Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The prologue opens with:

"They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took mine and fell flat on 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...

I concluded that if I could only nudge the world a little bit, maybe that would be enough.

But nudging isn't enough."

- - - -

I love Jacqueline Novogratz for being another believer in bringing professional skills into the advocacy and development world. Where Bill Drayton found a way to merge entrepreneurship and social change through the Ashoka Foundation, Novogratz likewise forged a union between investment banking and development in the Acumen Fund. The Blue Sweater tells us about her journey.

Reading the story of the long and winding road towards establishing Acumen Fund was both very encouraging, and at the same time, very humbling.

I have been studying the advocacy and CSR world for about 8 years now, and have been involved with various NGO's and causes for about 6 years. But I have not even done one-tenth of what Novogratz has done.

Sure, I've gone to slums, helped build houses for the poor, comforted orphans, painted murals for public hospitals, developed workshops to empower marginalized youth, cooked for the hungry and homeless, sat through sessions at the United Nations' Economic and Social Council, helped coordinate relief efforts for flash flood victims... the list can go on and on. But these were always a by-the-way. A little sidetrip when I had time to spare from my studies or from my work. School and career always took top priority. And I was always careful to choose to volunteer only in the "safe" places.

But Novogratz, she's something else. She dropped a prestigious banking career in New York City to fly off to help save Africa. And she failed. And tried again. And failed again. And tried yet again.

She's been through political pressures, threats of poison, genocide, civil war, street muggings, house break-ins, and malaria. It made me feel like all I've been doing the past 6 years has all been child's play.

She risked. She fell flat on her face. She picked herself up. And that's why she is where she is today. Torn between a choice of a great NYC job, and a chance to return to Africa, she writes..

"Though either choice was good, one was truer to myself... Ultimately, I reflected on Geothe's invocation to 'make a commitment and the forces of the universe will conspire to make it happen' and chose the uncharted path."

If I had just a quarter of her courage, I think my life would be dramatically different.

For anyone who has been playing with the thought of going into advocacy, development and social work, this is a really good read. She goes into detail about what her life was like - the fulfillment along with the tortures. If, after you've read about all the painful details, you find yourself feeling pangs of jealousy, ask yourself... perhaps it's your time to make the leap?

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