In this New York Times essay, Novogratz explains how her background helped her evolve into microcredit.
Chase trained me in finance and cash flow and how companies work, and I did work in 40 countries. It was a gift from the universe and the perfect beginning of a career.
I loved being a banker, but I felt that banks were missing an opportunity in not extending their services to more low-income people. I decided to leave Chase and move to Rwanda, where I helped build its first microfinance institution. I also helped start a bakery with six Rwandan women. Their stories became the starting point for “The Blue Sweater,” a book I wrote about how to assist developing countries in building organizations that help their citizens.
The key is giving access to affordable services like clean water, adequate health care and energy sources so they can make their own decisions and change their own lives. That’s where dignity starts.
I returned to the United States to attend Stanford for an M.B.A and heard the president of the Rockefeller Foundation give a speech about microfinance. We started talking and got to know each other. I worked for him for a year and helped start several programs.
In 2001, I started the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund. We manage more than $40 million in investments in Africa and Asia. We raise charitable funds and invest in and loan money to enterprises that provide services to low-income people. We use any financial returns to invest in other innovative projects to help the poor.
For example, drip irrigation lets farmers raise production on drought-prone fields. In India, we invested in a company that reconfigured the technology for local farmers. To visit one, I flew from Mumbai to Aurangabad, took a three-hour bus ride, then walked a long time on dirt so dry it cracked. Finally I met a man growing lemon trees and eggplant. He was in his canvas house with his wife, who offered us a meal. Halfway through it, he said he wanted to show me something, and we walked to the concrete slab that was the foundation of the house they planned to build. He has dreams for the first time in his life.