The following is a guest post from Bryan Farris, a 2011 Acumen Fellow and close friend. He has also been placed in Pakistan (at a different company) and has a background comically similar to mine (CA upbringing, big family, Berkeley studies, management consulting, blogger, etc.). Despite these Thing 1 / Thing 2 like characteristics, he always writes with a unique voice, and I wanted to share the following post he wrote about our training in NY and aspirations for PK.
In nature, caterpillars take some time off from the world to grow into something beautiful. At the moment, I’m sitting on the plane, heading to Pakistan – my own personal cocoon. I hope that my time abroad will teach me new skills and help me to reflect on what is to come next.
As I wrote in my previous post encouraging you to apply for the fellowship, the first two months in NYC have stretched the way I perceive the world. One of our trainers, Greta, used the metaphor of a rubber band: when you stretch a rubber band, it will always snap back to its original shape, but if you stretch it enough it will snap back to an expanded state. Right now, I feel stretched – I’ve taken in a lot over the last two months. During the next part of the journey I will start to distill what I’ve learned – I’ll start to snap back, but I know that I’ve left NYC with my mind expanded (for the purposes of this metaphor, we are ignoring the chance that the rubber band might snap in half).
I’ve spent hours debating, discussing and sharing. The other Fellows and I have thrashed over the moral implications of poverty alleviation and whether it works at all. I’ve questioned Acumen’s model and I’ve learned about the challenges faced by social investment funds. We spent a whole week just discussing the literary works of the greats: Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, Rachel Carson, Nelson Mandela and many more. I received some of the most impressive tactical training in a wide range of areas from networking to negotiation skills, marketing at the base of the pyramid (BoP) and story telling. We met with many extremely successful and impressive people associated with the Acumen Fund and many of them had their own way of challenging us to discover our inner passions.
Just when I thought I had my life plan figured out, someone would ask me a question that turned it upside down again. These conversations have lead me to many healthy questions about who I am, what I stand for, where I want to go in life and why I do the things I do – like writing this blog. The questions are good, and I hope they keep coming. I recognize that you can only find the core of who you are if you keep asking again and again. I suppose you’re curious what I’ve learned, well here it is: I recognize that I have an unceasing appetite to learn and create new things and that I love cultivating myself and others. Time will tell what exactly I end up doing, but I’m fairly certain that what I do next year and beyond will depend on what ideas I have that resonate with the core of who I am. I’m also fairly certain that I’ll keep rediscovering that core.
More important than all of the above, however, is that I am leaving NYC with nine new best friends – the other fellows. You can imagine that when you spend nearly 24 hours a day together for two straight months, discussing your hopes and dreams and passions and beliefs, you start to get to know one another. Thankfully, I’m bringing one with me – Benje. It’s been just two months since we met, but Benje feels like a brother to me…the kind of person who you don’t feel awkward around when theres silence or when you need to borrow something of theirs without asking – like family.
During the next nine months, I’ll be helping to build low-income housing in Pakistan at a small start-up and I’m eager to discover which parts of the experience resonate with me. I probably need more than this year to emerge from my cocoon as a butterfly, but I know that I will return stretched and ready for the next challenge.