Jacqueline Novogratz is founder and CEO of Acumen, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty. Under Jacqueline’s leadership, Acumen has invested over $132 million to build 136 social enterprises across Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the US. These companies have leveraged an additional $746 million and brought basic services like affordable education, healthcare, and clean energy to more than 400 million low-income people around the world. Jacqueline is a frequent TEDTalk speaker, author, and has been named on the 2017 list of World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes. Her most recent book, “Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World”, highlights 12 leadership practices for those eager to change the world for the better. She is Marcel Schwantes’ guest this week on Love In Action.


Show Notes

  • Marcel asks Jacqueline to share her story. “When I was about 10 years old my uncle Ed gave me a blue sweater that had a zebra in the front and mountains across the chest… I wore this sweater which I cherished all the time… my high school nemesis made a very lewd and inappropriate comment about my sweater, and I ran home, yelled at mom, and we ceremoniously dumped it in Goodwill. Fast forward 10 years, I’ve left a career on Wall Street… I’m jogging through the hills of Kigali when I see this little boy about 10 feet in front of me wearing my sweater… I have held that story as my story of understanding how interconnected our world is, and how our action and our inaction can impact people every day all around the world,” she says. [5:28]
  • Too often, markets overlook, underestimate, and sometimes exploit the poor. “I thought if you could give people access to markets, it was enough,” Jacqueline admits, “but if people don’t have the capability to interact with those markets, it’s not enough.” However, too much aid from the top down creates dependencies. Acumen exists between these concepts as a middleman, on the idea that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but dignity, freedom, choice, and opportunity. This is the heart of Acumen, says Jacqueline. [8:35]
  • Marcel asks Jacqueline to talk about co-founding a microfinance institution in Rwanda. “When I first moved to Africa, I had this idea that I was going to save… a little corner of the world. I was firmly and flatly rejected, and got a quick lesson in humility: most people do not want saving, particularly by people that don’t fully understand who they are,” she claims. Two women from Rwanda approached her when she was working in Kenya and asked for her assistance in doing a feasibility study, as a law had just passed that gave women the right to open a bank account without their husband’s signature. With that clarity of vision, she went on to build the first financial institution in Rwanda for women. [11:54]
  • According to Jacqueline, one of her proudest investments was in the founders of the company currently known as d.light design, Inc. — Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun. They had a solar lamp they wanted to sell to low-income people as an alternative to kerosene. Now, they have brought affordable light and electricity to over 100 million low-income people, and helped spawn an off-grid solar energy revolution. [16:11]
  • Jacqueline defines the term ‘moral imagination.’ “Too many people use the lens of only their own imagination, even when solving problems for people whose lives are completely different from their own,” she explains. “It starts with empathy, but it doesn’t stop there; empathy alone only reinforces the status quo… Moral imagination demands immersion… [understanding] the problem from the perspective of the people you are there to serve, and that requires many of the other skills in the book.” [22:55]
  • “We need to recreate mindsets,” Marcel comments. “In the US, we live in such a self-centered, self-focused society, we may not even know how to extend that kind of love outwardly, to see the world beyond your own immediate needs.” [25:25]
  • The exciting conversation at this moment in history, Jacqueline remarks, is about how we will use our tools, skills, and moral imagination to solve the biggest problems of our time. These problems cannot be solved by the nonprofit sector alone, nor corporate, nor government. “It will take all of us.” [32:57]
  • Empathy alone reinforces the status quo, but cynicism is its best friend. The past two years have been difficult, and people are fatigued, but we can’t allow ourselves to feel defeated. “If we can dare to look for beauty and not just focus on how hard everything is, we may find that things feel just a little bit easier,” Jacqueline advises. [36:47]

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About Marcel Schwantes

Marcel Schwantes is the founder and chief human officer of Leadership from the Core, a global leadership training and executive coaching boutique aimed at developing great leaders and great cultures through Servant Leadership.

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