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Epiphanies: Jacqueline Novogratz

When Jacqueline Novogratz first traveled to Africa in 1986, she meant business -- the serious business of sharing her entrepreneurial know-how with the poor. Now, the founder of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm that works in developing countries, tells FP why she first went abroad and why it's time to end the culture of handouts.  

Chase Manhattan had offered me this opportunity, which I rather blithely, and with great hubris, turned down because I was going to Africa to change the world. A manager there said, "Africa? Seriously? This could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for you." What that did for me was give me a sense of the stakes. I couldn't imagine going back to him saying, "You were right and I failed."


My very first memory of Nairobi was the feel of the air. The jacaranda trees were in bloom. I remember walking through this park in this rain of pale purple flowers and thinking, "I'm going to really like it here."


When I founded the Acumen Fund I heard discouragement from everyone. I would go to the financial institutions, and the guys there would say, "It sounds fuzzy; it sounds messy." In the aid and foundation industries, people would say, "You're going to make money off the poor." The real lesson is that if a lot of people aren't telling you you're crazy, you're not on the right path.


I'd like Acumen to be remembered for helping people imagine a world beyond poverty. We need to move away from thinking, "Oh, those poor people, we have to help them get out of poverty," to thinking about, "Can you imagine the world if we could release the energy of all of us to contribute to making it better?"

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