Jaqueline Novogratz’s “The Blue Sweater” is an autobiography, New York Times bestseller, which was published in 2009. It’s about a woman who left her career in the Bank and trailed her adventurous life of changing the world.
Novogratz is an Austrian-based American international banker and development expert. She is the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm that invests in sustainable businesses. She holds different degrees in Economics and international relations.
“The Blue Sweater” presents the possibility of ending poverty and misery. The book revolves around ideas of accountability, limits of charity, market matters, women development, patient capital and business strategies. Novogratz provides a lively painted picture of how hope, perseverance, and mettle was raised from dreamers of some world’s poorest nations. “The Blue Sweater” is the best case scenario of what dignified humanity can bring to the world.
In 1983, Novogratz quit working at Chase Manhattan Bank and pursued her dreams to change the world. She moved to Africa to work with African Development Bank in Kenya. The goal was to engage with women in development. No matter how hard she tried to be persevering and helpful, African inhospitable women made her feel more like a waif. In 1987, she moved to Kigali. Along with other courageous counterparts, they founded Duterimbere, a microcredit women association aiming to help small-income businesswomen. The Blue Bakery which helped women generate tangible profit from selling doughs and tea was also initiated.
One day when she was jogging in the streets of Kigali, she met a boy wearing the exact same blue sweater her uncle gifted her in 1970s. She dumped it when a mean kid teased her calling Mount Kilimandjaro on it, “Mount Novogratz” that was worth climbing. After 17 years, it found its way to the boy in Kigali. This story serves the idea of interconnected world as the main theme of the book.
After 4 years in Africa, she returned to the U.S for graduation from Stanford University of Business. She couldn’t conceal her profound acknowledgement for Rwandan women who made it possible to overcome traditional presumptions. When she started believing in Gandhi’s quote that the evil can be really conquered, 1994 genocide stood in her way. The story of Tutsi’s extermination in Rwanda was strutting all over. In 1996, Novogratz returned to Rwanda to understand the impacts of 1994 genocide against the Tusti. She narrates stories of Honorata, Liliane, Assumpta and Dative, who lost everything during the Genocide, managed to live their grievances behind and sought for the better future. Hope, reconciliation and second chance, if given a room, can change the world into a better place.
Agnes and Prudence, whom she knew as courageous parliamentary women, were turned into vitriolic pogroms. This experience endorses the neighboring of the evil to humanity, that can be unleashed by inequality, thirsty for power and social marginalization.
In 1997, she founded the Philanthropic Workshop at Rockefeller Foundation which enabled her to run The Next Generation program. In 2000, she started laying groundwork for new philanthropic model which led to the birth of Acumen Fund. It invests in entrepreneurs with vision and ability to solve local problems with market-driven ideas and approaches.
From 2001-2003, Acumen Fund’s beneficiaries were India, East Africa, and Pakistan. It made its first investment in Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamys’s Arvind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India. It also invested in Kashf, Pakistan, helping zealous entrepreneurs to contribute to social and technological development. Acumen Fund invested in A to Z bed nets in Tanzania where Malaria was as threatening as poverty. Manifestation of change was obvious from the anarchical villages of East Africa, through the deadly deserts of Pakistan, to the poorest villages of India. “The Blue Sweater” is an endorsement of Novogratz 30 years’ proficiency in business and philanthropic activities.
Being an autobiography makes the logic and the plot of the book inconsistent. She would include flashbacks and memories before ending one story, which is confusing. In chapter 10 and 11, the story about the initiation of Acumen Fund around 2000s is intruded by the story of genocide survivors’ emancipation and Duterimbere’s revival. The reader may hardly know when exactly either of the events happened.
People in the book are equated regardless their minor or major roles. They are encouraging and disappointing at the same time. Novogratz presents characters in a very optimistic way even when she talks about negative aspects.
Novogratz’s descriptive language of situations, feelings and appearances makes the book live, understandable and heartfelt. 0n Page 102-104, she describes Kamba (Kenyan race) women dancing during the night. The reader would easily picture the images of what’s written.
I felt involved when I was reading “The Blue Sweater”. She narrates stories about Rwanda in 1980s, things that I used to hear as history like Duterimbere, PROFEMME, Agnes Ntamabyariro Minister of Justice during the genocide-, initiation and struggles of Liberal Party (PL). She talks about places I know today such as Chez Lando Hotel and Cercle Sportif sports ground.
I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to understand how humanity and accountability can be boosted. A Rwandan youth who wants to get an image of Rwanda in late 80s. Someone who wants to know how one of the world’s best women emancipation started.