The Blue Sweater Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

Jacqueline Novogratz

Rodale Books




320 Pages



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For the first 5,000 copies of The Blue Sweater purchased, a $15 donation per book will be made to Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that invests in transformative businesses to solve the problems of poverty.

Jacqueline Novogratz left her career in international banking to begin a quest to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it. Her story started back home in Virginia, with the blue sweater, a gift that became her prized possession—until she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing that very sweater, with her name still on the tag inside. That the sweater had made its trek all the way to Rwanda was ample evidence, Jacqueline thought, of how we are all connected, how our actions—and inaction—touch people every day across the globe, people we may never know or meet.

From her first stumbling efforts as a young idealist venturing forth in Africa to the creation of the trailblazing organization she runs today, Novogratz tells real stories with unforgettable characters—women dancing in a Nairobi slum, unwed mothers starting a bakery, courageous survivors of the Rwandan genocide, entrepreneurs building services for the poor against impossible odds.

She shows, in ways both hilarious and heartbreaking, how traditional charity often fails, but how a new form of philanthropic investing called "patient capital" can help make people self-sufficient and can change millions of lives. More than an autobiography or a guide to addressing poverty, The Blue Sweater is a call to action that challenges readers to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink their own engagement with the world.


Praise for The Blue Sweater

"I've known the founder of the Acumen Fund, Jacqueline Novogratz, for many years and she's one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. If you're in the social entrepreneur space, you know her as a pioneer in giving people stuck in poverty the financial, economic and social tools to build their own way out. But Jacqueline is also an amazing writer and she has a brilliant book out, The Blue Sweater, that will make you cry as it makes you think . . . [The Blue Sweater] is a tough, realistic, heartbreaking, truthful book about Jacqueline's efforts and education in Africa as a social entrepreneur. Her own personal evolution is a much a part of the narrative as the work she attempts. Parts of it are horrifying. African Women Jacqueline worked with for many years turn out to be participants in genocide—and other women their victims. But she is not afraid to confront this terrifying 'cultural context' as she analyzes her journey to and through social entrepreneurship. This is a brave, honest book about one of the most important socio-economic movements of our day. And it is a beautiful window into one of the most creative and distinguished women of our time."—Bruce Nussbaum, Business Week

"The sheer facts provide enough of a narrative riptide to keep you glued to the pages and enough detail to serve as a primer on how to go about affecting social change. This book should have a spot on the reading lists of MBA and public policy programs."—Maureen Farrell, Forbes

"Jacqueline Novogratz—founder of the Acumen Fund, a non-profit that aims to reduce poverty—once spotted a boy in Rwanda wearing a blue sweater she had donated to Goodwill as a teen in Virginia. It's a neat little anecdote about inter-connectivity, but it pales next to stories about her philanthropic investing (the attempt to establish a successful bakery with a group of battered Rwandan mothers is especially heartrending) . . . Flip to the chapter that knits together the tales of Rwandan genocide survivors, and you just might be inspired to start your own charity—or at least to open your wallet."—Kate Ward, Entertainment Weekly

"Considering how the last year or so has gone, Jacqueline Novogratz left her job in the financial sector just in the nick of time . . . The result was a journey that would have far-reaching results. For Novogratz herself, obviously, but also for the people whose lives she touched and who touched her and now, with The Blue Sweater, she touches ours, as well because, as empowered as she is and as powerful she has, in a way, become, Novogratz can also write. In The Blue Sweater she brings us along on her personal journey of transformation. Part of the power in The Blue Sweater comes from Novogratz's own urgency. 'Today, I believe more strongly than I did as a young woman that we can end poverty,' she writes at one point. 'Never before in history have we had the skills, resources, technologies, and imagination to solve poverty that we do now.' Novogratz is the piper. The stories she tells here are her music. And it's difficult to even want to do anything other than follow along."—January Magazine

"When I was asked to review Jacqueline Novogratz's new book, The Blue Sweater, I quickly and gratefully accepted. I read about the Acumen Fund months earlier as I researched the best charitable organization to link to from my website. I knew about Novogratz's work, and waited quite impatiently for the book to arrive. Even so, I was wholly unprepared for the impact of her story. Jacqueline reveals so much more than the human issues she works with in Africa. Why is this book so moving, such a deep wake-up call? I'm still learning the answer to that question, but I think it is in the details she relates. The difficulty of bridging cultural gaps as we attempt to make our world better. And certainly, the courage one human can summon, persevering in the face of doors decisively closed. Jacqueline Novogratz is, above all, a woman of action. In a time where too much talk has produced far too little results, she has simply done the work. Talking is important too, when it means communicating. Her ability to articulate solutions makes this book (and her work) extremely valuable . . . It's her tenacity in continuing right through the densest thicket to apply a formulaic solution to a desperate demographic that kept me reading, making notes, and growing as a human being. The Acumen Fund is responsible for the depth of thought and action which now produces 16 million sleeping nets (to prevent malaria), through a company started with small loans. Experimental approaches were used to find the best mode of distribution. Some of this experimentation involved careful listening through the cultural divide. This is another aspect of Novogratz's leadership and vision that is making such a big difference in the outcome of philanthropic projects. That interconnectivity she relates to shows up every day, if you're paying attention. This morning I was going over my notes while having coffee at the local Peet's. The Blue Sweater sat on the table, and a woman came over to look at it. She recognized its value almost instantly, reaching for pen and paper to make a reminder for herself. Then she told me about the labyrinth she'll be walking in 2010 in connection with a huge world conference called Sophia2010. It's about inspiring and mentoring young global leaders as agents of worldwide social change. In that moment, I definitely felt the connection. Now I'll let you run out and get your own copy of this timely, informative and inspiring book. If you think you want to make a difference, this is not a story you can do without. Meanwhile, I'd like your help to keep spreading the word about this book, the Acumen Fund, and Jacqueline Novogratz. You can start by sending this article around to your friends and associates. Jacqueline makes great use of the fact that this is an interconnected world. We have so much connectivity at our fingertips. Let's keep it meaningful."—Suzanna Stinnett, The Examiner

