The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich & Poor in an Interconnected World
by Jacqueline Novogratz
Each time I have finished one book another one seems to be waiting for me. I received the Blue Sweater from my friend Abraham Temu the co-founder of KiBo and an Acumen Fellow who said to me “The best gift I can give you right now, especially since you are going to Rwanda is this book.” Abraham is an amazing leader who has found creative ways to pursue social change through practical methods so his recommendation made me dive into the book eagerly.
The Blue Sweater follows Jacqueline as a young and successful international banker, who left her career to focus on understanding global poverty and finding creative solutions to tackling it. She describes her journey into East Africa, the struggles of starting something new, tackling the un-written rules of solo female travel, and the learning curve of mixing desire to help with the willingness to accept local wisdom. I appreciated that she did not just present a rosy picture but showed the struggles to understand and to build systems that would work through the power of deep listening. She is now the founder of Acumen Fund, a non profit venture capital firm for the poor that invests in sustainable enterprises.
Reading this book reminded me of a very important lesson: to listen. Rather than criticizing or jumping in with solutions Jaqueline recommended listening and asking questions. This book has helped me to understand how to better frame the questions I ask of each of the amazing social innovators I meet along my journey and how to be a better listener so I can soak up as much knowledge as possible. She also addresses the idea that often, the poor are treated as being like “throw-away people,” outsiders and every effort is made to avoid seeing them. She states that “In todays’ world, the elites are growing ever more comfortable with one another across national lines, yet at the same time, less comfortable with low-income people who share their nationality.” We need to re-frame how we see and how we relate to the poor. By seeing the poor as paying customers and as those capable of bringing about change in their own communities it can give them dignity. By taking the time to hear their story and hear what is actually needed, not just what we think is needed, we can improve our communities. She believes that “By investing in private innovation, we [can] make essential services accessible to all and help lead the way to better models for solving public problems.”
I also appreciated what she had to say about the importance of action not just compassion. “The world will not change with inspiration alone; rather it requires systems, accountability, and clear measures of what works and what doesn’t. Our most effective leaders, therefore, will strengthen their knowledge of how to build organizations while also having the vision and heart to help people imagine that change is possible in their lives.” She emphasizes that “many of the answers to poverty lie in the space between the market and charity.” Rather than thinking that poverty will end only through philanthropy or only through market measures we must be willing to look out how using the best of both worlds could bring creative solutions to complex problems that do not have a one size fits all fix.
Her stories, personal anecdotes and constant reminder that there is “no currency like trust and no catalyst like hope,” have inspired me to think differently about development and social change and how interconnected our world really is. It has also inspired me to think about how interdisciplinary approaches to determining creative solutions to world issues are so necessary in order to achieve the best of what the world has to offer. I highly recommend this book for anyone going to Rwanda or East Africa and for those interested in development, social change, venture capital, micro-finance, leadership or sustainability.