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

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  • Posted October 13, 2009

    The human network

    The Blue sweater has a very clear message -- JN argues for a new strategy in combating global poverty. This new strategy is to invest in developing communities with a view to creating sustainable businesses that will benefit the whole community. And when that has taken off, the money can be reinvested in other businesses in similar circumstances.
    Is this simply capitalism expanding its reach to the developing world? No, that would be an incomplete picture of the book's thrust. It is a capitalist model with stringent "societal benefit" requirements. That means a quick return is not a requirement; rather, the social benefit is the primary fulfilment. If returns are to be made, their appreciation is based on it being a symptom of a sustainable business model.

    The book starts off with the genesis of the author's interest in dealing with poverty in a global scale. She meets a Rwandan child wearing a blue sweater she used to wear in her childhood. This experience becomes a clear proof of how connected all humans are. When she gave away her sweater, she touched the life of a child in Rwanda -- miles and years away from her. However, this moment came after many other steps which she very often analyzed and used to deduce what her next steps would be.
    JN (the author) started off with a job at Chase Manhattan. Her first job, straight out of college was an exhilarating experience. It was not, however, the writing off of bad debts that she enjoyed; rather, it seems the opportunity to travel was the source of this spark. However, it was during one of these trips that she saw the weaknesses in the systems that were: while the banks could lend to the rich who defaulted on loans, they could not be bothered to lend to the poor or the working class living right beside these rich customers. Her suggestions to widen the bank's lending policy were taken as a rookie mistake -- that started her off on a journey to bank for the world's unbanked population.
    It is clear whilst reading this book that JN's path was not cut out for her. She had to learn on her own most of the time -- knowing where she wanted to get in the short-to-medium term but not quite knowing the steps to get there. She finds herself in an unfamiliar environment in Nairobi, in Kigali and in Abidjan. But what was even more unsettling for her was the fact that she was not wanted by the people she had set out to help. The women saw her secondment to them as an imposition and presumption of their needs -- she quickly learns to listen. She uses this lesson in setting up a credit organization for women in Rwanda. The challenges she meets down the line are of a different kind but the Rwandan team's resolve to make the organization a reality takes the idea to fruition. The story of the blue bakery gives another lesson on listening. It adds on the element of cultural attunement. By the end of the story, it is clear that though JN asked the right questions, she did not listen to the Rwandans' as she should have -- in her own words -- with her heart and not just her head.
    JN's story is one of continual learning, re-evaluation and resets. Her graduate school experience is very much a continuation of this. The theme of power and love being necessary components for the kind of human action that could make global poverty history -- a compassionate sort of capitalism -- is developed through her personal narrative. She notes, for instance, that her business school colleagues were not as co

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2009

    A book about changing the world

    If you want to know how truly difficult it is to change the world, and understand what it actually takes to make your dent in the universe, this is the book for you. It's not only the incredible story of Jacqueline's life, it will change the way you look at philanthropy forever.

    If you want a sneak peek at what's inside, I did a video review of the book at www(dot)readitfor(dot)me. Then immediately come back here and buy the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Engaging and Inspiring

    I am familiar with Jacqueline's work with Acumen Fund, and enjoyed the opportunity reading this book gave me to learn more about how she got to where she is today. I was inspired by her story and the stories of all the women she has met along the way. It gave me hope that, even in these strange times, there is a way for all of us to be relevant and to find a path that fits us.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The power of one woman to change the world will keep you up late reading!

    If you've ever doubted that one person could change the world, then you haven't met Jacqueline Novogratz.

    Her impassioned memoir recounts her life's journey from wide-eyed naïf to wise activist working to better the lives of the world's poorest people through the dignity of investment-- instead of aid-as-we-know-it.

    From her early failures trying to help in Africa, to her mentor at Stanford, to creating the Rockefeller Foundation's Philanthropy Workshop, to her eventual triumph in founding the Acumen Fund, Novogratz shares her vivid stories of the African women who change her forever as she tries to learn how to best guide them to help themselves. Along the way, she recounts the sights, sounds, and smells of some of the world's most beautiful yet haunting places in a prose that crackles.

    You can't help but be moved both by her journey and the remarkable people she meets along the way. I had hoped to go to bed hours ago but couldn't put The Blue Sweater down. If you're looking for a great story, inspiration, humor and wisdom, buy this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 3, 2009

    What Color is Your Blue Sweater

    Jacqueline Novogratz tells a compelling story of her travels, travails and tragedies after leaving a promising career at Chase Manhattan Bank to tackle chronic poverty in Africa. Starting with her first trip to Kenya and continuing through the creation of Acumen Fund and its funding of talented entrepreneurs in India, Pakistan and Africa, she meets many fascinating people that shape her growth and development and she openly shares these encounters, good and bad, with the reader. It's a truly inspiring book that I highly recommend.

