PHOto credit: Imran Nafees

Being An Acumen Fellow

Sharing some of the lessons distilled from my experience being an Acumen Fellow Pakistan.

In 2010, I was introduced to Acumen (formerly known as Acumen Fund) by Seth Godin’s blog. Acumen invests in life changing companies and individuals, or leaders as they call them. I had no idea that in the coming years big part of my learning will come from my experience with them.

Acumen started its Regional Fellows program last year in Pakistan. From an intense application to a phone interview and then a selection conference, I made it to the 20 selected fellows. Needless to say the selection process was mind blowing and looking at other fellows, I could confirm it worked out really well.

In the points below, I am briefly outlining what has / is inspiring me most through the learning journey at Acumen:

People & Diversity

My assumption was that I’ll learn about some leadership skills, communication, finance, operations and will get to meet some interesting people. But to my surprise, now after crossing the midway mark of the fellowship, I'm most fascinating by the diversity of the people here. From where they are coming, doing and what each of them ought to do.

Take Safdar Hussain a fellow from Quetta, graduated in computer science. He is helping building Institute for Development Studies and Practices, which aims to impact 1 million lives. From planting and selling flowers to building class rooms with mud and installing solar panel, Safdar is doing it all for the last 10 years.

I also met with Sameen Shahid, who is heading an education media campaign. Her goal is to get education as a high priority issue before policy makers and politicians in the country.


Now, why are conversations important? This is a great question, but the short answer is every innovation in the human history is result of what I call meaningful conversations.

The program is structured in a way which urges meaningful and sometimes tough conversations at every level. More notable examples includes, our first seminar with Jacqueline discussing the foundations of a good society, and a recent trip to Chitral, questioning the indigenous people of Kalash Valley on how come they could built a hydropower plant for the community.

This is just the glimpse of what actually happens, we had people laughing out, asking for help, sharing bravely and commenting on the food of Murree. The conversations are giving birth to new ideas and building life long friendship among us.


I dropped out of college somewhere in 2009, and started learning about how humans interact using web and mobile. But my work with craftsmen to help them make and sell high-end products globally requires me to have sufficient skills of finance, communication and operations.

Acumen is covering it pretty well, by bringing in some world class trainers, helping us practise Adaptive Leadership framework, being honest at what we do, and fun learning about role of financials to build a sustainable business. Our next seminar in Lahore will be covering Operational Expertise, essentials to start, run and scale our vision for world.

Risk Taking

Creating an impact and changing lives takes more than hard work. For instance, Shahid Rehmat, who engages diverse young people in interfaith dialogues to discuss issues such as extremism and religious conflicts. Or meet Isfundiar Kasuri, a fellow from Lahore, trying to serve the unreached and most needy population in the post-disaster environment.

The kind of work Shahid and Isfundiar are doing is not like 1-2-3 Go! It takes time, and courage to stick to goals as ambitious as them. Starting with baby steps, placing the work in center and do not let personal interests influence the commitment. So how come one learn to be good at taking risk for purpose?

I witnessed this happening in the group activities, practiced myself as well. These experiences resonate with the kind of challenging I face at Markhor, while pushing our craftsmen and team to do their best.

Even writing this post, and then hitting the publish button is a risk taking step. I am fortunate to have learned that leading the change is worth the risk.

Being Humble

While it is easier to identify good over evil — it is very challenging to be aware of suffering of others with the wish to relieve it.

Moral Imagination is the core of leadership model at Acumen.

“The humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.”

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 inspires others. Without humbleness, it is hard to imagine I could have made it even this far.

NOTE: Acumen is now accepting application for its Regional Fellows Program 2014 in East Africa, India and Pakistan.

If you are trying to bring changes in these countries or know someone who is, do apply to develop your skills as a leader and change maker. Last day to submit online application is Sep 23, 2013.

Photo credit: Imran Nafees Saddiqui (Acumen Fellow)

Trying to put imagination into words and learn from the process. Founder of @WearAtoms @Markhor.

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