Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jacqueline Novogratz on lessons learned outside of the classroom

The Acumen Fund's Jacqueline Novogratz arrived in Africa as a young woman with dreams to change the world. After some success and some failures, she returned to the states to receive more education. But it was lessons learned from her experiences in Africa and her childhood that led her to create the Acumen Fund, a large venture fund that gives capital to start up businesses in Africa and Asia.

From Success Magazine, writer John Ostdick interviews Novogratz on what she learned outside of the classroom.

Her March 2009 book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World (Rodale Books), chronicles her passionate journey to the creation of the 8-year-old Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund using entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. “As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, we need to find better solutions that will include everyone in today’s opportunities,” she writes. “Monsters will always exist. There’s one inside each of us. But an angel lives there, too. There is no more important agenda than figuring out how to slay one and nurture the other.”

Acumen Fund manages more than $40 million in investments in South Asia and East Africa, all focused on delivering affordable basic services to the poor (her immediate goal is to increase that to $100 million).

Novogratz’s change-the-world passion began early. “I grew up very disciplined, with nuns, a military family of seven, all the rest boys,” she says during a break from a frantic day of meetings in Acumen’s New York offices just before leaving on another far-flung trip. “I was very tough, and hard on myself, and had high expectations for myself.”

The compassion of the West Point, N.Y., nuns who taught her—particularly a first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Theophane, whom Novogratz recalls with special affection—helped hone her lofty determination.

“It was from her that I first heard that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’ ” Novogratz says. “I wanted desperately to be one of those kids who delivered. I wanted to commit to do something big.”

In a way, she took her own set of vows in those formative years. She would later embrace the writing of Thoreau and Shaw, extracting from the poets what it meant to live a full life. “When I would read Thoreau talk about people living lives of quiet discontent, I would say, ‘That is not going to be me. I am going to live out loud,’ ” she says.

Her education and her early efforts in philanthropy, banking and microfi nance would eventually contribute to her innovative Acumen Fund vision. The bottom line, she concluded, is that charity alone cannot end poverty. Rather than handing out grants, Acumen invests in fl edgling companies and organizations that bring critical—and often life-altering—products and services to the world’s poor.

“Early on, it was all about developing the confidence and earning respect to be effective,” she says. “One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. lines is: ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ When I fi rst went to Africa, I felt this great sense of compassion and was making excuses for people…. Once I let go of the idea of being Mother Superior trying to save the masses and instead found the joy of building systems that really do allow people to change their own lives, then I could be much more myself and challenge people to reach higher. What I learned is people live up and down to the expectations others place on them. That was incredibly liberating to me.”

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