Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Connection Is Everything

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

How many of us have dropped old clothes off at a local charity, or dumped them in one of those ubiquitous bins, and never given a thought to what happens to them after that? I remember I left a pair of old shoes in the band room when I was in high school. I had outgrown them and they pinched my feet. Somehow they ended up in a jumble of "lost and found" in the band room, and I never bothered to pick them up as they no longer fit, and were (in my opinion) too worn out and shabby looking anyway. It was a real wake up call several days later when I saw a girl (a fellow band member) who was probably two or three years younger than I was wearing my discarded shoes. I didn't mind, and I never said anything to her about it (I never knew if she knew whose they were anyway), but I felt a twinge of shame that something I had jettisoned in such a cavalier manner was obviously usable and needed by someone else. I think ever since then I have tried to be more intentional about what I do with clothes that do not fit anymore, but I cannot say that I have ever put a face to one of my old items - except for those shoes.

Jacqueline Novogratz had the experience of seeing someone (a little boy) wearing her blue sweater in Rwanda, ten years after she had dropped it off at a Goodwill Store in Virginia. She was there working in the area of micro finance, helping women start small businesses to life themselves out of poverty. Some might think seeing that child on the streets of Kigali, wearing their cast off sweater, was just a bizarre coincidence. For, Novogratz, it was a moment that changed her life. She realized how connected we all are, and how our seemingly inconsequential actions do have consequences, often on the other side of the world. She was already engaged in the fight against poverty, but the blue sweater confirmed her sense that we are all part of one another, and the suffering of one affects the whole.

The rest of The Blue Sweater is the story of Novogratz's merging of her concern for neighbor with her pragmatic business sense. The reader learns a lot from her conviction that education and economic opportunity for poor people make much more sense in the long run than traditional charitable aid. She also has started a fund (called Acumen Fund) that invests in entrepreneurial efforts that bring much needed goods and services to people in the developing world at affordable prices. Examples of the projects Acumen fund has invested in include insecticide treated nets to prevent malaria and systems for purifying water. She coins the phrase "patient capitalism," meaning that Acumen's investments may not pay large dividends as quickly, but they are an investment in the human family and its future. Who can put a price on that?

The Blue Sweater is definitely worth reading - it is inspiring to read about projects that make a long term difference in people's lives. For a shot in the arm of hope, pick this up.

Reverent Reader


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