S2 E6. Woman and Change: Business Leaders with Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder and CEO of Acumen

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello and welcome to season two of The Story of Woman. In today’s world, it can feel like change is happening, but only in the wrong direction. While we agree there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re reframing that story.

[00:00:17] Overdub: I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode of this season I’ll be exploring how women make change happen from those at the top helping to drive it. We’ll look at where we are on this long march to equality, what lies ahead, and how important you are in the fight.

[00:00:38] Overdub: This isn’t a story of a world that’s doomed to oppress women forever. This is a story of an opportunity to grow stronger than ever before. Exactly as womankind has always done.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:52] Anna Stoecklein: Hello and welcome. Thanks for joining me for episode six of this series that is all about [00:01:00] change. And change is something we really get into today because in a lot of the episodes for this series, we talk about change, but really looking at the different things that these women are trying to change within their industries and countries and the world. And while we talk about that some today, we also just really dig into change itself, how it happens, what gets in the way, and where to get started if you're feeling there's something in your life or the world around you that you'd like to change. And I'm gonna go ahead and guess if you're listening to this podcast, there definitely is something.

[00:01:38] Anna Stoecklein: So get excited because today I am speaking with Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen, a global organization that's changing the way the world tackles poverty using something they pioneered called patient capital, which bridges the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches and the social impact [00:02:00] of pure philanthropy.

[00:02:01] Anna Stoecklein: So basically they invest in companies that are trying to better the world in some way. These are social impact companies around the world. And because that type of work usually takes a little bit longer to see the, the fruits of the labor, and there's a different metric of success, you know, it's not about fast profits over everything. It's about being patient and putting people on the planet as a main metric of success, which is very different than traditional venture capital. And even though money and profit aren't the center metric of their success, they've created this new model where, you know, they obviously, they still make plenty of money and have profits because they've continued building the company and expanding their impact, which has now reached hundreds of millions of people around the world. So something's working, and it's a really revolutionary way of doing business. And [00:03:00] one that I wish every company in the world would take note of. And that's not even hyperbole. Jacqueline will explain patient capital and what Acumen does even better at the start of our conversation.

[00:03:14] Anna Stoecklein: So this is a business leader episode because Jacqueline's the CEO and founder, running a very successful multimillion dollar business and her company invests in business leaders around the world. but I would say this isn't your standard business leader podcast interview.

[00:03:30] Anna Stoecklein: You know, we don't talk about the practical tactics for building a business or even what it's like to be a female leader in the finance and venture capital space, but what we do talk about are the principles for building a better world because jacqueline's work is so rooted in people and transforming the world. She has such incredible insight and wisdom into how to be a leader that doesn't center their success around money, power, and fame, and [00:04:00] instead centers it around making a meaningful impact for people and for the planet.

[00:04:05] Anna Stoecklein: Jacqueline's been in this work since the mideighties and has done it all over the world, so she really has so much to teach us and I could have talked to her for hours because she carries herself with, at the risk of sounding totally cringe. Just such a beautiful and open and warm energy, and it's just so clear how much she cares about people and the planet, and I know that you'll know what I mean as soon as you hear her talk. It's really, really incredible the way that she carries herself and the way that she cares about people and the planet, and all of the wisdom that she has.

[00:04:45] Anna Stoecklein: She's also put all of these learnings into a book that I highly recommend called Manifesto for a Moral Revolution. In it, she lists out 13 practices for building a better world, and it's filled with stories of the social [00:05:00] entrepreneurs Acumen supports, as well as the hundreds of millions of people those companies reach all over the world.

[00:05:06] Anna Stoecklein: I'm gonna read Jacqueline's very impressive bio real quick and then onto our conversation. So, Jacqueline founded Acumen in 2001, and under her leadership Acumen has invested $135 million to build 136 social enterprises across Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and the United States. And they have reached more than 323 million people.

[00:05:33] Anna Stoecklein: Acumen has been named one of the World's Top 10 Most Innovative Not-for-profits by Fast Company, and Jacqueline 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 Minds by Forbes, which also named her to the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Awards for Social Entrepreneurship.

[00:05:59] Anna Stoecklein: [00:06:00] She's a New York Times bestselling author of the book's Blue Sweater and Manifesto For a Moral Revolution, and beyond all of this, she sits on a number of philanthropic boards and advisory councils.

[00:06:11] Anna Stoecklein: So yes, she's incredibly impressive indeed. Yet again, as you'll hear, just unbelievably humble and down to earth. It's just such a beautiful combination that you don't often see in people, let alone business leaders who run venture capital funds. It's beyond refreshing to see

[00:06:34] Anna Stoecklein: There is bonus content from this conversation available on Patreon, including Jacqueline's answer to the question longtime listeners of this podcast might remember, I used to always ask the question, what does the story of woman mean to you? And I was gonna ask it in this series, but, uh, , to be honest, the people that I'm speaking with, they're busy people and time is just not something they have. So for the sake of it, uh, I didn't get around to it with everyone, [00:07:00] but I did end up asking Jacqueline that question, and I'm glad I did because it was a good one and not one that I had heard so far. But you can hear it and a whole lot more bonus content from all the other interviews by becoming a patron of the podcast on Patreon, I'll be forever grateful.

[00:07:20] Anna Stoecklein: But for now, please enjoy my conversation with Jacqueline Novogratz.

[00:07:26] Section: Episode

[00:07:26] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, Jacqueline, welcome. Thank you so much for being here today.

[00:07:31] Jacqueline Novogratz: Thanks, Anna. I'm so happy to be here.

[00:07:33] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, we have lots of wonderful, wonderful things to talk about today, and I feel like you are uniquely positioned to talk about the topic that this series is covering, which is all about change and change makers, looking at what it takes to change the world as a society and as individuals.

