Archive for October, 2007

Let’s get intimate

October 2, 2007


Need to build a community from scratch?  Only have a few days to do it?  The Acumen Fund kicked off the orientation program for the class of 2008 last weekend in the Berkshires.  Acumen’s challenge was to bring together seven individuals from diverse backgrounds and make us feel connected to one other in short order.  How closely knit our group is will undoubtedly affect how much we rely on each other this year and beyond.

Here are some guiding principles for what worked:

1. Get out of town
Isolate your group from the distractions of everyday life.  Cut people off from their usual outlets.  This forces people to focus their energy on the people around them.

2. Act like a family
Share day-to-day responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, errands.  Playing through the familiar rhythm of life together brings out personality and preferences and will the underpinnings of someone’s cultural and social background.

3. Share personal, emotional stories
It may feel contrived at first but surely beats resume-sharing.  Evoking memories from the past is a powerful thing and sets a personal tone.

4. Be physical
Competition is healthy and helps channel aggressions in productive ways.  You can get to know a lot about how someone will perform under pressure by playing ping pong together. 

5. Solve problems together
Get stimulated intellectually.  Experiment with different roles in the group.  This will help the group know how to engage with each other, give and receive feedback.

6. Provide time for personal reflection
Give people a break from each other.  Most people need some time to themselves to relax or process the information they have taken in.

7. Have fun together

Impoverished Eating

October 2, 2007



Food.  All I could think of was food.  It was 2pm and I was starving—and I had $5 to spend on lunch in New York City.  I had spent all morning sitting in the Brooklyn food stamp office, waiting in an interminable line for an interview with a social worker.  I gave up after two hours as my stomach started to growl and it appeared that another couple of hours of waiting were between me and that interview.  I was there as part of an experiential learning day last week, when my fellow Fellows and I went out into New York City to see what it takes to access social services—such as food stamps, shelter for the night, medical care, or unemployment benefits.  At the beginning of the day we left everything in the office except our IDs, and departed with only a $5 bill and a subway card to see us through the day.


With that $5, I started searching for something affordable, filling, and high in calories for a quick lunch.  Nutrition was at the bottom of my list of priorities.  By 2pm, I was on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and decided my best bet would be a fast food joint.  With none in site and the grumbling in my stomach growing louder, I settled for a slice of cheese pizza ($2.25) and a can of ginger ale ($1.25), leaving $1.50 as an emergency reserve.  I had hoped that meal would be filling, but by the time I returned to the office at 5pm to share stories with the other Fellows, my energy reserves were completely depleted and I was ready to feast on whatever food I could get my hands on (a bowl of M&Ms in the office met my criteria).  My lunchtime experience reminded me of a great article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine.  Among other issues, he discusses the question of why the poorest in the U.S. are the most likely to be overweight and looks at the role of the farm bill in the way we over-eat.  It is a great illustration of the unintended consequences that policymaking can have on public health.