Blue Sweater Author Describes Career of Service
Philanthropist Jacqueline Novogratz addresses the VMI Corps of Cadets. – VMI Photo by Sarah Brown.
LEXINGTON, Va., Jan. 24, 2012 – A life of service to others is very like the life of the citizen-soldier.
So said Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of CEO of the Acumen Fund, in her Jan. 23 address to the VMI Corps of Cadets. The philanthropist discussed how her work reflects the VMI values of integrity, accountability, and generosity.
“I have chosen this path of being a citizen-soldier myself in a very different way,” she said.
Novogratz remained on post though the day and talked with a small group of cadets in Moody Hall alongside U.S. Army Col. Patrick Tierney, who serves on the Acumen Fund advisory council.
A philanthropic institution, the Acumen Fund invests in sustainable businesses that make a social impact, empowering entrepreneurs to make a difference in impoverished communities and providing what Novogratz describes as “non-profit venture capital for the poor.”
Coming from a military family, Novogratz said she identified with the values of the Corps, particularly the concept of service. Bringing Novogratz to VMI as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series complements awareness and service initiatives across post.
"We are promoting service as an ideal for cadets," said Col. Rob McDonald, associate dean. "As citizen-soldiers, cadets give of themselves. That got her attention."
Cadets had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Novogratz's concept of service when, last semester, each cadet received a copy of Novogratz's book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, in which she relates her own story of working with the poor in Africa and her later work with the Acumen fund.
In introducing Novogratz, Brig. Gen. Wane Schneiter, dean of the faculty, said, “In a great gesture of genorosity, Ms. Novogratz reduced her normal speaking fee by an amount sufficient to purchase copies of her bestselling book.”
Novogratz spoke of moral courage in addition to physical courage as a trait necessary for leaders.
“When you're getting ready to go into the world, it feels like the courage that is most important is physical courage: having the guts to stand in the line of fire,” said Novogratz.
“As you get older, what becomes more complex, more difficult is moral courage, making the hard decisions when it might cost you a title, your job, or the support of your family or friends.”
Novogratz gave an example of how that moral courage is guiding the actions of a Mumbai-based ambulance company in which the Acumen Fund has invested. The company’s telephone number, a difficult-to-remember 1298, is emblematic of its refusal to give bribes to local officials. A telephone number like 911 or 333, which would be easy to remember, was available to the company, but the official in charge of issuing those numbers wanted a bribe.
The Acumen Fund has invested $74 million in companies that repay the investment over a period of up to15 years. Those investments have affected 86 million individuals and created 55,000 jobs in East Africa and South Asia.
Novogratz highlighted successful companies in which the Acumen Fund has invested, including a company that sells solar lighting units, at a cost of $8 each, which now provide light to over 7 million people and a company in India that is generating electricity using rice husks.
By investing in companies like these, said Novogratz, the Acumen Fund is fulfilling a goal to “invest in entrepreneurs who thought of the poor not as passive recipients of charity, but as individuals who want to change their lives.”
–John Robertson IV