Jacqueline Novogratz Addresses Future Social Entrepreneurs at UVA

May 13, 2013

The University of Virginia has many things to be proud of and many students have passed through to go on and accomplish many things. It comes with great pride to have such an astonishing number of accomplished alumnae who have made extraordinary contributions in the world. Among U.Va.'s finest graduates is social entrepreneur Jacqueline Novogratz, whom Forbes Magazine featured on the cover of its December 2011 issue, titled "Innovation Saves the World."

I had the fortunate opportunity to listen to Jacqueline speak directly to the students of U.Va. when she received her Distinguished Alumna Award. Among her many accomplishments Jacqueline is distinguished for founding Acumen, a fund that seeks to invest in companies around the world whose goals are to make significant differences in their communities. A kind of micro-finance fund, Acumen has attracted many notable donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Warren Buffet.

A graduate of U.Va., class of 1983, Jacqueline spoke of her experience bartending in Charlottesville to pay for her tuition which she insisted on paying for herself. She recalled that she was always interested in volunteer work and donating to worthy causes. She said that she and a friend once delivered a box of toys to a family who was known to be in need. She explained how good she felt gathering the toys and putting the package together. It wasn't until they made their way to the home and secretly dropped the package off that she said she was filled with overwhelming shame. She explained that the shame came from knowing that the parents were going to open the package, see the toys and be reminded that others know how incapable they were in providing for their children. It was then that she realized that providing handouts was not healthy option for anyone. Handouts were good for emergencies but not as a long term economic reform for the individual family. The pride she felt in working hard to pay for her education was something worth providing to others.

She wanted to find a way to help people who wanted to work hard and make a difference in their communities. Banking and the world of finance was an accidental career option, but it eventually gave her the opportunity to travel directly help make a difference.

As an international banker she helped set up a micro-finance bank in Rwanda. She recounted how she helped a group of local women set up the bank. It was there that she found the young boy wearing a sweater she had donated to Goodwill as a teen in Virginia. The global reach of charity became obvious and it was then that she realized her true passion in life was social entrepreneurship. Jacqueline recalled her later torment when she learned of the Rwandan genocide that took place only a few years later, and that her dear friends had either been murdered, stood as bystanders, or even acted as the main perpetrators. A lesson she will never forget is the one when she understood that a monster and angel lives inside each of us, and that every single one of us is capable of accomplishing great acts of good as well as evil.

Jacqueline went on to describe some of the trials she encountered in being a social entrepreneur and the frustrations in investing into the right companies. She said that it isn't easy being in the social business, but it has been rewarding and worth the effort to accomplish. Jacqueline believes that when people are given the opportunity to earn a living and experience the satisfaction of providing for their families in our increasingly globalized society, the better off we all will be.

By Jyle Dupuis
Image courtesy of TED

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