Renowned CEO Jacqueline Novogratz offers a heartfelt rallying cry for activism and provides examples of determined men and women who give for others.
Jacqueline Novogratz – founder and CEO of Acumen, an organization designed to harness entrepreneurship to give everyone “the opportunity to live with dignity” – pleads with readers to stop what they’re doing, find a cause that will improve the world and act on it – as she did. Novogratz gave up a lucrative Wall Street job to help impoverished women in East Africa. She encountered years of setbacks, threats of jail and violence, and the loss of friends and partners to murder, war and terror. Yet she persevered. Here, she offers moving stories and telling statistics to articulate the urgency for widespread civic action.
Foreign Policy named Novogratz one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers. The Daily Beast listed her as one of the 25 Smartest People of the Decade and she received the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Novogratz teaches that people, nations and the environment interconnect and are interdependent. Greedy, dangerous or harmful actions can cause disasters, but selfless, generous acts have equally powerful ripple effects.
The work of renewing a world based on extending dignity to every human being on the planet begins in small places, close to home.Jacqueline Novogratz
Get involved, Novogratz exhorts, whether as an activist, a philanthropist, a crusader for corporate responsibility or a leader in a business that gives back more than it takes.
She asserts that helping others or the planet fuels a meaningful life, so you should join a cause you believe in, and get started. Although you’ll experience setbacks and hardships, success comes from standing up for the poor and dispossessed and fighting for environmental sustainability, protection for animals, good and safe schools for children, or better conditions and justice for the imprisoned.
Well-intentioned aid initiatives often fail because charitable people and organizations impose their ideas on those they intend to help rather than co-creating solutions with them.
Few stop to listen to what the poor actually want, causing those in need to get stuck between the cheats and the charities, their problems often multiplying as a result.Jacqueline Novogratz
For example, when Carlos Velasco and Mayumi Ogata set out to help Colombia’s impoverished farmers, they spent years building relationships and trust. They discovered a rare white cacao plant that grew only on land largely populated by indigenous Arhuacos. Velasco and Ogata formed an alliance with the Arhuacos that respected their environmental and spiritual traditions. Today, the Arhuacos, the cocoa farmers and Colombia all benefit.
Listening builds trust.
Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun sought to bring light to thousands of poverty-stricken Kenyan families who relied on oil or kerosene lamps which cost them about 40 cents a night to use. Goldman and Tozun produced a prototype of a solar light they could sell – at a small profit – for about $30. Even though customers would recoup their investment by saving almost $3 each week, a $30 initial outlay proved too expensive.
By rewarding only what we can measure, we perpetuate systems that fail to honor that which we value most – and the price we pay is nothing less than our collective soul. Jacqueline Novogratz
Goldman and Tozun used feedback from the community to create more accessible solar lanterns costing only $7 each. Now, their lanterns provide light for more than 100 million East Africans.
Focus on what connects people and stay aware of how others perceive you. No agreement can arise until each side accounts for the other’s perspective. Acknowledge your flaws, and the pain and harm you may have caused others. Forgive yourself.
We miss many opportunities by assuming we have the answers.Jacqueline Novogratz
Find at least one point of agreement, even if it’s small, and make a concession around it. The results may fall short of perfect for you and your counterpart, but you’ll find a satisfactory resolution.
Speak up. Let the purpose and meaning of your mission bolster you. Make it your highest priority and main marker of success. Sometimes, Novogratz points out, you may have to say no to causes you can’t afford to support and to chances to make money.
Your greatest calling card is your reputation for integrity. Treat it like gold, though it is worth even more.Jacqueline Novograts
And, sometimes, your ideas may ignite a solution. Novogratz cites three MIT graduates who founded Sanergy, a nonprofit that provides toilets for poor people. After years, it built a sustainable business model: Local entrepreneurs sell the toilets, and Sanergy converts the waste into fertilizer, which other entrepreneurs sell to farmers.
By 2019, Sanergy had sold a quarter million toilets and created 2,750 jobs, while solving health problems for more than 100,000 peopleand generating increasing revenues. Sanergy sets an example of using innovation and experimentation to drive change.
Going with others on their path requires support and guidance as well as treating them with deep respect.
Human beings thrive when we believe someone cares about us. It isn’t much more complicated than that. Jacqueline Novogratz
Almost every person, regardless of culture, needs to feel part of a community. When you help a struggling person, you spread a positive ethos. No matter what your chosen pursuit is, accompany the people who need you.
Honest stories include the good and the bad, but do not demean, blame or ridicule others. Start with the story you tell about yourself. Avoid a victim narrative that fuels vengeance or an angry mind-set. Tell your story as someone who experienced pain and overcame it.
The narratives we choose to tell ourselves and others can be extremely consequential, steering us toward roads of despair or pathways to freedom. The choice is ours to make.Jacqueline Novogratz
When you hear a divisive story that sets people against other people, offer a counternarrative. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and other leaders saved their nations with stories that countered narratives of hatred and division.
Human beings’ deep interconnections and reliance on one another and on the natural systems that sustain life illuminate the need to care about impoverished people, the rainforest, animals and the oceans.
Our future as a human race depends on all of us subscribing to a revolution of morals in which we each commit ourselves to something beyond ourselves.Jacqueline Novogratz
Though the pursuit of change requires a long-term effort, Novogratz urges you to embrace it. Recognize the beauty in the people or environments you seek to help. Beauty brings dignity and sustains your efforts and struggles.
Conviction and Spirit
Novogratz ‘s spiritual contemporary might be John Wood, who left Microsoft to start a successful nonprofit that provides schools and books to impoverished children worldwide. Like Wood, Novogratz is a visionary and crusader, and, like him, she seems fundamentally non-ideological. Given what she has gone through and what she has achieved, this is no surprise – she seems to have a harder shell and more absolute morality at her core than most leaders. She sees the existence of both good and evil. She regards her sacrifices as nothing special and calls on you to make sacrifices, too. She writes with great energy and weaves fascinating examples of other crusaders’ work into her exhortations to activism. Students will find Novogratz inspiring, and adults may feel drawn to answer her call to do more.
Try. Fail. Then try again. Follow the thread as it unspools. Just start.Jacqueline Novogratz
Other inspirational works on activism include John Woods’ Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and Creating Room to Read – A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, and Hope In the Dark – Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit.