asim, Yousaf, Basel and Faheem — passionately batting ideas back and forth about challenges at Amal and each of our different journeys — I realized that these types of genuine and challenging conversations were the foddering for a more thoughtful and high impact strategy.
And that it is this fodder that is often missing from the conversations I’m having (or unintentionally not having) in Lahore.
Finally, during our last dinner, the conversation moved to Viktor Frankl, who wrote about the power of love (accompaniment) in helping us reach our potential:
By loving a person, we come to see that which is potential in them, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities.
By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.
And in the best situation, this is what an ecosystem can provide. A belief in each other and realization of our potential in a way that is not possible in isolation.
And so, on the flight back to Lahore, I had these three original questions in my mind: What is the one thing that is holding you back from increasing impact manifolds? What role can this community play in helping you overcome this challenge? And what role can you play in helping others in the community in their challenges?
And I started to realize that these questions really answered themselves. Or more specifically, that the second two questions really answer the first (at least for me/Amal).
Which is to say that: 1) an underdeveloped ecosystem is what might prevent us from reaching deeper impact, but that 2) this community could help us overcome this challenge and that 3) I / Amal could definitely play a roll in this.
And I started to realize that the unique thing about a nascent ecosystem is not that these three ingredients — urgency, thought partnership and accompaniment — are not there, but rather that we have to help make them visible. That in a developed ecosystem, these factors might manifest incidentally, as they did when I was in the Gulf. But that in an emerging ecosystem, we have a chance to make them happen intentionally.