A Conversation with Our Departing Chapter Chair

I recently had the chance to have a conversation with our departing chapter chair, Cristina Celis (CC). What follows is a transcript of our conversation.

Cristina Celis, NY+Acumen Chapter Chair

SD: You’ve been with the chapter 3 years. What about Acumen‘s mission initially drew you in, and what kept you going for so long as you evolved alongside NY+Acumen?

CC: I first became interested in Acumen’s patient capital business model when I read Jacqueline Novogratz‘s book The Blue Sweater. A light went on in my head and I thought “this is it – this is how we can really change the way the world views and tackles the issue of global poverty.” I went to my first NY+Acumen chapter meeting in 2010 (back then it was called New York for Acumen) and was inspired by the chapter leaders sharing their knowledge and passion fot Acumen’s work and mobilizing volunteers to raise funds for Acumen. After a year of helping plan and staff events here and there, I joined the leadership team with the hope of inspiring other young professionals to devote their time and talents to this incredible cause.


SD: It feels like you’ve been a fixture here, what has been your most memorable experience and what will you take with you post NY+Acumen?

CC: There are so many. But one moment that comes to mind was sharing a bottle of wine with the Leadership Team at the end of 2012, celebrating the end of a very long and difficult year where it seemed everything that could have gone wrong, had gone wrong. We laughed and vented and breathed easier knowing we had finally met our fundraising goals and ended the year with a strong chapter.


SD: You’re headed to San Francisco, are you secretly planning a coup of SF+Acumen?

CC: I’m definitely looking up the chapter leaders once I get settled, if that’s what you mean. But I think I’ll take a break from managing volunteers for a little bit, I could use a vacation!


SD: Why do we call our dinner / conversation events Exchanges? It seems we’re being rebellious by not calling them Salons like the other chapters?

CC: Maybe a little… The truth is when we first learned about the Exchanges other chapters were hosting we loved the concept, but worried that we ourselves wouldn’t attend an event called a ‘Salon.’ We worried the name wouldn’t resonate with our community or convey the spirit of the event. So we came up with Exchanges and ran with that, and now that we’ve mastered the classic dinner at a restaurant setting, we’re experimenting with other venues and formats for the Exhanges. I think the key is borrowing and adapting, learning from the successes of other chapters while staying true to your city’s culture and community.


SD: You’re from South America – how excited were you when Acumen announced they are expanding into that region of the world?

CC: Let’s just say I’d been waiting for that day since I first read The Blue Sweater over four years ago. My long term goal has always been to work in development in Latin America, and I could not be more thrilled to see Acumen bringing their values, vision, and impact investing expertise to Latin America. I’m also excited to see how Acumen’s model changes and adapts to Latin America, which is so different from the other regions where Acumen has historically operated.


SD: Where do you see NY+Acumen in 3 years?

CC: I think NY+Acumen is on the path to a really strong sustainable future. One of the things the chapter had struggled with in the past was building a sustainable model to ensure that the chapter didn’t suddenly stop functioning when chapter leaders leave, which happened in the past. Managing volunteers is very challenging, and NYC’s long work hours and huge number of volunteer opportunities make it even harder to retain and motivate volunteers. So it was crucial to build a clear and transparent structure that outlined onboarding and succession practices as well as volunteers expectations and consequences. At the same time, we also spent a lot of time thinking about building a strong positive culture through team building events and regular feedback. Overall I think our efforts have paid off and I’m leaving the chapter knowing it’s in a great place and will continue to thrive.


SD: If you were to vote off one person…ok just kidding. I’ll give you a few softball questions…

What is your favorite NY+Acumen:

  • Volunteer team meeting spot? Brunch at Public, definitely.
  • Happy hour / drinks spotAnywhere as long as Manish and Claire-Elise are tending bar.
  • Exchange spotWhile I haven’t been yet, I have high hopes for Central Park!
  • Event venueProbably the NYC Fire Musem – especially because it’s a hidden gem in the middle of the Soho/TriBeCa area. It’s beautiful, spacious and has tons of New York City charm.
  • EventProbably the 2011 Dignity event – a stunning venue with beautiful NYC views, an incredible lineup of photographs, and guests from Acumen’s community from all over the world who were in town for Acumen’s 10-year Celebration, including Jacqueline Novogratz!


SD: Do you have a favorite Acumen portfolio company?

CC: Probably Ziqitza (ZHL), because creating a high quality ambulance service that serves the poor in Mumbai seems as impossible a goal as any. When I first encountered the business case during an Acumen 201 session, I could think of any number of reasons off the top of my head why it would probably fail. The goal seemed too ambitious. But that is exactly why Acumen invested in them. Acumen identifies exceptional entrepreneurs that are trying to create a business model where one doesn’t yet exist. They are risky and ambitious by definition, but they have the potential to create real scalable change. And I think in the end that is what Acumen does best, and Ziqitza’s success is a perfect example of their model in action.


SD: Best +Acumen chapter?

CC: Honestly, (and I think the other NY+Acumen chapter leaders would back me up on this), when we’ve had a chance to meet and discuss chapter activities with chapter leaders from other chapters during Global Chapter Leader Retreats, we have been incredibly impressed and humbled by the other chapters. So, of course I think NY+Acumen is awesome, but we are in some pretty great company!


SD: Any final words?

CC: Just a huge THANK YOU to everyone who’s made the last three years unforgettable: the team at Acumen (especially Jo-Ann, the lead architect for the +Acumen network), the amazing chapter leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with, our partners and sponsors who have supported us along the way and made our events possible, and the incredible NY+Acumen community who attends our events and continues to support Acumen every day.


Posted by Shawn Dimantha