[00:07:54] Anna Stoecklein: Acumen, the company that you started 22 years ago is [00:08:00] an incredibly important change making organization because it enables people to become change makers themselves. That's not a philanthropy, it's not a charity, but rather you use the power of entrepreneurship and markets to invest in companies and people that are making the world a better place, and you really pioneered that approach. So I'd love to just start by having you tell us a bit more about Acumen, about what it is and what makes it different from your traditional VC or investment company.

[00:08:32] Jacqueline Novogratz: Thanks. Sure. So Acumen is at the top, a nonprofit global organization that really is focused on using the tools of business and leadership to solve big problems of poverty and build a world of dignity. We essentially do three things. We invest in ventures in two ways, with philanthropic backed, what we call pioneering capital in for-profit companies that are at the start of trying to [00:09:00] create real shifts- bring energy, healthcare, agriculture, education to the poor. And then we have another four funds, which is about 250 million, in for-profit impact funds to help take these companies to the next level and other companies.

[00:09:18] Jacqueline Novogratz: The second thing we do is around supporting entrepreneurial leaders, with, again, the tools of business and also a grounding in what we call the moral imagination. And then the third is what we call alliances. As we've been working in a particular industry like energy, you get to a point where if you're actually going to solve the problem, you can't solve it by yourself. And that's where we will then build on our work and find other partner. to tackle the problem wholesale.

[00:09:48] Anna Stoecklein: Lovely. And we'll talk about some of the problems that you're tackling and the moral imagination, but I like this line that I read about what Acumen does, "It uses the power of [00:10:00] entrepreneurship to build a world where everyone has the opportunity to live with dignity." So I'm curious what dignity means to you, and why is that your focus?

[00:10:11] Jacqueline Novogratz: We're all born as human beings with inherent dignity, you see it in the eyes of every human being. But the world strips us so often from that dignity, sometimes a moment after we're born based on where, who, what.

[00:10:28] Jacqueline Novogratz: And so for me, dignity is the opposite of poverty in that it's about freedom. It's about choice and opportunity. It's knowing that there's no one above nor below you, and that ultimately that you're needed and that you can contribute to this great human endeavor. Dignity.

[00:10:46] Anna Stoecklein: I love that. And it really comes through reading the stories about the lives that you're touching and changing. We'll get into examples next, but you can really see the power of dignity, and I just feel like that's not something [00:11:00] that's really talked about and certainly not in business terms. It's not a measurable outcome. Some might argue, but maybe you feel differently about that?

[00:11:09] Jacqueline Novogratz: I do feel differently about it. Some of the most important things, of course, are the most difficult to measure. If you want to help women, which is what so many organizations have wanted to do for many, many years with the best of intentions, we often would give women cooked stoves, little kerosene or firewood based stoves. I saw this in the early eighties and when I was working in Rwanda, the well-intended nonprofit would just distribute a ton, thousands of cooked stoves so that women could now cook inside the house and have an easier way to make their food.

[00:11:47] Jacqueline Novogratz: But no one ever asked the women how they cooked, when they cooked, what it took for them to cook. We didn't really recognise the incredible smoke that was coming out of those stoves, [00:12:00] and often the stoves were poorly designed in terms of what the women actually needed, and they would just be thrown out or used for other purposes.

[00:12:10] Jacqueline Novogratz: That's not dignity. That's charity in a way that sees low income people as passive recipients waiting for a handout. Dignity is designing a stove that reduces the smoke that is beautiful and a woman can be proud of. That is affordable so that ultimately she's spending less time, either collecting firewood or less money buying charcoal.

[00:12:35] Jacqueline Novogratz: She's saving money. She and her children are healthier. They're going to school, and she therefore has more agency, more ability to participate. You can measure a lot of that.

[00:12:45] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. And you do you have technology now, right? Where you're getting all this qualitative data from people that are benefiting from the companies, yeah?

[00:12:53] Jacqueline Novogratz: We do. If we've helped build a company, we have the ability now to [00:13:00] text five, 10,000 customers at a time. Say they were buying a stove, and ask them a series of questions from which we can then deduce. How are their life changing or not? And also what do they like and not like about whatever product is being sold to them.

[00:13:18] Jacqueline Novogratz: And so it also creates a two-way street, but also reinforces one of our core values, which is listen to voices unheard. That if we are serious, about solving problems of poverty, then the poor themselves need a voice in both designing and also telling us if we're on course or not.

[00:13:39] Anna Stoecklein: Absolutely. I think that is, I mean, it seems like kind of obvious core value to have, but it's really not. You're pioneering that approach as well of listening to the communities that you're serving and asking what they need instead of coming in and assuming you know best.

[00:13:57] Jacqueline Novogratz: We're so often taught, in all of the elite [00:14:00] schools, that we are there to solve problems and we want to solve problems as human beings. It's so driven by goodness. And yet there's a lot of "I" too often in the solving of those problems. And so we go into a community where we think people don't have education and may not know what's best for them. And there's some truth in terms of traditional education and not knowing what opportunities are out there.

[00:14:31] Jacqueline Novogratz: But imposing top-down solutions, neither has ever, nor does it invite people into changing their own lives, and we all lose as a result of that. And that's the real shift that has to be made. But it means that we have to continue to be audacious in big goals that we have, but to hold that audacity with a sense of humility that the problems haven't been solved for a reason, and that we [00:15:00] probably aren't individually going to be the ones to solve them. We need other people.

[00:15:05] Anna Stoecklein: Love that. Love that. So I'd love to hear about the people who are solving the problems. Can you tell us about the types of companies or anything you wanna say broadly about what you look for? And then I would love to hear an example or two.

