In 2020, Acumen Academy Malaysia welcomed its first cohort of Malaysia Acumen Fellows amidst the pandemic. The team and inaugural Fellows survived an undeniably harsh year with a stronger heart and an unshakable bond. For those who may be unfamiliar, Acumen Academy is a school for social change with 700 Fellows across the globe, impacting 8 million lives today, brought to Malaysia in partnership with YTL Foundation. Acumen Fellows carry a vision of committing to social change through character building, particularly a commitment to moral leadership — doing what’s right, rather than what’s easy. Fellows are selected from various states, socio-economic & cultural backgrounds, sectors and causes, designed to form a synergy between diverse local leaders. After all, a society is nothing if not composed of multitudes.
As such, the Fellowship grapples with straddling these differing perspectives in our complex world. Described by Programme Lead, Oga Chan as ‘social innovators who understand they can no longer be alone’, the 20 inaugural Fellows were from varying backgrounds: an investigative journalist, a cancer researcher, a corporate CSR manager, educators working with marginalised children, a digitalization public officer and many more formed part of a vibrant cohort with a common mission: rebuilding lives based on dignity.
Throughout the year, Fellows participated in 4 seminars. Conducted over a span of 24 days in the calendar year, these seminars are designed to unfurl the skills, attributes and values of moral leadership: leadership and listening, generosity and accountability, humility and audacity. Fellows were able to share experiences that have contributed to their current selves. In doing so, they formed a bond while articulating a shared language in addressing social issues, reaching out to the other side. Moral quandaries were stretched and interrogated.
An instance of this was when the issue of helping babies entered the fold. Although we can all agree it is crucial to help everyone, a Fellow who had dedicated their time to raise money for babies on the verge of dying was challenged on the overall effectiveness of fundraising for individuals. After debating the issue, it was agreed that their job should involve creating sustainable solutions, rather than taking on the weight of every case on their shoulders — systemic change can lead to sustainability. Oga suggests that the Fellowship is not necessarily about arriving at a consensus, but rather, finding ways to ‘live with that tension’. Given the broadness of perspectives, views are bound to collide.
“Discussions in the Fellowship have reinforced and strengthened my ability to be careful to listen to the voices of others, respect and honor their beliefs, priorities and to be aware of the times I have fallen into thinking I know better than them. I have learned so much from my Fellow cohort mates, been accompanied in difficult situations and found support beyond my expectations. I am very grateful for that.” Pamela Guneratnam, Humankind, 2020 Acumen Fellow, Malaysia.
The inaugural year of the Acumen Fellowship in Malaysia was a resounding success. The challenges of Covid-19 were profound in communities the Fellows worked with, but the Fellowship has proven urgent and necessary in nourishing Fellows with frameworks, mindsets and relationships to create change amidst the storm.
“The programme has helped me embrace my identity: how I see myself shapes, to a large extent, how I see the world and how I see others. It has been an invaluable insight into connections and relationships. And the readings we discussed helped us define better and implement our values and principles on how we can create change- ethically, morally and with greater conviction.” Hartini Zainuddin, child activist, 2020 Acumen Fellow, Malaysia.
One of the Fellows, Michelle Usman, is a lawyer for stateless women and children in Sabah. She was inspired by the power of the Fellowship’s Good Society Readings in exploring opposing perspectives and beliefs. As a result, she has initiated discussion circles in Kota Kinabalu with youth advocacy champions, academics, teachers and members of the public, eager to understand the complexities of the world from within. Michelle exemplifies what it means to lead with morality at the forefront of the imagination.
Although the programme itself merely lasts a year, it is designed to carve the journey of a lifetime for the Fellows and their communities, building the right thing in a similar vein. While its impact may not be immediately felt, Fellows will rely on each other to continue forging a path, towards a better Malaysia.
As a Trustee of the Foundation mentioned in a recent meeting, concerning YTL Foundation’s role in championing Acumen: “We can no longer build the right thing alone, that is why we have partnered up with an organization like Acumen that empower leaders invested in social causes,” Here, a resounding appetite for greater synergy across organisations with similar aims rings true.
The movement is growing as we speak. We have just announced the Acumen Fellows Malaysia 2021 Cohort- check who they are here! If you see someone you know, please do congratulate them.
The Acumen Academy Malaysia Team needs your help in finding the next cohort of Acumen Fellows. Want to be the first to know when the application opens for the 2022 Cohort? Sign up here. Know someone who should consider applying to become an Acumen Fellow? Write to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In January, a focus group was held with 30 partner NGOs, to discuss the Learn from Home programme and its impact on communities. Participants include Generasi Gemilang, Taylor’s College, Finco, Global Peace Foundation and Hope Worldwide, amongst others, with some partner NGOs currently actively using the Learn From Home platform. LFH online lessons are mapped to fit the national curriculum for BM, English, Science and Maths. They come complete with learning goals, resources, activities and quizzes. It is the hope of the Foundation that with an array of feedback, the platform will continue to do well and improve over time. Get started today at ytlfoundation.org/lessons