Contributed by Jacqueline Novogratz, author of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. Chronicling her first stumbling efforts as a young idealist to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it through the creation of the trailblazing organization she runs today, this book is a call to action that challenges us to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink our engagement with the world.
When I was a little girl, my Uncle Ed gave me a blue sweater that had zebras in the foreground and Mount Kilimanjaro right across the chest. And I wore it every day, including into my freshman year in high school when my adolescent curves were shifting the contours of the sweater. I think that there’s a humiliating moment that comes in every adolescent girl’s life, and mine was when my high school nemesis one day yelled across the hall that the boys no longer had to go skiing mountains—they could just ski on the contours of this sweater on my chest. Feeling great humiliation, I ran home to my mother. We ceremoniously dumped the sweater at Goodwill, and I thought I would never have to see it again.
Fast forward 10 years, about 5,000 miles. I had left my career on Wall Street and was working in Kigali, Rwanda, with a small group of women to start the country’s first microfinance bank to make small loans to poor women, when I was jogging through the streets and—lo and behold—10 yards in front of me I see a little boy, pipsqueak, knobby knees, wearing my sweater. So I run up to the child, grab him by the collar, turn it over, and there’s my name. And I’ve held that story as a metaphor for how interconnected we are. How our action and our inaction can impact people we might never know and never meet, every day of our lives, all around the world.
In many ways, finding that blue sweater on that boy in Rwanda was the beginning of my journey, a journey that included returning to Rwanda after the genocide to discover that the women with whom I had worked had played out every conceivable role of the genocide. From watching their families being killed, to being murdered themselves, to being major perpetrators. A journey that included realizing that there had to be a better way to solve problems of poverty and starting Acumen Fund, an organization that delivers affordable basic services like water, healthcare, and housing to very poor people in South Asia and Africa and has already reached 10s of millions of people with services they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
When you read The Blue Sweater and accompany me on that journey, if you will, what I would hope is that it’s just the beginning of a conversation that you have around your own journey, and my dream is that together we imagine a world where we finally can extend the fundamental principle that all men are created equal to every human being on the planet.