[00:15:18] Jacqueline Novogratz: Absolutely. So the way Acumen works is we'll meet an entrepreneur with a big idea and a company that she's starting to build, and we will invest this patient capital. Take philanthropy and invest with the expectation that we're in for 10 to 15 years. So, patient. That allows them to try, fail, try again.

[00:15:39] Jacqueline Novogratz: We also support fellows who are on their journey as well. One of those fellows is a woman named Sara Saeed Khurram in Pakistan. She is a woman doctor, and after her first child had postpartum depression because like so many of her fellow women doctors, [00:16:00] the expectation in her family was that she would stop working. 30% of all Pakistani women doctors don't work after marriage. Really to save herself, to save her life, she had the nurse at the clinic that she worked at, just set up a little camera on her computer. And thought, well, maybe I can at least contribute something if I could be in the office while I'm at home with my child. And that was the beginning of a company called Sehat Kahani.

[00:16:32] Jacqueline Novogratz: By taking that step, she had the insight that not only was Pakistan missing, the huge opportunity of 30% of its most highly trained people in the medical profession, but that rural women across the country had so little access to healthcare and rural women want to see a woman doctor. And so Sehat Kahani connects women doctors using telemedicine to rural [00:17:00] clinics where a local practitioner is there with the patients, but then they will beam in doctors now all over the world. Because during the pandemic we had a very quick period where Acumen made emergency grants for either just real human misery or real innovation.

[00:17:21] Jacqueline Novogratz: And Sara saw an opportunity to take an app, make it free, get it out to everyone because people couldn't go to clinics. The government had shut the private clinics down. And to date, they have served more than a million women. The government has given her not only permission to put women from other countries on the platform, women doctors, but she now partners with government to bring telemedicine into the overall healthcare system of Pakistan. That's just one of the 1300 fellows that are a part of Acumen Academy.

[00:17:56] Anna Stoecklein: That is phenomenal. And you can start to see real quick [00:18:00] how the number of people that you have impacted is in the hundreds of millions, because this is one of many.

[00:18:08] Jacqueline Novogratz: It's one of, well, 1300 fellows and then 150 companies, an ambulance company that has brought 50 million people to hospital in India. An off-grid solar electricity company has brought a hundred million people off-grid solar. And so what I've learned in 22 years running Acumen is that change is possible. It's not easy, but you can move the needle on big issues if you have the courage to start often very small and hold on to very big dreams.

[00:18:40] Anna Stoecklein: Amazing. And that is exactly what I would like to get into is how you see change happening, cuz you've had this amazing perspective of so much change around the world and all these different industries. But first I just wanna mention one more company that I read about in your book, Manifesto for [00:19:00] Moral Revolution, which is a phenomenal book about practices to build a better world. And mine's Jacqueline for all the lessons that she's learned creating and running Acumen, and even all her work in the midbefore that. It's really phenomenal.

[00:19:13] Anna Stoecklein: But I loved reading about Phool, is that how you pronounce it?

[00:19:17] Jacqueline Novogratz: Yes.

[00:19:17] Anna Stoecklein: With a "ph", which I believe means flower in Hindi. So we're not talking about fools, but Phool collects flowers from Hindu temples in India that are brought there by millions of people every day. And before that, the flowers were being dumped in the Ganges causing all kinds of harm, both to the river and to the people that would wade in this sacred river.

[00:19:39] Anna Stoecklein: And Phool found a way to turn these flowers into incense, which is used daily for cultural and religious practices. And what I really love about this story is it really exemplifies, what I noticed, is that the companies that you work with and these amazing change makers, they're not just solving [00:20:00] one problem. It's like they're solving one problem and then they find ways to solve other big problems while they're solving that one problem they initially focused on.

[00:20:09] Anna Stoecklein: So with this company, it wasn't just about the environment and the health of the people in the river, but they then dedicated themselves to employing women from the manual scavenger cast, which as you point out, is one of the most marginalized groups on earth. They employed these women to be the ones who turn the flowers into the incense and is a company that is dedicated to paying them well, providing them with transport, health insurance, daily cups of tea, and even giving them a bottle of water, clean water to take home every day at the end of the day. And I mean, talk about dignity.

[00:20:46] Anna Stoecklein: You had quotes in the book from these women talking about how it was the first time anyone ever tried to teach them anything. The first time they were treated with respect. The first time some of them didn't have to sit on the ground. [00:21:00] So that was just a really amazing story to read about and I think really exemplifies, yeah, how so many of these companies are not just solving one problem, but multiple at once. And it's a really beautiful thing to see.

[00:21:14] Jacqueline Novogratz: It is. And Anna, this is where the moral imagination comes in. Because Ankit Agarwal, the founder of Phool, would've had a much easier path just by collecting flowers from the temples and convincing the temple priests to give him the flowers rather than put them in the Ganges, as you said.

[00:21:35] Jacqueline Novogratz: But the commitment then to hire women only from the scavenger cast, these women previously carried human waste and baskets on their heads, that was their job. It was very hard for him to break that status quo. The first factory that they rented ended up throwing them out, destroying their equipment. Then Ankit could only find another factory that [00:22:00] was somewhat far away from where the women lived.

[00:22:03] Jacqueline Novogratz: And then that's when he hired a bus. But then he had to convince a bus driver to work with these women. And so it's a determination to build not just inclusion, which is so important, but inclusion in a way that really does hold up dignity and takes a lot of risk often.

[00:22:23] Jacqueline Novogratz: We have a fellow in Pakistan, she's created sort of a glam squad where she works with low income women to go into the homes of higher income women to do their hair and nails and other beauty services. A number of those women are from the Christian religion, which is in a similar way seen as, very, you could almost say low caste, where Christian women are not expected to sit on furniture in a Muslim household, et cetera, et cetera, by some people, obviously not by all people.

