2009-08-28

Book of the Month - The Blue Sweater

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Cover of "The Blue Sweater: Bridging the ...Cover via Amazon

If you were to ask me to make a list of my favorite blogs, without question TED.com and Seth Godin's blog would finish in the top 10. Having said that, it shouldn't surprise you that TED regular Jacqueline Novogratz's new book "The Blue Sweater" (Seth provides a review on the back jacket) is the first book I'm recommending.

Before I begin however, let me answer the most important question on behalf of you (the blog reader). Why should I care? Thankfully Steve Cunningham has you covered:
Have you ever wondered what it would take to change the world? That’s what you’ll learn if you read Jacqueline Novogratz’s amazing book The Blue Sweater. It documents her journey from a twenty-something idealist to what she is today – a pragmatic innovator who is helping millions out of poverty. Most importantly, it will show you that true innovation starts with one thing: understanding people and culture.

Summary


The title of the book is pulled directly from Ms. Novogratz's life thanks to an encounter that forever changed her life. One day while jogging on the streets of Rwanda, she stumbled across a child wearing a blue sweater that looked remarkably a lot like one she used to love as a child. Upon further inspection, she discovered that it not only looked like her sweater, it was the very sweater she had donated to Goodwill many years earlier back in the states. Here's how she beings her story:

"They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took mine and fell flat of my face. As a young woman, I dreamed of changing the world. In my twenties, I went to Africa to try and save the continent, only to learn that Africans neither wanted nor needed saving. Indeed, when I was there, I saw some of the worst that good intentions, traditional charity, and aid can produce: failed programs that left people in the same or worse conditions. The devastating impact of the Rwandan genocide on a people I'd come to love shrank my dreams even further. I concluded that if I could only nudge the world a little bit, maybe that would be enough.

But nudging isn't enough. The gap between rich and poor is widening across the world, creating a dire situation that is neither socially just nor economically sustainable. Moreover, my work in Africa also taught me about the extraordinary resilience of people for whom poverty is a reality not because they don't work hard, but because there are too many obstacles in their way."
Her work in Africa ultimately led to the creation of the Acumen Fund, the world's first non-profit to focus on investing in entrepreneurs / market mechanisms to solve social issues, and a new concept coined by Ms. Novogratz known as "patient capital." However, her journey was not without a few missteps, a fact that ultimately serves as one of the primary strengths of this book, as it reveals that success is never preordained.

The many ups and downs of her career working with the world's poor and various humanitarian groups dedicated to eradicting poverty provide the central narrative of the book, and it is through those encouters that ultimately brings her to the following conclusion (h/t Ed Brenegar):

After more than 20 years of working in African, India, and Pakistan, I've learned that solutions to poverty must be driven by discipline, accountability, and market strength, not easy sentimentality. I've learned that many of the answers to poverty lie in the space between the market and charity and that what is needed most of all is moral leadership willing to build solutions from the perspectives of poor people themselves rather than imposing grand theories and plans upon them.
Indeed.
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For any non-readers out there, here's a great summary from Read It For Me:



And here's the video that persuaded me to buy the book:

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