Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Sadness

I awoke this morning to the terrible news that Mumbai had been bombed yesterday evening. So far 125 are dead and 327 injured. Apparently, one of the terrorists in custody is of Pakistani descent. I hope to goodness that this will not derail the recent talks of partnership between the two countries.

The Acumen Fund team immediately went into action to check on all of the fellows in India along with those of Indian citizenship to see if they and their families were safe. It’s comforting to know that there is such support here and abroad.

Apart from the dreadful news, this day has been like any other. Earlier this week, I tried to contact the US consulate in Karachi to see if they had any Thanksgiving plans open to US citizens, but they did not. While I may celebrate Thanksgiving alone this day, I still have the fresh memories of my family’s Thanksgiving celebration on November 9. I traveled home for a wedding during my final weekend before leaving the states. My sister, brother, and brother-in-law all came home as well for the festivities. We cut-a-rug at the wedding and then enjoyed our last meal together for the next 10 months. I am so blessed to have such an incredibly loving family that supports me and loves me back home!

Joel Montgomery

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The REAL Pakistan

Bombs, Taliban, Terrorism, Extremism, Danger. This is the Pakistan that the media portrays. Since my arrival to this country of 162 million a week ago, my picture of this land has transformed into a grand landscape painted by one of the Hudson River masters.

The sketches of this masterpiece began to take shape when I arrived late on a Saturday evening to the house that will be my home for next 10 months. The family that welcomed me immediately accepted me as one of their own. Now, I must confess that as a Southerner, I have been brought up with certain ideals of hospitality, but the level of acceptance that I received that evening makes us Southerners look plain old rude and shallow.

The first color began to hit the canvas as I traversed the land to visit poor farmers in the desert. Dust and desert shrubs stretched on for many miles in every direction. The only colors to break free from the abyss of shades of brown were on the bright pastels of the kurta shalwars that the women wore. As we neared, women would shield their faces with vibrant orange or red or pink fabric. 80% of these people live on less than one dollar a day and are entirely dependent on Mother Nature’s grace to give them rain during the summer.

The dabs of color began to mix together as my colleagues and I sat on the side of the road drinking tea before embarking on the rest of our journey. Converted WWII-era trucks that the British had brought many years before passed us decorated with intricate detail and hauling several times the amount of cargo that they had originally been designed for. Their unique horns seemed to posture toward one another in an attempt to dominate the others. Men sat on rope coaches conversing about the day’s events and enjoying the comforting warmth of a teacup that warded off the coolness of the evening air. A nut vendor passed roasting small chickpeas and selling peanuts by the bag full.

This is the REAL Pakistan and I have only gained a glimpse of its complexity and beauty. Now, I am not denying that there are elements Bombs, Taliban, Terrorism, Extremism, and Danger in this country, but which country can repudiate the existence of these elements within its own borders (minus the Taliban)? I wonder how might the world’s view of this country be if a more balanced portrayal of its reality were shared.

Joel Montgomery

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Don't Know Why You Say "Goodbye"... I say "Hello"

Given the fact that I have lived abroad on several occasions, I have not really anticipated much about the 10 months that I would soon spend in a foreign land. I was busy enough with training and arming all the necessary documentation to get my visa to think much about what life would be like once I arrived in Pakistan. That all changed on my last day with the Acumen Fund team in New York. During the day, Acumen Fund held its Investor Gathering for all its key investors in a shareholder meeting that is atypical in the non-profit world. As part of the afternoon session, my cohort of fellows and I performed a 10 minute presentation to give the audience some background into who we were, why we were there, and where we were going. In preparation for the event, Rives, the renowned slam poet, helped us refine our ramblings into a more thoughtful and more entertaining package. The performance held special significance given the fact that this was the last day that our team of fellows would be together until out mid-project meeting in March 2009. Many of us were leaving for the field the very next morning.

During the evening, my fellow fellows and I greeted guests to the Investor Gala with silk scarves. We mingled with the greater Acumen Fund community and I was impressed by the way that the engagement of most of the people in that room was far deeper than a simple financial commitment. I am convinced that social change requires much more than capital; it requires a passionate community that is committed to breaking molds and blazing new trails. It was at the Investor Gala that the importance of my work took on a new meaning. There is a movement brewing. For too long, the traditional aid models have thrown trillions of dollars at developing countries and in most cases making the situation far worse. Acumen Fund, Endeavor, and other like-minded hybrid organizations are challenging the old guard. We are leveraging the power of business to empower the poor. As I leave for Pakistan, I am eager to live this work firsthand.

Joel Montgomery

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Closing One Chapter and Opening Another

In spite of my brief six-week stint in Honduras, I feel confident that I was able to make a positive contribution to the Cooperative. While some of the more tangible outcomes included the formation of two new microbusinesses and the restructuring of the Cooperative, probably my longest lasting impact will be more intangible. During my time in Honduras, I noticed the Cooperative members change from an attitude of dependence upon donors to one of seeking sustainability. I hope that this key revelation will continue to bear fruit long after my departure.

After a brief stopover in Alabama for some R&R with my family, I made my way to the Big Apple to begin my fellowship with Acumen Fund. The fellowship began with seven weeks of intense training that included leadership development, team-building, in-depth discussions on the foundations of democracy, and access to incredible speakers such as David Bornstein (Author of “How to Change the World”), Martin Fisher (CEO of Kick Start), and Seth Godin (Marketing Guru). I was fortunate to be joined on this journey by nine exceptional individuals who had also been selected for the fellowship program: Premal Desai (India), Sophie Forbes (USA), Ram Haribaran (India), Joanna Harries (Canada), Mubarik Imam (Pakistan), Karthik Janakiraman (India), Heidi Krauel (USA), Nicole Orillac (Panama), and Suraj Sudhakar (India). What surprised me most about this group of highly successful and passionate people was their incredible humility. In a world that is full of self-righteous egomaniacs, it was truly an honor to serve alongside such incredibly humble people.

Joel Montgomery

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