[00:22:59] Jacqueline Novogratz: But [00:23:00] really breaking taboos and using the tools of business to provide women with the confidence, the economic freedom. Over time they actually see, and I just had a great conversation with many of these women, that they have things that the women in whose households they operate do not have. I think that's when we start to see each other more fully as a human race.

[00:23:26] Anna Stoecklein: It's beautiful and I wanna go back to what you were saying just before these examples, as much as I could just keep going on talking about the specific stories, you'll have to read the book to learn about more of the stories.

[00:23:40] Anna Stoecklein: You started talking about change and how change often starts small. So I'd love to have you expand on that and kind of share how you see change that is lasting and systemic happening. You know, how do you think about how that process works, what that looks like? [00:24:00]

[00:24:00] Jacqueline Novogratz: So Gandhi famously said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." And in the lives of social entrepreneurs, and I put myself in that category, that's a pretty fair assessment of how change happens. First, the kind of innovative change that I'm most interested in, that fully disrupts systems and puts our humanity, including the poor at the center, not just profit, and the individual, starts at the edges, and I would put Acumen in that category. When I started Acumen, the idea that you could take philanthropy and invest in for-profit companies for 10 to 15 years to change the status quo and build solutions to poverty was seen as naive. I could find a lot of less kind words and not taken seriously whatsoever.

[00:24:57] Jacqueline Novogratz: And at the beginning, everyone just thought it would fail, [00:25:00] and then we got to a point where people did call me terrible things in a way that was tantamount to laughing. And then there was a point of not just fighting but competing. This was the exciting piece was then suddenly I started to see all around us new impact funds springing up all over the place. And now of course it's taken for granted that we need different kinds of capital to solve our problems and impact investing is a major part of that.

[00:25:31] Jacqueline Novogratz: The most compelling example that I've seen in ways that have fundamentally shifted the way I think about change is in electricity, in the off-grid solar sector. In 2007, 1.5 billion people had no access to electricity. 1.5 billion. Two guys came into our office, Ned Tosen and Sam Goldman, and they had a $30 solar light and this big dream that they were going to eradicate kerosene, which is what [00:26:00] most people count on for their electricity. And they didn't really know what they were doing, but they were willing to try.

[00:26:06] Jacqueline Novogratz: And what they had again was that character, the deep listening and moral imagination that they saw the poorest customers. For six or seven years, Anna, they failed. And they would try one thing, and we did not understand that they were fundamentally creating a new industry that had never existed. Where there was no infrastructure, there were no distribution systems.

[00:26:30] Jacqueline Novogratz: The people they were reaching made one, two, $3 per day, so very little income. There was no financing. What existed in an abundance was corruption, bureaucracy, and the status quo that had it in their interest, the kerosene mafia's, and the diesel mafia, not to let solar electricity succeed. And so I learned a lot about sabotage as well.

[00:26:54] Jacqueline Novogratz: Over time, however, low income people themselves saw [00:27:00] the power of this, that if you could buy this light, you would never have to buy kerosene again, and it would be clean and affordable, and then you could buy more products on top of that. We learned that a new industry was being built, and so we started to invest not only in the solar production, but also distribution companies and financing companies, about 40. Those 40 companies have now brought clean light and electricity to 230 million low income people, and that represents about 30% of all people with off-grid solar light, and electricity on the planet. It also shows you that we as a world could actually bring electricity to every household, and that is what I'm really focused on now.

[00:27:48] Jacqueline Novogratz: And Acumen is how do we do that in a way that doesn't leave the 200 plus million people who are the most vulnerable behind? Because it is within our power, it [00:28:00] is within our reach. And because these very early companies stayed in the game for 17 years, they began to influence policy makers. They began to influence the bigger institutions, and now the world is ready, I believe to take on this big challenge and I want us to really internalize that we are capable of doing really hard things and it often starts with two guys coming out of school and a $30 light.

[00:28:29] Anna Stoecklein: Wow. That is incredible. Starting with two guys with a $30 light and the hundreds of millions that have already been impacted, and the infrastructure to scale that and to, what was the first number you said, one and a half billion people?

[00:28:46] Jacqueline Novogratz: One and a half billion. We're down to about 770 million as a world. A lot of that in India and China came from on grid electricity, unfortunately, some of that through coal and oil, but about [00:29:00] 450 million came from off-grid solar, which is better for the planet, better for people, and more resilient to the climate crisis.

[00:29:10] Anna Stoecklein: Incredible. All right, so let's talk about these two guys coming in with their lights. I wanna talk about, you know, I've kind of looked at change and how this first small action can grow and ripple and get us to real systemic and lasting change. But now I wanna talk about. What does it take to be those two guys?

[00:29:30] Anna Stoecklein: You know, you have worked with many people like this. You yourself are one, you've started up Acumen among many other things. So what are some of the lessons that you have learned? And again, this is laid out in the book, it's literally called Practices to Build a Better World with, um, I think 12 or 13 lessons listed there. And we can't get into all of them today, but what are some of the lessons that you've learned?

[00:29:56] Jacqueline Novogratz: Well, first, just the courage to start. All of [00:30:00] us, think about all of the conversations that we're having around the world. We're conscious of all the problems that we have. And most of us are really good at articulating those problems. Very few of us say, I wanna do something about it. In part because the problems can seem so overwhelming, or we look at ourselves and we think, I don't know how to do this. What differentiates social entrepreneurs from everybody else is that they love the word impossible and they have the courage to just start.

[00:30:30] Jacqueline Novogratz: The second, and I think it's the most important characteristic of all entrepreneurs, is they have the grit and the determination to go the distance. Inevitably, they will have failures along the way. This work is really hard, and yet they have the courage to fall, fail, and get up and do it again. We often say, if you aren't willing to fail, you will not succeed, period.

