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Jacqueline Novogratz        

Founder & CEO of Acumen Fund

Jacqueline’s work began in 1986 when she quit her job on Wall Street to co-found Rwanda’s first microfinance institution, Duterimbere. The experience inspired her to write the bestseller, "The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor, and create Acumen". Indeed, when she founded Acumen in 2001, few had heard of the words impact investing. Nineteen years later, under Jacqueline’s leadership, Acumen has invested $128 million to build more than 128 social enterprises across Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the United States. These companies have leveraged an additional $611 million and brought basic services like affordable education, health care, clean water, energy and sanitation to more than 260 million people. In 2015, Fast Company named Acumen one of the world’s Top 10 Most Innovative Not-for-Profits.

Prior to Acumen, Jacqueline founded and directed The Philanthropy Workshop and The Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation. Jacqueline serves on boards of the Aspen Institute and 60 Decibels and sits on the Advisory Councils of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, the Oxford Said Global Leadership Council, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and UNICEF.

She is a frequent speaker at forums including TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Her best-selling memoir The Blue Sweater chronicles her quest to understand poverty and challenges readers to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink their engagement with the world. In 2017, Forbes listed Jacqueline as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds.

Speech Topics


Remarks by Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline's memoir, The Blue Sweater tells the inspiring story of a woman who left a career in international banking to spend her life on a quest to understand global poverty and to find powerful new ways of tackling it. She shares with audiences her experience in Africa and elsewhere that proved to be the starting point for a career focused on radically changing the way problems of the developing world are approached. Jacqueline shows how traditional charity often fails, but how a new form of philanthropic investing called "patient capital" can help make people self-sufficient and change millions of lives. She challenges audiences to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink their engagement with the world. Rather than seeing the world divided between different civilizations or classes, she puts forth that our collective future rests on embracing a new vision of a single world in which all are connected.

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

Jacqueline Novogratz's memoir, The Blue Sweater, tells the inspiring story of a woman who left a career in international banking to tackle global poverty. By sharing her experiences in Africa and around the world, she teaches audiences how traditional charity often fails and how a new form of philanthropic investing called "patient capital" can help make people self-sufficient. Novogratz challenges audiences to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink their engagement with the world.

Patient Capital for an Impatient World

Jacqueline Novogratz started her career in international banking and has since worked across Asia and Africa finding new ways to use business as a tool to create a world beyond poverty. In 2001 she founded the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture capital fund that invests patient capital—loans or equity instead of grants—in social enterprises that provide critical goods and services to low-income people. Rather than treat the poor as passive recipients of charity, Novogratz sees them as active participants with the dignity to make choices for themselves. Acumen has since grown to invest $73 million in 65 enterprises that have delivered affordable healthcare, safe housing, clean water, sustainable energy, and agricultural inputs to more than 86 million low-income individuals. Novogratz shares with audiences several examples from Acumen Fund's portfolio of investments and the lessons they have learned about how markets can act as a listening device for the needs of the poor.

Entrepreneurial Approaches to the Challenges of Poverty

What does it mean to be a "patient capitalist"? For Jacqueline Novogratz, it means using an entrepreneurial approach in the fight against global poverty. While traditional development aid can meet immediate needs, Novogratz believes that long-term change requires empowering local communities to solve their own problems. Charitable dollars eventually run out, but market-based approaches can continue to create jobs and economic growth over the long term. As founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, Novogratz has invested over $62 million in 60 companies that have provided 45 million low-income individuals with critical goods and services in the developing world. Acumen Fund's portfolio companies include everything from an operator of low-cost maternity hospitals to a manufacturer of anti-malarial bed nets.

Acumen bills itself as a nonprofit global venture fund—but one that seeks to provide the poor with access to the critical goods and services they need so that they can make decisions and choices for themselves and unleash their full human potential. The fund starts with donations from philanthropists. But instead of making charitable grants, it uses that capital to make disciplined, patient investments in companies that offer vital services at affordable prices to low-income customers. It also applies rigorous benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of its investments. It's an idea that has turned heads and sparked new debate in traditional development agencies. Acumen's success lies not only in funding life-changing services (such as clean drinking water systems in rural India) but in changing how the world addresses poverty. Jacqueline Novogratz shares with audiences how her own personal experiences inspired her to develop Acumen's innovative business model. She also shares several examples from Acumen Fund's portfolio of investments and the lessons they have learned about how markets can act as a listening device for the needs of the poor.

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Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, a nonprofit global venture capital fund. Anna Williams. You will be shocked by some of Novogratz's stories:  ...

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