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Helping Changes Lives, Right? A Review of The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz


When we help others, lives change. Or do they? This assumption, which most of us buy into without question, is the reason there are still 1.4 billion people in this world living on less than $1.25 a day.*

For more than a decade, the World Bank invested over $20 million dollars in an irrigation project in Gambia, Africa. Created to enhance rice productivity, expected results included a lower death rate for children and a better income for rice farmers. Ten years later, the child death rates had risen and rice production had declined. Why? Because the assumption that “helping” would change lives was not enough. Lasting change requires much more.

In her new book, The Blue Sweater – Bridging the Gap In An Interconnected World, Jacqueline Novogratz boldly shares what is necessary to effect lasting change. The founder of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital organization that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty, writes an authentic and thoughtful account of her journey to identifying what is required create a vivacious and prosperous world.

Once an international banker with an open heart who wanted to change the world, Novogratz’s dream to work in a developing country in Latin America was not to be. Instead, she landed in Rwanda by way of Nairobi, and began a life-changing and sometimes death-defying journey that led her to understand what true philanthropy is all about.

The stories she shares are riveting and colorful. Her love of Africa reaches out from the pages and gently takes your hand as you follow her down dusty roads, through lush mountains and cool lakes, and into the community and courage that is the Mother Land. The book is worth reading for this alone. But there is so much more.

Novogratz’s honesty about her naiveté, choices, and experiences brings a bracing edge to the book and the concept of charity. More importantly, she allows you to be a part of her awakening as she begins to understand that true service requires us to look past the surface of statistics to see that traditional charity has not really “helped” this world nearly as much as we would all like to believe.

As Novogratz delicately insinuates herself in the organizations she works with in Africa, and develops relationships both with the women receiving funds and those integral to their disbursement, she gradually learns the lessons of process and patience. She wakes up to the importance of observation, listening, authenticity, and mitigating ego in serving others.

From a business perspective, she comes to see that “giving” money to someone is not nearly as empowering as “lending” it to them in the way Muhammad Yunus pioneered. She realizes that patient capital – money invested without expectation of immediate return – often creates the confidence necessary to build profits.

Traveling her path with open eyes, Novogratz releases her ego to the point where she no longer needs to determine what’s right for others, and instead provides the tools and means for them to learn how to fish for themselves. This realization bucks years of charity protocol and she becomes a bit of a rebel as she points out that good intentions often result in merely paving the road to hell.

For some, it may be difficult to fathom that traditional charity, ancient in its origins, has actually prevented people from knowing their power and worth. For that recognition to occur, we must all look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we really want a world where everyone is equal. Do we really want to help create an environment where we all have what we need? Or do we each have too much invested in being a rung above?

The stars aligned for Novogratz to have the experiences, mentors, and relationships necessary for her to write this book. She is poised to effect lasting change in this world by quietly asking each of us to examine why we “help” others and to be courageous and honest about our motives. Do we want to help or to we want to be seen helping?

This is the first step in participating in change. Motive is where it all begins. Whether you’re volunteering with a local organization or going halfway around the world, if you’re doing it for ego-based reasons, the results will reflect that. The irrigation project in Gambia proves that point. Millions of dollars invested. Sicker children. Lower revenue on exports. What happened? Go buy the book.

*(Source: World Bank Poverty Estimates for the Developing World-2008).


4 Responses to “Helping Changes Lives, Right? A Review of The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz”

  1. This is a terrible, badly written review. You must not have read the book. D-, at best.

  2. I think YOU are the source of the swine flu. You must be pushing, what, 350?

  3. Thanks for highlighting The Blue Sweater and Jacqueline’s work. If you are interested, you can sign up for Jacqueline’s quarterly update letter here:, or (if you are on Facebook), there is information about events, appearances, etc. as well as ways to engage, on the page we’ve set up for The Blue Sweater:

  4. great review! thx also for recommending @jnovogratz in the SHIFT philanthropy list.

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