"This is a wonderful book by a remarkable woman. It's a story about doing enormous good while having some extraordinary experiences and even adventures. It touches the heart and the mind. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about what's really going on in the world out there."—Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World and editor of Newsweek International

"The decency of Jacqueline Novogratz shines through these pages and so does her strength. The stories she shares about the people she has met show the nobility of the human spirit and the breadth of the desire to stop suffering, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to empower the poor—in short, to make the world a better place. The Blue Sweater is a book of hope written by a practical idealist who won't take 'no' for an answer when it comes to building a better world. Jacqueline breathes new life into the phrase "a life of meaning" and she is living one everyday even as she asks us to join her."—Senator Bill Bradley

"The Blue Sweater will inspire people around the world by seeing the difference one person can make in taking on challenges with courage, curiosity, drive and a great sense of possibility. It is a story for all of us, regardless of the country in which we were born."—Mary Robinson, Chair of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative

"Jacqueline's book and her work represent an entirely new way to look at things, a vivid opportunity for change and most of all, an obligation to spread the word about the way the world has evolved. We need to wake up and listen to what she has to say. Hurry!"—Seth Godin, author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

"Jacqueline is a national treasure. Her pioneering work at Acumen Fund is positively influencing a whole generation of donors and recipients."—Seth Berkley, President and founder of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative

"A captivating first-person account of a young woman's quest to close the gap between rich and poor. If one person can change the world, this is your window into how it's done."—Chee Pearlman, former Editor in Chief, I.D. Magazine

"If you believe in the worth and capacity of individual initiative and in group commitment, or if you believe that our lives can be transformed by the events we live through, then you must read this book."—Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia

"She's aspired to change the world since she was young, writes Novogratz, who assembles engaging and insightful stories about her journey toward effective philanthropy . . . life's interconnectedness energized her efforts to help those less fortunate . . . Novogratz wasn't always greeted with open arms. In West Africa, a local woman explained her hostility: 'The North comes to the South and sends a young white girl without asking us what we want, without seeing if we already have the skills we need.' Learning from this reception, Novogratz subsequently rallied Rwandan women around the idea of microcredit by persuading them that it connected with their dreams of owning a bakery, bookstore or restaurant. She personally witnessed the Rwandan genocide and the demise of several businesses she'd helped establish, but persisted in her mission, acquiring additional valuable lessons about humanity and humility. Novogratz transports readers directly to the landscapes she travels by describing with intimate urgency her experiences when immobilized by malaria, chased by muggers or inspired by a business owner's success. 'Humbled by the strength of individual women,' she continues to believe that 'we can end poverty.' An empowering, heartfelt portrait of humanitarianism at work."—Kirkus Reviews

"Novogratz presents an insider's view of charitable foundations and microfinance institutions, including her own venture capital firm for the poor. Her greatest critique of philanthropic efforts is that despite their best intentions, they often focus more on making donors feel good than on actually doing good for those in need . . . [She offers] extremely valuable advice to charitable organizations, especially those combating poverty. Philanthropies, she says, should focus on bringing the poor into the global economic system in a sustainable way . . . The book valuably highlights the importance of accountability in charity and of social responsibility in business."—Veronica Arellano, Library Journal

"Novogratz combined her twin passions for banking and philanthropy after she left a lucrative corporate banking position to work with women's groups in microfinance, the pioneering banking strategy that won Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Her work merging market systems with development and social empowerment led her to create the Acumen Fund for entrepreneurs in developing nations, which she describes as 'the opposite of old-fashioned charity' . . . [The book] touches on the difficult decisions that Novogratz and her team must make about financial empowerment—should they charge interest on loans to poor women? Can working women find acceptance in a patriarchal society?"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jacqueline Novogratz

  • Jacqueline Novogratz is founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm for the poor that invests in sustainable enterprises bringing healthcare, safe water, alternative energy, and housing to low-income people in the developing world. A serial entrepreneur in the social sector, she travels frequently and currently resides in New York City.