How this CEO invests in the dignity of others

From a young age, Jacqueline Novogratz wanted to be a force for good in the world. Now she is combatting poverty by bringing business to communities that haven’t had access to banking. Instead of just giving away money or resources, Novogratz’s nonprofit invests in entrepreneurs with the goal of bettering people’s lives. This is Novogratz’s Brief But Spectacular take on the moral imagination.

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    Now to another in our "Brief but Spectacular" series, where we hear from interesting people about their passions. Tonight, entrepreneur Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, a non-profit venture capital fund, talks about using the tools of business to address global poverty.

    JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ, Founder and CEO, Acumen: When I was six years old, my first grade nun, Sister Mary Theophane, beat it into my head to whom much is given much is expected. And so, I always wanted to change the world.

    I moved to Rwanda to help start the first micro finance bank and soon thereafter realized that most people don't want saving. Most people want choice and opportunity, which is another way of saying dignity.

    In a funny way, I became an accidental banker and ended up in Latin America during the financial debt crisis of the early 1980s. And there I saw that I love the tools of business. The problem was that low-income people who were so industrious had no access to the banks and that's why I went into international development and saw that on the other side, there was a great humanitarian ethos, but it lacked the efficiency, the effectiveness of the markets.

    We often say the market is the best listening device that we have. So, if I give you a gift, you're unlikely to tell me what you don't like about it. But if I try to tell you a solar light, you're going to tell me exactly what you think.

    We created an organization with this idea that you could change the way the world tackles poverty by using something we call "patient capital." We took philanthropy and rather than give it away, we would invest it in intrepid entrepreneurs that were going where both markets and government aid had failed the poor, basic services like health care, education, agriculture, energy, workforce development.

    What entrepreneurs and others we've invested in have in common is what we call moral imagination. Moral imagination starts with putting yourself in another person's shoes and seeing the world through their perspective. But it's more than empathy. It's the ability to envision a world and build institutions in which all people matter.

    So, often, we look at poverty in terms of how much a person makes, rather than understand their contribution as a human being.

    When we see companies enable people to have access to clean drinking water or agricultural inputs that enable them to make a little more income, one of the first things they do is turn around and help somebody else. It's seeing that there is no one above you or below you. And really that's the world that we need on see right now when we are so divided, and yet have so much opportunity to become united.

    My name is Jacqueline Novogratz. And this is my "Brief But Spectacular" take on dignity and the moral imagination.

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