[00:30:57] Jacqueline Novogratz: I would say the other three, [00:31:00] quickly, one is listening, not just with your ears, but with all parts of yourselves. It sometimes feels in this moment of history that no one's listening to each other. And if we really listen to another, particularly across lines of difference, they'll often tell you what they need. And our best entrepreneurs are incredible listeners. And then finally, I've mentioned this phrase before, but they have the moral imagination.

[00:31:29] Jacqueline Novogratz: They might be driven by empathy. Empathy is often where an urge to help and serve begins, but they don't stop there. They move to getting close, immersing, understanding the problem from the perspective of those they want to serve. And then they start to look at the system around and see, well, where can I really make that change?

[00:31:55] Jacqueline Novogratz: And whether you're talking about the flower company, Phool, or the lighting company [00:32:00] or what Sara did with healthcare, those are the ones that really succeed. But just starting listening, determination and moral imagination are critical elements.

[00:32:12] Anna Stoecklein: Amazing. I like this quote from your book about, Just starting. You wrote, "While there are skills to gain and character traits to develop, there's only one way to begin. Just start and let the work teach you. You don't plan your way into finding purpose. You live into it."

[00:32:29] Anna Stoecklein: I really liked that and I think there's so much to be said because like you said, we try to get to the end, right? You're trying to tackle poverty, one of the most complex and pervasive problems that humanity has. But if you just thought about that end of eradicating all poverty, which of course you'll probably keep in your head with this big imagination that you have, you may never get off the starting line. But you don't really know, I guess, where you're gonna end up.

[00:32:59] Jacqueline Novogratz: [00:33:00] No. Even if you had told me that we would be working in energy, electricity, I'm not sure I would've believed you when we started Acumen. I didn't know the difference between AC and DC. And I'm not an engineer, I'm not a techie, but I did see that energy is fundamental and if you care about women, you have to care about electricity because it is so connected to work and health and education, and 80% of people in poverty are women and children. This is a fundamental building block. So I started to care about energy, learned everything I could, and hired people a lot smarter than me on the technical sides.

[00:33:45] Anna Stoecklein: I think that's the other good characteristic of a leader, surrounding yourself with the people who have the knowledge and experience in these areas. Cuz you're never yourself gonna have all the answers. So being able to recognize that.

[00:33:58] Jacqueline Novogratz: I think that's right. [00:34:00] This idea that there's the one super person is such a misguided one. That the real change makers are self-aware enough to recognize what their own superpowers are, but also where they are not strong and partner with those people and sometimes organizations that have the strength that they do not have. Because we can't solve these things by ourselves.

[00:34:27] Anna Stoecklein: No, absolutely not.

[00:34:29] Anna Stoecklein: So you mentioned women there, again with the electricity, and I wanna talk about women for a second and how you see women as integral to solving the problems of poverty and some of these problems that you're trying to tackle.

[00:34:46] Jacqueline Novogratz: Women are integral at every level. Acumen has a gender lens in the way that we invest. So we look both at, at the entrepreneurial level, at the customer level, at the jobs [00:35:00] created level to really try to understand. Because if you are talking about poverty, as I said, you're talking about women and children, and so I would say as changemakers as entrepreneurs, women and all people who have seen themselves as outsiders have an advantage, particularly in this moment of our history. When you're an outsider, you see the dominant system from the perspective of the outside, you understand what makes it work, how you need to code switch or shift so that you can navigate through it.

[00:35:36] Jacqueline Novogratz: If you are part of the dominant system, you might actually not recognize those obstacles that get in other people's ways. And so the advantage of being an outsider is that you can have a deeper insight into the people who've been overlooked and underestimated, and the structures that need to be built for them. In part because we've been overlooked and [00:36:00] underestimated.

[00:36:01] Jacqueline Novogratz: I see some of the most extraordinary enterprises, nonprofit and for-profit, being led by women. A woman named Teresa Njoroge in Kenya was imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit with her three month old baby. And it was the first time she ever saw the condition of women in prison and then from their perspective, created an organization that would help empower them to have jobs and opportunities once they left. But her orientation was around the people who had been left out.

[00:36:35] Jacqueline Novogratz: Then within, as you build these enterprises, women as employees, so many of the women, like the d.light agents, the women who then go door to door selling these d.light products, as one woman named Mary said to me, I don't wanna be paid, even though they do pay me, because look, I'm 68 years old and we've never had electricity in our village, and now I can [00:37:00] go to people I know and people that I don't know, and I can give them the chance to be part of the world that everybody else gets to be part of. So I'm not really an agent, I'm an angel, and I'm changing my country.

[00:37:15] Jacqueline Novogratz: And so it releases this energy. And then the women who are the customers, and in fact, one of my favorite stories sticking with d.light, and you can see these layers in each of these stories, was a woman in Rajistan. I'd been going through all these villages and I was talking to the women customers to ask them what gave them the courage to buy the lights, how did it change their lives, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:37:41] Jacqueline Novogratz: And one woman told me that the reason she bought the light and liked it better than a kerosene lantern, which is still used by so many people around the world, is because she doesn't feel the stress that she used to feel. And I said, could you help me understand? And she said, well, when I had a kerosene lantern, I was always worried [00:38:00] that one of my children might not get over and get burned or worse.

[00:38:04] Jacqueline Novogratz: And I said, well, that's really interesting, madam, because the young man who started d.light was living in a village in West Africa when his neighbor's kerosene lantern fell over and burned down the house and nearly killed the eldest son. And she looked at me literally with tears and she said, please, madam, what'd you thank that young man for me?

[00:38:26] Jacqueline Novogratz: So when I think about how we so often look at success as money, power of fame, we're not going to create the world that we all can flourish in, but those individuals that are drawn to creating solutions that release other human beings energies, are the ones that end up getting thanked from a woman on the other side of the world for something that they've done, even though they might never know or ever meet that person. That is how I see women interacting at every [00:39:00] level of change.

