“We’re taught that there are bad people and good people, monsters and angels. And yet the truth of the matter is that monsters and angels live in every single one of us. Monsters are our broken parts. They are our petty fears, our insecurities, the grievances that grow.”
— Jacqueline Novogratz
Jacqueline Novogratz (@jnovogratz) is the founder and CEO of Acumen. In 2001, Jacqueline started Acumen with the idea of investing philanthropic patient capital in entrepreneurs seeking to solve the toughest issues of poverty. As a pioneer of impact investing, Acumen and its investments have brought critical services like healthcare, education, and clean energy to hundreds of millions of low-income people.
After supporting hundreds of entrepreneurs, Jacqueline and her team recognized character as the crucial ingredient for success. In 2020, they launched Acumen Academy to instruct others in global social change. Under Jacqueline’s leadership, Acumen has also launched several for-profit impact funds designed to invest at the intersection of poverty and climate change and has spun off 60 Decibels, founded on the principle that serving all stakeholders is as important as enriching shareholders.
Jacqueline is the New York Times best-selling author of The Blue Sweater and Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World, which is now available in paperback. She has been named one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy, one of the 25 Smartest People of the Decade by The Daily Beast, and one of the world’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes, which also honored her with the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
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Want to hear an episode with one of Jacqueline’s multitudinous siblings? Listen to my conversation with Mike Novogratz in which we discussed discerning intuition and pattern recognition from irrational confidence, cryptocurrency speculation, the pressure of having so many high-achieving people in his family, criminal justice reform, and much more.
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Jacqueline Novogratz:
- Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz
- The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz
- Changing the Way the World Tackles Poverty | Acumen
- The World’s School for Social Change | Acumen Academy
- The Path of Moral Leadership | Acumen Academy
- 60 Decibels
- The University of Virginia
- Chase Online
- How Swiss Bank Accounts Work | The Balance
- The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley
- Amplifying the Power of the Poor | Grameen Foundation
- World Still Learning from Ethiopia Famine | BBC News
- Women’s Financial Inclusion | Women’s World Banking
- Blue by Joni Mitchell | Amazon Music
- Abidjan City: The Most Developed City in West Africa | Safari Talk TV
- Giri Giri: A Magical Talisman Protecting Against Guns, Knives, Vampires, etc. | The Blog of Dimi
- Rwanda Chronology | Frontline
- Rwanda’s History Stained by Massive Human Rights Violations, but Rule of Law System Painstakingly Constructed to Tackle Forces Seeking to Sow Division, Committee Told | United Nations
- A History of the Napoleonic Code (Code Napoléon) | ThoughtCo.
- It Takes a Village to Determine the Origins of an African Proverb | Goats and Soda
- Stanford Graduate School of Business
- Gordon Gekko: “Greed Is Good” | Wall Street
- The Rockefeller Foundation
- Rwanda Genocide: 100 Days of Slaughter | BBC News
- Hutu Power | Wikipedia
- Women Leaders in the Rwandan Genocide: When Women Choose To Kill | UNIversitas
- Derren Brown: The Push | Netflix
- Kristallnacht: Why So Many Stood by While Jews Were Killed | Time
- Impact Investing | Investopedia
- Acumen Launches 60 Decibels to Make Lean Data an Impact Measurement Standard for Impact Investing | Acumen
- Financial Planning & Investment Management | BlackRock
- Solar Home Systems Outdoor & Solar Lanterns | d.light
- Stories that Matter: d.light’s Path to Illuminating 100 Million Lives | Acumen
- White Nationalists Use Tiki Torches to Light Up Charlottesville March | CNN
- Initiatives to Counter Malaria | Sumitomo Chemical
- Vice President of Tanzania Dedicates Olyset Net Factory in Arusha | Sumitomo Chemical
- Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria | The Global Fund
- Cal Newport: “Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice | 99U
- Building Girls of Courage, Confidence, and Character | Girl Scouts
- The World’s Largest Psychedelic Research Center | The Tim Ferriss Show #385
- Mike Novogratz on Investing, Bitcoin, Ayahuasca, and Running Through The Sahara Desert | The Tim Ferriss Show #451
- “The Mass of Men Lead Lives of Quiet Desperation.” -Henry David Thoreau | Goodreads
- Puqun Li: Zen Kōans: Unsolvable Enigmas Designed to Break Your Brain | TED-Ed
- Power: For the People | Common Cause
- Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World by Tim Ferriss
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Killings by Police Declined After Black Lives Matter Protests | Scientific American
