Go Forward with Enthusiasm
In the era of bailouts and Occupy Wall Street, how does one answer the question, why do you want to be a banker? That's exactly what Jacqueline Novogratz found herself struggling to answer while interviewing with Chase Manhattan Bank after graduating from college, where she studied economics and international relations. She was as surprised as her interviewers when she realized she couldn't answer the question; she'd rather change the world.
Novogratz went on to do just that, founding the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that invests in entrepreneurs who drive solutions for the world's impoverished. She introduced the concept of patient capital, philanthropic loans that although originate from charitable donations, end up in the hands of entrepreneurs tackling problems such as poverty, health, and education. With her hybrid approach to investing that combines financial access with social impact, Novogratz pioneered a path that combined the compassion of traditional charity with the sustainability of market forces.
The Blue Sweater is the personal story of Jacqueline's journey to that success, and carries several important takeaways for anyone who would answer the banking recruiter's question similarly. Most importantly, it provides insight into the key factor in Novogratz's success: her power of vision. The book's strength lies in its portrayal of Novogratz's approach to her work. Faced with situations that others would call challenges, she reframes them and instead sees opportunities.
What does your dream world look like?
Pragmatists are often quick to denounce optimism as irrational or unrealistic. But Novogratz redefines optimism as focusing more on the bigger picture. Her story is filled with moments that would make anyone feel like giving up, from the high school taunts thrown at her for wearing her favorite blue Mount Kilimanjaro sweater to the discouragement of locals as she sought to support women with her first microlending institutions.
Despite the various setbacks that she faces, she dares to imagine a world in which deeply entrenched societal problems can be resolved, using that vision to motivate her work. At several points in the novel, her positive reaction in difficult situations challenged me to ask myself, what does my dream world look like?
Going forward with enthusiasm
Despite opportunities available to students to travel abroad and gain experience in the real world prior to graduation, Novogratz reminds us that trying to change the world is bound to leave us in unfamiliar and uncomfortable scenarios. After her attempts to salvage the finances of various organizations are snubbed multiple times, I wondered why she did not simply pack up and go home.
Although the book is lacking in its discussion of how to bridge the cultural chasm facing international philanthropy, and she sometimes provides generic travel descriptions of Africa where I would have preferred more character depth to forge emotional connections, it is clear that Novogratz persists and adapts, eventually coming to love the African continent despite its original rejections. As she says when reflecting on the Rwandan genocide, [the people] live inside me.
The Blue Sweater serves as a provocative title, but it's not the most standout motif of the novel. Instead, the theme of her book was best summarized by the name of her first organization in Uganda: Duterimbere, which means to go forward with enthusiasm. Many of us want to make a difference but are not sure where to begin, just like Novogratz in her first job interview.
The book's focus on Novogratz's detours before she founded the Acumen Fund emphasizes that a brilliant idea is not necessary from the start, but by jumping into opportunities that come our way, we can build up to such success.
The inspirational value of The Blue Sweater cannot be diminished. It is a must-read for students like me, who are embarking on their sustainability careers.