[00:39:02] Anna Stoecklein: Wow. All of the goosebumps. I've got all of the goosebumps hearing that story. That's, that's incredible. And speaking of incredible women interacting with change. I wanna talk for a minute about you. Well, we sadly don't have time for your full story, uh, and how you arrive to this point, I do think that it's really important for people to understand that people like yourself don't just magically arrive to where they are one day. There's a whole long journey that takes place, presumably with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Can you tell us a little bit, how you arrived to where you are today, what has that journey been like?

[00:39:42] Jacqueline Novogratz: A lot of failures, as you said. I always wanted to change the world as a kid, and yet also came from a family where when I got a job offer to go into banking, I took it when I first got out. But early in my career as a banker in Latin America, I saw how the poor were [00:40:00] excluded from the banks and thought there has to be a better way.

[00:40:03] Jacqueline Novogratz: That took me on a circuitous journey to Rwanda where I was still very young, 25, when I helped a small group of Rwandan women start the first microfinance bank in the country. That was hard and I was very underestimated, but what I learned is that a small group of people really could change history and Duterimbere, the name of that bank, still exists today, which is something I'm very, very proud of. 35 years old.

[00:40:33] Jacqueline Novogratz: But then a few years later, the genocide happened in Rwanda and many of my friends were killed. The co-founders of Duterimbere ended up playing every role of the genocide from being killed to being bystanders, to being a major perpetrator, planner of the genocide.

[00:40:51] Jacqueline Novogratz: That was the moment, Anna, where I had to really look deep at what it means to be human. And in a [00:41:00] way, move away from the binary that I had been raised with. That there are good people and bad people, rich, poor, all of these false binaries. Suddenly, in one particular moment of my life, looking at a woman who was part of planning a genocide, I realized that monsters and angels exist in every one of us.

[00:41:19] Jacqueline Novogratz: That they're the broken parts of ourselves, the insecurities, and that it's really easy in times of crisis, like the time we are in now, for demagogic leaders to pray on those insecurities and make us do terrible things. I also realized that the charity versus investment approach was equally a false binary based on equally overly simplistic views of human nature.

[00:41:49] Jacqueline Novogratz: And that led to the birth of Acumen, that if we could take capital as a means, not as the end in and of itself. And if we could learn to [00:42:00] control that capital, we could find those individuals with the character to see low income people as full human beings who wanted to solve their problems, not as mouths to feed, not as people to fear, but as full human beings with all the complexities we all have.

[00:42:19] Jacqueline Novogratz: And maybe, just maybe, if we stuck with them long enough, accompanied them not just with our financial capital, but our social capital, our networks, our management assistant, maybe we would solve some problems. I don't think I understood then that we could fundamentally shift systems. And now I feel unapologetically that the conversation the world needs to have is how do we find the right kind of capital and support the right kind of character to solve problems that truly do build the worlds with our humanity and the earth at the center, not [00:43:00] simply profit and the individual, because that's where we went a bit astray.

[00:43:05] Anna Stoecklein: Do you have any answers to those questions of how do we find?

[00:43:10] Jacqueline Novogratz: The answer lies in all of us. The answer starts with redefining success away from money, power, fame. The answer lies with asking ourselves, are we giving more to the world than we're taking? The answer lies in every one of us thinking about what we can do to contribute, to build a different kind of world. What gives me hope is that there is a new generation of entrepreneurial builders that aren't waiting around for anybody to solve the problems because the status quo I have also learned exists for a reason.

[00:43:46] Jacqueline Novogratz: It does not want to change. And so it goes back to your really great question about where change happens. It starts at the edges. If it's done right, it gains a unstoppable [00:44:00] momentum. We are living in a perilous time and there are equal forces that are dividing and creating more inequality and more climate destruction.

[00:44:15] Jacqueline Novogratz: But I am obviously an optimist after almost 40 years of doing this work, and I see a level of entrepreneurial energy and focus on possibility like I have never experienced in my lifetime.

[00:44:29] Anna Stoecklein: Is that what keeps you hopeful, the main thing, I wanted to ask what keeps you hopeful?

[00:44:34] Jacqueline Novogratz: That keeps me hopeful, and it's not a easy hope. It's a truly hard edge hope because it's also based in seeing how much the world has changed. When I first went to Rwanda in 1986, 40% of the world lived in extreme poverty. The average woman had eight children in Africa. 20% of children died before they were five. Today, less [00:45:00] than 8% of the world lives in extreme poverty.

[00:45:03] Jacqueline Novogratz: Still too many, but it's a massive change. Women have significantly reduced the number of children that they have. They are much healthier. There is a whole new conversation happening in the world. And so I think I bring that benefit of many years of doing this work when I will sit in Nairobi and ride my first electric motorcycle and think about how innovation is happening there before it's happening in your city in London, where I think those Deliveroo drivers could all use a completely quiet electric motorcycle.

[00:45:42] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.

[00:45:43] Jacqueline Novogratz: So that's what gives me hope, that I'm seeing innovation at the edges that could change the way we do everything. People who are imagining our health systems, our energy systems, our education systems, fully [00:46:00] anew in ways that not only are building where systems haven't really existed, but where the West could learn a thing or two to integrate into the systems that aren't working for everyone.

[00:46:14] Anna Stoecklein: Definitely the West could learn a thing or two. And I like how you took us back, a few mid, back through some statistics, painted a little bit of what reality was like back then cuz while I don't ever think we should ever say, yeah, we're happy now because it's better than it was, I think it's really important to understand, zoom out as far as we can, and to see the whole picture of how much progress we have made so that we can celebrate the people, the change makers, that have come before us and have gotten us to this point and carry the work on.