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- The Intrapreneur | Investopedia
- #1 Meal Subscription in L.A. | Everytable
- Everytable Opens Compton Store | Acumen
- Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE)
- Galaxy Digital
- My Healing Journey After Childhood Abuse (Includes Extensive Resource List) | The Tim Ferriss Show
- Jacqueline shares a bit about the background that shaped her, and speculates about the conditions that influenced a number of her six siblings to do great things. [06:56]
- Jacqueline is now known for social impact investing. But what were the first professional decisions that led her in that direction? [09:26]
- What banking job allowed Jacqueline the freedom to travel the world in the early ’80s, and how did she acquire a reputation for unwittingly getting people fired by asking “the really dumb questions?” (Her words, not mine!) [12:36]
- How was it clear to anyone paying attention at this time that Jacqueline was a voice of truth championing the underdog? How did this aspect of character get her thrown out of trigonometry class at school? Does Jacqueline feel this tendency was instrumental in directing the moral compass she follows today? [15:57]
- What turned the page on Jacqueline’s story from well-intentioned professional banker to her next chapter as a disruptor operating from the outside? What was the resulting conversation with her worried parents like? [20:37]
- How did Jacqueline find her first opportunity on this new path? Was this a smooth transition or more or less the debacle her concerned parents warned her about? Hint: Voodoo may have been involved. [27:21]
- Trying to make sense of the mystical, magical, and mythical through 30 years of hindsight, a second big failure, and when the small wins finally started to accumulate. [34:10]
- Jacqueline’s first real win, what had changed in the seven months since arriving to the tear-soaked din of a Joni Mitchell soundtrack, and what kept her going through the toughest times. [38:03]
- What did the path between this first real win in Rwanda and Acumen look like? [42:21]
- Why did Jacqueline apply to Stanford Business School while building companies in East Africa? (For that matter, why was it the only business school to which she applied?) [44:21]
- How the genocide in Rwanda redefined the meaning of poverty for Jacqueline. [47:25]
- What the genocide taught Jacqueline about the human tendency to separate the world into monsters and angels — and how unhelpful this ultimately is. [49:24]
- What are the three things Acumen does, and how was the name decided upon? [55:06]
- How does Acumen quantify impact investment with Lean Data through spinoff company 60 Decibels? [57:20]
- Do for-profit companies ever try to take exclusive control of this Lean Data for their own competitive edge over the philanthropic spirit of helping people in need? [1:03:06]
- When deciding upon a name for what would become Acumen, what suggestions got left behind? How was Acumen tested to become the winning finalist, and was it really Jacqueline’s favorite choice? [1:06:13]
- What is moral imagination, and why is it important to look beyond empathy when trying to help people solve problems we ourselves may have never faced? How does empathy run the risk of reinforcing the status quo? [1:09:19]
- A big, early win at Acumen that showed it could contribute to making a real difference in the world, and the thought process behind devoting resources to helping entrepreneurs solve this and other problems on a region-by-region basis. [1:13:40]
- As someone who’s taken a boots-on-the-ground approach to making the world a better place, what advice would Jacqueline have for young people who aspire to create positive change? [1:18:10]
- Why committing to something larger than yourself can be so liberating (even if it’s not necessarily altruistic). [1:22:05]
- What makes a good mentor? Jacqueline was lucky to have one like no other: John Gardner. [1:24:55]
- Favorite, most gifted, and most influential books, and the one Jacqueline and I agree should be required reading for everybody — which demonstrates moral imagination, embracing something larger than the self, and having the audacity to imagine the possible. [1:28:21]
- Jacqueline’s advice to investors at various levels — individual, institutional, and people with more time than money — who want to get involved in impact investing to change the world. [1:31:33]
- Simple next steps for these investors to start making a difference tomorrow instead of just pushing their good intentions into the “someday” category. [1:38:05]
- To echo the words of a famous actor, I concur that Jacqueline does real so well. Was this consciously cultivated, or just a natural extension of her real self? [1:44:19]
- We didn’t cover everything we meant to discuss in this round one, but here’s a taste of what we might look forward to for round two. [1:45:49]
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