Unlocking Potential

Jacqueline Novogratz
3 min readMar 21, 2015

by Jacqueline Novogratz
Founder and CEO, Acumen

Pakistan is a shifting set of planes, ironic and paradoxical, a song composed of opposites swirling. Fear flows throughout conversations with hardened edges from weariness fighting resilience. “Many youth want to make change,” one of our young team members says, “but it takes so much energy keeping things together that we’ve little energy for the real fights.” A friend describes a sense of collective, unspoken acceptance of society’s instability combined with deep shame. “We all know at some level we are part of it,” she says. The shame can be manifested in defensiveness or blame, neither of which enables a clear plan for addressing the situation at hand. The irony is that shame’s silences ultimately precipitate what we fear most. Fear of terrorism leads to actions that create more terrorism.

Still, hope is fully alive. I see it in leaders unwilling to acquiesce. They are a growing positive force against a cynical tide. Young people across the country are reaching out, asking questions, giving back, choosing alternative paths, imagining new ways of doing business. These are individuals refusing to accept that Pakistan has to be a second-rate country. They know the abundance of its fertile lands and agricultural livestock, the wealth of raw materials, the beauty of its landscape and the richness of its history. They understand the capacities of this country’s children, the magnificence of its music and literature and art, the generosity of its culture. They see themselves not only as Pakistanis, but as citizens sharing a small blue planet. They dare to seek potential where others see despair. It is still a relatively small group, but it is a force that is growing.

The challenge in Pakistan is to unlock potential while fighting the forces that want to annihilate it.

We must focus more powerfully and ambitiously on the unlocking. Through Acumen, I’ve learned that doing so requires a mix of the hard and soft, the head and heart. It requires supporting those entrepreneurs and leaders who are asking questions rather than assume they have the answers. It means investing in innovation, yes, but also supporting their capacities as leaders to navigate the many complex and often paradoxical lines that crisscross their country, and our world.

The good news is that we have a greater spectrum of tools now on which we can build. Cellphones have changed everything. Farmers are connected. They can access not just information but increasingly, knowledge. The price of solar has dropped precipitously in the past decade, rendering it possible to sell off-grid electrical units on a pay-as-you-go basis. Mobile technology and access to the internet have become game changers for low-income communities just as they have for those leaders who are daring to find new solutions. To make the best use of these technologies we need to identify, link, support and celebrate entrepreneurs who see the world in a dualistic, nonzero way. Acumen’s work in bringing these leaders together and providing them with a platform for collaboration is a start in giving them a louder voice, greater courage and a sharper moral lens through which to approach change.

Indeed, this is where the real revolution, one focused on peace and freedom, begins.



Jacqueline Novogratz

Founder and CEO of @Acumen. Dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty. Learn more: www.acumen.org