[00:46:48] Jacqueline Novogratz: I completely agree with you, and also to acknowledge the shoulders on which we stand. A lot of work has been done. And now it is to each [00:47:00] of us to stand on those shoulders and dream of things that might be so big we don't solve them in our lifetime, but what better way to live a life of meaning than to take on those kinds of big problems.

[00:47:13] Anna Stoecklein: I love that quote in your book or where you talked about standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and it's a beautiful sentiment. Something else that you've hit on, but I just wanna ask you directly, you call for a moral revolution in your book. I mean, it's called Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, and you've hit on the different points of that.

[00:47:33] Anna Stoecklein: But just to ask you directly, can you tell us what is a moral revolution? And is there anything you can say about how we might be able to take part?

[00:47:44] Jacqueline Novogratz: Sure. So first I would say that when people hear the phrase moral revolution, it can easily go to feeling that it comes from a place of righteousness or ideology, when in fact, this is not moral, like a set [00:48:00] of texts being passed down from on high.

[00:48:03] Jacqueline Novogratz: The moral of the revolution is the growing acknowledgement, not just generationally, but through science, that we are fully interconnected and I dare say interdependent, not only on all human beings, but on all living things. Every plant shares DNA in their cells with us. And so the moral revolution starts from a place that puts not the individual and profit at the center of all of our systems, but recognizes that interdependence and thus insists on our shared humanity and the sustainability of the earth there.

[00:48:45] Jacqueline Novogratz: That requires a different set of principles than maximize profit, and it will be good for everyone. Or protect your borders and it will be good for us. We have to move away from a [00:49:00] worldview in a way of leading based on 'I win if you lose. I'm right if you're wrong', but rather to acknowledge that interdependence and move from a new set of tenants that recognizes what South Africans say. 'I am because you are.' Or we can learn from Hinduism, 'Namaste - the God in me sees the God in you'. If we shifted that orientation to build our companies, our organizations, our schools, from a perspective that each of us has the opportunity to be part of a revolution that isn't screaming in the streets, although sometimes you need to do that, but is more an orientation that comes from the inside out, the world could be a very different place. The joy of my life is I work with a growing community of [00:50:00] builders who aren't here to be cynical or to complain, but to focus on creating those solutions that do include people who've been overlooked and underestimated, and do so in a way that also acknowledges that we have to protect the earth.

[00:50:16] Jacqueline Novogratz: So that's really what I see as the moral revolution, a new set of skills, having hard conversations across lines of difference. Seeing identity not as a weapon or a way of dividing ourselves, but rather recognizing that we all have multiple identities within and it's an incredible tool.

[00:50:38] Anna Stoecklein: I like you at the head of this revolution.

[00:50:41] Jacqueline Novogratz: I don't think there is a head, Anna I think that's...

[00:50:44] Anna Stoecklein: Oh yeah, that's, that's true. That's going back to the old model. Oh man. That is deeply ingrained, isn't it?

[00:50:51] Jacqueline Novogratz: It's deeply ingrained. Although I do think, again, I know how much you're thinking about women. I do think it's where women have a real advantage because [00:51:00] we're used to collaborating and enabling others to help get things done, and that's what we all have to get really good at.

[00:51:08] Anna Stoecklein: So for the women and people and everyone listening who wanna be a part of this moral revolution and, again, we've kind of been talking about this a little bit already, but I wanna ask directly because I do feel like now more than ever, people are realizing, you know, especially with the pandemic, we're given all this time to think and we're realizing that these traditional measures of success just aren't as satisfying as we thought that they were gonna be.

[00:51:33] Anna Stoecklein: And people are wanting to find their purpose, but can have a hard time figuring out what that purpose is and, and an even harder time deciding to give up a perhaps comfortable and secure job in order to pursue it. And I know we said at the beginning or towards the about just starting, but I'm wondering what you would say to anyone who wants to just start but can't even really think about Well, where, [00:52:00] just start where, just start how, any other words of wisdom that you could share on that front?

[00:52:05] Jacqueline Novogratz: It's such a great time to ask me, because literally yesterday I had a 24 year old in my office in a panic, and so as we said, just start, that purpose doesn't come to someone sitting at the starting blocks wondering what their purpose is.

[00:52:19] Jacqueline Novogratz: The first move is to look around and see what interests you. Is there a problem? It might be trash on the street. A lot of young people I know who are really interested in trash have started to create collectives where they'll go and pick trash up as a community. That's a great place to start.

[00:52:39] Jacqueline Novogratz: Once you take that first step, let the work teach you, as you said before. What am I learning? Inevitably, you end up learning not only about your effectiveness or your lack of effectiveness, but how the system works and where you might fit into the system. So you take a step, it tells you where to take the next step [00:53:00] and so on and so forth. Before you know it, you have a path. That path ultimately leads you to purpose.

[00:53:06] Jacqueline Novogratz: The guy who I was talking about before with cook stoves is named Peter Scott, and he was literally a tree hugger. He went to what's now known as the Congo, and he literally tied himself to trees, that's his approach.

[00:53:24] Anna Stoecklein: That is a literal tree hugger. Yes.

[00:53:26] Jacqueline Novogratz: He's a literally a tree hugger with a chain and a tree. And then he realized that he wasn't going to save a lot of trees that way, and ultimately he started a cook stove company. Then he built a manufacturing plant in Kenya, the biggest one on the continent now for cook stoves. Then the carbon markets started to look for opportunities to reduce carbon. As I said before, cook stoves take a lot of wood and are one of the number one reasons for deforestation across the African continent, and so there's [00:54:00] enormous revenue available through the carbon markets.

[00:54:04] Jacqueline Novogratz: And Peter is now just growing and reaching so many, so many people. He's getting more radical because he is taking the money he gets from the carbon credits, not keeping it for his own company, but reducing the price so that the women and men who actually do the work of not cutting down trees now will actually benefit.