    On a more prosaic level, The Blue Sweater offers valuable guidance for students embarking on a career and experienced workers pondering a move the philanthropic sector. Her own journey provides a lesson on how to take control of your career path and move forward without compromising one's beliefs or principles. Her philanthropic work also coincides with the growth of an alternative approach to fighting poverty, as exemplified by nonprofit groups such as the Robin Hood Foundation and Acumen Fund. A person entering the nonprofit world today will better understand how traditional philanthropy has been challenged after a careful reading of The Blue Sweater. Even potential entrepreneurs will learn much about how their colleagues succeed from Ms. Novogratz' book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2010

    Expected less than I thought

    "The Blue Sweater" has been very difficult for me to review Jacqueline Novogratz' excellent book. All of the times that I have sat down to read about it, I feel that I wasn't able to open my imagination and explore her journeys throughout the book. I have gone back through chapters a second time, although I still find it hard to organize my thoughts well enough to convey how greatly I appreciate this work. But it has moved me to think and feel deeply; to ponder over what is essential to live and live joyfully despite economic upheavals, cultural diversity, and resource scarcity; and to consider in what ways I might myself care for my fellow brothers and sisters, love them, and learn from them. I would usually not ask for such thing but I would have appreciated if this book if had photos of the amazing people from the Middle East, Africa, and India who shares the Authors stories with us. I had wished for this book to be the type I couldn't put down because the next paragraph would be a whole new exciting adventure, the kind of book you'd like to read over again. Everyone has different opinions but "The Blue Sweater" took me in at no interest. Her writing was poor throughout the book. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't seem to be create ideas or be thrilled with what I was reading. I will say that there were a few times though that I felt inspired. If you have read this or you're able to feel the emotion in this story you will realize that the world is bigger than you ever imagined. I did like that at each new chapter there was a quote from a famous human-being. If you are interested in books that take a while to settle into but have truth to the world and the surroundings around us I recommend you to read this. If you're more like me, and you're not able think and experience in your own interest through this book, I highly recommend you to NOT read this.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    Inspiring story that will open your eyes

    This is a story about a woman's incredible journey through making something of herself in the trying situations she faces while trying to eradicate poverty and hunger in Africa. It begins with Jacqueline Novogratz meeting a child in Rwanda wearing a sweter she owned as a child and had given to a charity. This made her realize that one simple thing she had done affected a child thousands of miles away. Thus Jacqueline saw her calling in Africa to help eliminate poverty (mostly with women). She gave up a very prestigious financial job in New York to pursue her dream of her dream in Africa. Jacqueline was not readily accepted by the African women representing the various regions. This is due to the fact that the women feel she could not possibly understand how to deal the impoverished situations in Africa becaus she is just a white women from America and not as knowledgable as they are. This is very inspiring because she continued to work thrugh the difficulties she faced with the womens inability to accept her position by doing what she could to do her job without complaint. At one point some of the women poisoned her food and she became severly sick and after recovering returned home. At this point in the story Jacqueline reevaluates what she is doing and whether she should continue in Africa. Even in her moment of doubt Jacqueline is still very strong because she knows on her heary that her true place lies in Africa helping women to move out of their impoverished situations. The Blue Sweater makes you want to be as persisting and optimistic as Jacqueline is because she is a very admirable role model. She is very gifted in the male dominated field in which she works in America. She really sets an example for women everywhere in that she is an extremely relateable character and any other women could be like her. This story shows Jacquelines struggle to change the world in her own way. She continues to persevere with her great financial knowledge taking long hours to complete tasks that mean nothing to the women with which she works. I really liked this book because it showed me that if you keep pursuing your dreams even if you are continually put down you can make a difference no matter how small. She changed the world by herself; an example to others so that they might be able to succeed in their ambitions as well. In this book her walk through life exemplifies the culture in Africa and their feelings. It is literarily very interesting because she poses an insider view on Africa. The imagery and descriptions of life in Africa are really well done in this book. The African women in the book are portrayed as so regal, independent and incredibly powerful in presence and action. It gives the reader an enlightened view of African people that for myself made me want to travel there to learn more about the people and culture. The human portrayal in this book is very real to the reader shown in both the African people as well as Jacqueline and her colleagues. I would definitely recomend this book to everyone beacuse it is well written and is a fresh new idea that would probably be enjoyed by very many. The book is very inspiring and gives hope to anyone that ever doubted they could make a difference in this world. I liked this book very much and would like to read more from Jacqueline Novogratz.

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