Jacqueline Novogratz was jogging along a street in Kigali, Rwanda and saw, on a young boy walking along the road, the cherished blue sweater she had given to charity 25 years before — it was a unique sweater, and had her name imprinted on the tag at the neck. She checked. Yes, her name. Her sweater. A coincidence? Or a lesson in the inter-connectivity of the world we live in? Novogratz saw it as the latter, and that encounter helped shape the rest of her life.
Novogratz began her career as an international banker and was in Rwanda to “help the African people” — but she soon learned that they didn’t want, or need, the kind of help she was there to provide. And so began her real education, a journey among the poor, an exploration of how capital and power are unevenly distributed, an exploration of how and why traditional international aid so often fails.
The Blue Sweater is a narrative, a memoir, a beautifully crafted polemic on how those with power and capital and control of the markets create wealth, and how the power of capital and markets can be used to improve the lives of the poor. Novogratz may have started out as a starry eyed American, blind to the privileges conveyed by the accident of her birth, but she quickly learned that if she wanted to ‘change the world’ she needed to better understand the needs and desires of the people she hoped to help.
Novogratz makes plenty of mistakes, and takes some side trips along the way, but this story of her journey from young idealist to wizened professional is compelling, poetic, and True. She divulges just enough detail of her life to keep you interested, and explores and explains what she has learned with the right amount of detail so that you better understand why she makes the decisions about her future that she does. Eventually the lessons she learned in pre-genocide Rwanda and at Stanford Business School collide into the creation of the Acumen Fund — a brilliant mix of “philanthropic capital and business acumen” working to “solve the problems of global poverty.”
The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World is more than a memoir, it is a call to action. It is also an excellent history of life in Rwanda before the genocide — and a hopeful description of how Rwanda has moved through and beyond that dark slice of its past to a future that is not simply hopeful, but seeded with sparks of brilliance.