Here's to the rebels, the nonconformists, and the troublemakers. Here's to the people who are often called crazy but see things differently than most of us. Here's to those fearless few determined enough to think outside our traditional box for a better way of living.
Somehow, the one thing you can't do is ignore them. They change our rules, they push humanity forward, and while some may see them as crazy people, we see genius. The people who are mad enough to change the world are the ones who do.
Why do I start this summary off with an old Apple ad? When I look at what Jacqueline Novogratz has done and what she'll do in the future, I can't help but think that she's a little bit crazy.
But there is also a genius in what she does. That's why she belongs among the many people who have come before her, well known for changing the world despite great odds and to their contemporaries, but today's romantic culture of change has made it difficult for them.
The Blue Sweater is an autobiographical account of the protagonist's journey from idealistic twenty-something who has learned some hard lessons to a true world changer.
This week's book sends me to review two people I greatly admire; best-selling author Seth Godin and advisor Sasha Dichter. Thank you for sending me the book, and I hope you continue to be an inspiration.
I had a lot of fun reading this book. We'll get to my thoughts on the lessons learned in just a few moments, but first, I want to tell you about the story so we can set everything up properly.
The book starts at Chase Manhattan Bank in NYC, where Jacqueline starts her career as an international banker. In her first year with the company, she took some time to audit businesses in Brazil.
After her attempts at small business couldn't pay off, she found a group devoted to women's empowerment. They loved that she had experience in finance and set up a microfinance company with Chase.
She was swiftly sent away to Africa to start her life's work. She arrives only to find that making a change in the world may be easier than she expected.
She starts in Nairobi, where things are a miserable failure in the making. Next, she moves to Rwanda, where things begin to pick up steam. There Duterimbere is an organization focused on microcredit for women. She later takes a stint at the World Bank to discover why aid missions rarely work.
After getting her MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and then working at the Rockefeller Foundation, Finkelstein's vision to eradicate poverty finally materialized when she started on her own.
Novogratz's story is called The Blue Sweater because the author recounted a moment in her childhood when she owned a blue sweater and gave it to Goodwill. She then shockingly found out years later that an African child was wearing that same sweater: not one like hers, but the same one with her name tag attached.
That's amazing. This book is not written as a self-help or business book, and yet it offers life lessons for anyone trying to make a change.
It would be a shame to condense her life and simplify the story.
Lesson #1 - Just start
We often find ourselves waiting for the perfect time to do something, even when what we need to do is important. I know I am guilty of this. Jacqueline received guidance from Acumen Fund founder Jacqui Cohen before she started her work there - this advice came after years of experience in Africa.
Don't wait for perfection; just start. No one expects you to get it right on the very first try anyway. You will learn more from your mistakes than your early successes. This may be a daunting task, but keep in mind that it can be done.
That's great advice, but it becomes easier as we get more experienced. In her 20s, Jacqueline decided that she wanted to leave a comfortable position at a major bank and pursue her passions full-time. She didn't know exactly how she was going to do it; she just did it.
As you get older, life starts to beat you up a little. You question what's going on and realize it's not as easy as you thought. You think and wait until you eventually accept that there is no point in waiting for something to happen if it is not going to come out of your hands.
As Seth Godin points out, you don't need a lot of time to start something great. You have to act. Here's how he frames it when talking about Tribes during his TED talk:
"So I'd like you to do something for me, and I hope you will think about it before you reject it out of hand. What I was hoping you could do, which only takes 24 hours, is to create a movement, something that matters, start, do it, and need it. Thank you very much".
Lesson #2 - Wicked problems aren't easy
When Jacqueline came to Africa, she had already determined that what she was doing would be difficult.
After being warned that some of the people she was there to help wanted to poison her, she mysteriously came down with food poisoning. Weeks of accounting work for an organization were destroyed when she highlighted certain areas that needed improvement.
This highlights an important point about doing something worthwhile. Your biggest challenges are often the ones you would never have imagined before embarking on this journey. It's not just the giant roadblocks you need to worry about when planning for your international move; all the smaller obstacles start to pile up and seem impossible at first glance.
But when you look at the solutions to most of your challenges, it all boils down to being people-centric.
Lesson #3 - Understanding people and culture.
When all Jacqueline wanted to do was support, why were the people in Africa treating her badly? She and the others who sent her did not understand the culture of this country, that is why. I give you these examples to illustrate my point.
Unicef reportedly paid a high-end Italian designer to produce a poster campaign to persuade mothers to vaccinate their children. Stunning photos supplemented written remarks. Rwanda has a low literacy rate for women. File that under "not understanding people and culture."
Additionally, understanding people and culture can make a big difference. Malaria is endemic in some parts of Africa. It kills millions every year. Netting is an inexpensive and easy way to fight malaria. One country where nets are sold in bulk happens to be at a Tupperware-style party instead of door-to-door salespeople.
The neighborhood meets together to organize a demonstration and then talks about a potential purchase. One of the more successful people in the group sells nets this way: I also quote
"You put the bed on the floor, and all the bugs go away. You can sleep the whole night long, the color is beautiful, and you can hang the nets in your windows so that your neighbors know about how much you care about your family."
Malaria is brought up as an afterthought. So there you have it: it's all about beauty, vanity, social position, and comfort. I would presume it's a health issue, and I bet you feel the same way. But we don't understand African culture very well.
What underlying assumptions are you making about your business or non-profit that you shouldn't take for granted?
This brings us to the final lesson.
Lesson #4 - Simplicity
Simplicity is the solution to complexity.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."
If you grapple with the unexpected challenges and understand your work culture, you will eventually find simplicity on the other side of complexity.
Your journey is likely to offer you many opportunities. When simple solutions are not enough, try looking for a third alternative. This will often lead you back into the center, where there is always peace and simplicity.
As time went on, Jacqueline became more and more aware that charity alone wasn't the answer- the market alone wasn't the answer.
"I want to end just by saying that there is enormous opportunity to make poverty history. To do it right, we have to build business models that matter, are scalable, and work with Africans, Indians, people all over the developing world to fit in this category.
To do it themselves because it's about engagement; it's about understanding that people don't want handouts and they want to make their own decisions. They want to solve their problems, and by engaging with them, we create much more dignity for them and us. So I urge all of you to think next time as to how to engage with this notion and this opportunity that we all have to make poverty history, by really becoming part of the process and moving away from an "us and them" world and realizing that it's about all of us and the kind of the world that we together want to live in and share. Thank you."
I want to finish this summary with a personal thank you to Jacqueline. The work that you do is affecting the lives of millions across the globe, and I hope that you will continue to lead us into the future.