Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Acumen Fund Fellowship and learning how to sing

3/10 of the Fellows at our leadership retreat
The night before my fellowship at Acumen began, I was sitting around the dinner table with my extended family in Long Island, discussing the program. About 20 bites in, I came to the sad realization that – although I’ve been openly talking about the fellowship for months now – I’ve evidently struggled to adequately explain it.

Yes, I describe Acumen as a venture capital firm that invests in social businesses throughout the developing world. Yes, I discuss our two-month training in NY that will prepare us for work in the field.  And yes, I explain how my nine months on the ground will be spent consulting for a water investment in Pakistan.

But no, I’m not sure this message is clear…

Eight days later, I was in a training session with Acumen’s Director of Business Development, struggling through an exercise from a Stanford psychology experiment called tappers and listeners. Essentially, we were to use the enormous conference room table to tap (not hum or sing) a song, while our partner tried to listen and guess the song. As Sasha debriefed, I realized I’ve been falling into the same trap many in our space are also stuck in: tapping away to a song that most others have never heard.

I thought back to the dinner table – and dozens of other past conversations – and reflected on how many people must have been straining to listen as I rapidly tapped (or banged) away to songs in my head. I recognized that if we’re ever to sing along to the same tune, I need to do several things differently: simplify the message (e.g., take out the buzz words), share more stories, and allow my passion to come through.

These are things I’m working on, and I hope that my friends will continue to give me feedback – or blank stares – until my “singing” gets better. But so that they won’t be left in the dark until that day arrives, the Acumen team has put out a great video that seems to succeed in all the areas I’ve failed.

Hopefully, this will help us sing along together…


  1. This sounds like quite a journey. I am so thrilled for and proud of you. Rest assured, your "singing" will greatly improve in the coming months and years!

  2. thanks so much Sheena, I really appreciate it!

  3. I just listened to Blair Miller and Eboo Patel speaking at your introductions and last years fellows graduation. I know that you have what it takes to be an Acumen Fellow. You may sing off tune and that is okay because you know it takes more than one voice to make a chorus. We love you and are so proud of you! Mom

  4. Thanks so much Mom, you're the best! :)

  5. Benje, I have only heard you sing K'Naan, mostly "waving flags" and I will second your mom by saying that you sing off tune bro. But the words and music blend together beautifully nonetheless :) Keep up the singing!

  6. can I claim that I only learn from the best? (no, I haven't forgotten about karaoke nights in Nairobi :))