This week I’ve been working on developing concise, but powerful one-liners to build the Regional Fellows marketing and recruitment pieces around.
The messages are meant to capture key elements of the Regional Fellows program, such as its focus on local leadership. The messages market aspects of the program to recruit partners and applicants. However, they also reflect the vision of the program.
I think that’s a lot of what non-profit marketing is. Yes, you’re marketing your product, or your service. You’re showing people why they should be interested. What’s in it for them. But you’re also marketing your vision.
A large part of why a product or service is valuable has to do with an organizations vision. If a leadership development program’s vision is to develop leaders who can become managers of positive businesses, it’s probably not as valuable as a leadership development program that’s vision is to create leaders who can change the future of East Africa. And, if an organization doesn’t have a vision at all, it might not even have value. Knowing this vision is important to both consumers and potential partners.
One of my coworkers shared a Japanese proverb for his ah-ha today (which seems to be a great source of blogging material here at Acumen Fund). The proverb was “vision without action is a daydream, but action without vision is a nightmare”. Maybe that’s why marketing vision is so important.
The Power to Make a Difference
There is a surplus of academically talented low-income high school students not applying to our best colleges. 84% of America’s qualified low-incomes students do not even apply to one top college, and 44% do not attend a 4-year college at all. An organization I worked for last summer, the Quest Scholars Program, is helping to change that. The Quest Scholars Program recruits, develops, and supports motivated low-income students – beginning in high school through college to their first job – to be successful at America’s best colleges, graduate schools, and companies.
Although the Quest Scholars Program isn’t related to Acumen Fund, the organization I’m working for this summer, it is related to the mission of the Show Me Campaign, and so I’d like to share a bit about them.
A few weekends ago I spoke at a Quest Scholars conference for low-income rising high school seniors. The conference is called the College Admissions Conference, and is incredibly important. Many of the students who attend the conference know very little about the how to put together a strong application, what financial aid is, the benefits of attending a top-tier college, or even the reality that they could attend one. Providing students with this information, and giving them the knowledge and confidence they need to apply is critical in bridging the education gap. That’s part of the reason why the work the Quest staff does is so important.
Equally important is the work that Quest scholars do. After I had given my speech students came up to me to ask me questions, and to thank me for speaking. Some students, after hearing that it’s possible for them to attend a top-tier college despite test-scores they consider bad, or grades they don’t think are good enough, just don’t believe it. Some students, after hearing reasons they should attend a top-tier college, think it’s just fluff. But, when a student from the same background as them tells them, it makes a difference. It makes it easier to believe, and easier to understand. Students begin to accept that something that seems like a dream is in fact a reality.
The Quest Scholars Program understands this, and encourages and provides opportunities to students to get involved. Students who applied to college through the program can help out as Group Leaders at the College Admissions Conferences where they talk to students and parents about their experiences, they can give presentations at local high schools about the realities of attending top-tier colleges, they can take part in calling campaigns to spread the word. The list goes on and on.
These college students participate because they want to give back. They participate because they understand what a difference their help can make. They participate because they understand the power of student involvement.
One of the things that the Quest Scholars Program helps me to remember is that change, whether it involves ending global poverty or improving education in the U.S., is not limited to adults. We have the power to make a difference too.
Standing with the Poor
Acumen Fund believes in standing with the poor.
Acumen Fund believes in empathy, and listening to the base of the pyramid populations they try to serve. They believe in giving these populations choice, not charity. They believe that the best solutions come from those who truly understand the problem.
And they invest in leaders who believe this too.
One of the fellowship programs Acumen Fund offers is called the Regional Fellows Program. The program is a one-year leadership-development program that offers training, mentorship, and support on social projects the fellows work on. The program consists of 20 fellows from a specific region. The program is fairly new, and currently takes place in East Africa (although it will expand to other regions too).
