Jacqueline Novogratz

May 01, 2013

Perspective can allow two people to see the same object and relate different descriptions. It can start wars and create suffering and it can bring people together to unify the world. An object could be a simple ball, encased in rubber, inflated with air - or it can be a toy used to excite and enlighten a child, teaching principles like working hard and achieving goals. Perspective has helped people like Jacqueline Novogratz see potential in the eyes of the world's poorest people.

Jacqueline has always been able to see the world differently. A lesson on perspective came when she saw a blue sweater that she had once owned and donated in her youth appearing on a child in Rwanda. It was tangible proof that our efforts do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Everyone’s contributions help, but the world needs innovative solutions to solve complex issues like poverty.

Founding the Acumen Fund in 2001, Novogratz sought to create a non-profit organization that would focus on empowering entrepreneurs in some of the world's poorest countries instead of just providing handouts. Forbes Magazine described her efforts as "a new twist on the old adage about teaching a man to fish, except that Novogratz wants to build an entire fish market." Referred to as social entrepreneurship, the Acumen Fund’s model empowers those who otherwise would not have been able to help themselves.

The Acumen Fund has attracted worldwide attention for its success and continues to grow and create new perspectives on the way poverty is perceived and treated. Those at the Fund have single handedly gained support and invested over $80 million into 70 different companies which operate throughout South Asia and Africa. To qualify for the funds, recipients have to be focused on providing affordable healthcare, water, housing and energy to people who normally wouldn't be able to afford these services. The investments made by the Acumen Fund have given jobs to an estimated 57,000 unskilled workers and have even increased the net worth of these companies to an estimated $360 million, effecting change that shapes the lives of over 90 million people.

Aside from devoting her life to the Acumen Fund, Novogratz is on the advisory boards of MIT's Legatum Center and the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative. She also sits on the Aspen Institute Board of Trustees and the board of IDEO.org and is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for Social Innovation. Jacqueline was also appointed by Secretary Clinton to the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. She is a frequent speaker at TED, a conference dedicated to spreading innovative ideas by some of the world’s greatest thinkers.

Jacqueline was featured on the cover of the December 2011 issue of Forbes Magazine for its special on social innovation. She was included in Foreign Policy's list of Top 100 Global Thinkers and The Daily Beast's 25 Smartest People of the Decade. In the past she has founded and directed The Philanthropy Workshop and The Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as Duterimbere, a micro-finance company based in Rwanda.

Before starting her career in social entrepreneurship and international banking she studied and received a BA in Economics/International Relations at the University of Virginia. She later studied at Stanford University, receiving her MBA. Jacqueline is also the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Notre Dame, Wofford College, Gettysburg College, and Fordham University.

Her book The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between the Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World serves as a memoir relating her experience in transforming herself from an international banker in New York to social entrepreneur and founder of the Acumen Fund. The pages challenge readers to see the world differently, to see The Blue Sweater not as an object that needed to be discarded, but as the start of a journey to bring warmth to a child who needed and deserved basic warmth.

By Jyle Dupuis
Image by ©Joyce Ravid
First published on UVa Women's Center website (May 2013)

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