One of the most significant aspects of the program is its investment in local leadership. The Regional Fellows Program helps to train local leaders who are passionate about the region they come from, and who understand the region they come from. In this sense, it is truly providing choice, not charity. It is helping to train leaders across East Africa to become leaders of the social sector, rather than simply funding them. It is helping them to solve their region’s problems, not trying to solve them itself. Furthermore, a significant part of the program’s training is training in moral imagination, communication, and empathy to help leaders to stand with the poor.
What truly differentiates the Regional Fellows Program from other programs, however, is that it builds a cohort of young leaders that encompasses all levels of income. This diverse cohort is essential to enabling honest dialogue, true understanding, and better solutions amongst the leaders who participate in the program.
As part of my internship, I am working on recruitment strategy. The Fellows Team is thinking of new ways to expand its recruitment efforts, and to focus on low-income populations and women. I am currently researching potential partners and new avenues of reaching these target populations.
Acumen Fund is working to train leaders to become architects of the social sector. They are looking for leaders who can solve the East Africa’s most pressing problems. They are looking for leaders who can understand these problems. Acumen Fund knows that those best able to understand the problems of the poor in East Africa, are the poor in East Africa. Now, more than ever, Acumen is standing with the poor.
On my first day of work at Acumen Fund, I sat down in the “Nelson Mandela” room for a Monday morning meeting. There were about thirty of us, and we all gathered around a large rectangular table. Each team gave an update on the work they were doing, and talked about the progress being made on the portfolio, on fundraising, and on other projects. The updates ended, and it was time for “ah-has”.
At the end of each Monday morning meeting, anyone who wants to can share an “ah-ha” – a realization they had. We went around the table, and the Acumen staff shared a plethora of insightful realizations. One of them particularly stood out to me.
“It is difficult to find truth, but sometimes it is more difficult to seek truth, because you are afraid that what you find will not be the truth you want it to be.”
The intern that shared the “ah-ha” related this realization to the work Acumen Fund does, and spoke about how we are often afraid to actually question the work we are doing. We are ready to give updates on progress, but are afraid to question the premise that the progress we are making is actually progress at all. Acumen Fund, like many other organizations, is afraid to discover that all of its efforts are a waste.
Yet, it is important to do so. There has been a growing movement toward “assessing the impact of planned social change”. Organizations have been taking steps to empirically assess whether or not they have an impact, and what that impact is. Acumen Fund is one of those organizations.
The same intern that had shared the “ah-ha” had just finished designing a metrics system that would be used to gather and assess data on the Global Fellows Program. The Global Fellows Program team believes that
“Building transformative businesses that serve the poor requires a unique pool of talent comprised of individuals who have the operational and financial skills combined with the moral imagination necessary to create innovative solutions to global poverty. Acumen Fund is addressing this need for talent in the social sector by creating leadership programs that identify, train, and connect these leaders to become architects to the social sector.”
The Global Fellows Program team wants to know if we are indeed identifying, training, and connecting leaders, and if doing so is making an impact. Right now, we aren’t sure if we are making a difference, but we’re continuing to improve the program and hopefully the world until we discover otherwise.
There are so many classes called “Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention”, or “Problems with Foreign Aid” that teach us that the approaches we take to end global poverty may be wrong. However, I don’t think we should stop what we’re doing in order to seek truth. To stop all action would be worse. It is important to plow ahead with what we do know, or else nothing will be done.
All of us at Acumen Fund are here to do good, and intent and action are as important as anything. So here’s my “ah-ha”. Even if you do not know the truth, you can continue to pursue what you believe is right. Yet, it is important to not fear the truth, and to seek it if you can, so that if your actions do not result in the truth you had wished for, maybe you can change your actions so that they do.
Announcing our 2012 Show Me Campaign Fellows
Congratulations and a warm welcome to our 2012 Show Me Campaign Fellows! Visit the Fellows page to meet these 10 amazing students and learn about the organizations they will be supporting this summer. From Philadelphia to Paraguay, they will be working hard to improve education and alleviate poverty using innovative solutions.
Follow this blog all summer to read about the Fellows’ unique experiences and gain new insights into how YOU can help change the world for the better.
The Show Me Campaign Team