[00:54:24] Jacqueline Novogratz: If you had told Peter 20 years ago that this would be the trajectory, he completely would not have believed you. He couldn't have imagined it. Just like I couldn't have imagined my trajectory. The courage to tie himself to a tree as his first act and learn. Just start.

[00:54:44] Jacqueline Novogratz: Just

[00:54:44] Anna Stoecklein: start. I mean that, yeah. It goes back to what we're saying at the beginning that you can't know. You can't know where you're gonna get to. If you're in the business of change I mean, that's the whole point. It hasn't happened before.

[00:54:55] Jacqueline Novogratz: And in a way you have to just, and then just start again. [00:55:00] Because so many things in the world happen to you in ways that are out of your control. And so learn the art of the pivot, which is another way of saying just start.

[00:55:13] Anna Stoecklein: And then just to read two more lines from your book along this theme, you said, "When you don't know where to start, following a leader who inspires you can be a powerful strategy."

[00:55:22] Anna Stoecklein: And I really liked that. And it's kind of a concrete action, you know, to tuck away in people's heads. And then the other one that I really liked, this came from a blog post of one of your Acumen fellows, was "The question isn't what problem you wanna solve, but how do you wanna spend the next 40 years of your life?" and I thought that was so powerful to put it like that.

[00:55:43] Jacqueline Novogratz: It is, and that, interestingly, I was just talking to that fellow this morning at organization that he started, the conversation we had was very much about feeling like a failure and only starting an organization, Amal Academy that was only touching about [00:56:00] 300 young people.

[00:56:01] Jacqueline Novogratz: It's now graduated over 10,000 and he has given leadership to a local person and is actually focusing on the climate. And so he's not spending the next 40 years only doing that, but he is spending his whole life focused on and committed to serving in the way that uses him best in the different chapters of his life.

[00:56:24] Jacqueline Novogratz: And I think that's also part of just starting, following leaders, seeing what you learn, being honest with yourself, and moving from there. I think that so much of this moment in history is about, as I said, it's an inner revolution, not one from above or below, but we have to start thinking ourselves as citizens, not as consumers. And seeing ourselves in relation to each other is just so critical.

[00:56:52] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. Well, is there anything else you wanna say more about that? How do we see ourselves in relationship to others? I understand what you mean, but it's kind of [00:57:00] conceptual. Is there any way to bring that to light a little more?

[00:57:03] Jacqueline Novogratz: This is actually a story that goes back to dignity, and it's a fast one, but I was visiting one of our Indian companies and I just stepped outside of the factory for a moment and I saw these four women who were from the very, very low caste, and they were called what's called Head Loaders. They were carrying big pieces of equipment from the factory to these waiting trucks. They were taking a break.

[00:57:27] Jacqueline Novogratz: And we didn't have a word of English between us, or any language between us, and yet I could see the dignity in their eyes and somehow I just started communicating them without language. It turned into five women in peels of laughter and unbridled joy, and I think of those women all the time as a reminder that they're the ones that do the work that make my life possible.

[00:57:56] Jacqueline Novogratz: Every time I brush my. teeth Every time I make a cup of [00:58:00] coffee, every time you spray perfume, that all comes from people who are toiling and doing the work, and for them, I feel so grateful. And I also feel this sense of obligation to be more cognizant of all the people along the way who are responsible for the goods and services, the products that we use.

[00:58:27] Jacqueline Novogratz: We are part of each other because we are part of each other's lives and the decisions we make have implications every day on people that we might never know or ever meet. That's what I mean by see each other.

[00:58:43] Anna Stoecklein: I'm really glad I asked you to elaborate cuz that was, again, a beautiful story and a way to really visualize what you meant. And there's the connection to other people and there's also the connection to ourselves. You talked in the book about the importance of [00:59:00] personal transformation when it comes to the moral revolution and making an impact on the world. Can you talk about that a little bit?

[00:59:07] Jacqueline Novogratz: I live in the world of, on the one hand, some of the wealthiest people in the world, philanthropists, investors, and I'm helping to build companies for some of the poorest people in the world. And so often, philanthropists and investors both think in terms of the transformation they're making, the dignity they're giving to the poor.

[00:59:30] Jacqueline Novogratz: And what we miss is that the real transformation is a mutual transformation. It is the recognition that within the interaction that we can have with one another lies the seeds of our mutual dignity, and that in a way, I don't get dignity unless other people have dignity. And we as a human race don't get dignity unless everyone of us has it.[01:00:00]

[01:00:00] Jacqueline Novogratz: So that takes transformation in how we interact with each other, how we listen to each other in the companies that we build, in the decisions that we make. And if we're not willing to change ourselves, and I'm not talking just about philosophically, I'm talking about really change ourselves, then we're never going to change the world in ways that we all dream of changing the world.

[01:00:28] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. is there any further wisdom or inspiration that you wish to share? Anything at all or that we didn't cover you'd like to talk about today?

[01:00:37] Jacqueline Novogratz: I would just reiterate that change is possible and that we're all needed, and that sometimes when we hear about other people doing things particularly that feel far away or out of reach, we might think that it's not for me or let them do it, and yet there's no work like this work on the planet.

[01:00:59] Jacqueline Novogratz: People sometimes [01:01:00] People sometimes say to me, isn't it hard? Don't you get depressed? And sure, show me somebody who does any kind of job, who doesn't have days that are hard and doesn't get depressed. But I would also say that making a decision to work on the toughest problems of our world is a decision to be stretched, to be part of the human journey, if you will.

[01:01:28] Jacqueline Novogratz: And I can't imagine a better way to create meaning and feel more deeply alive. I talk a lot about the beautiful struggle in part because there's so much beauty at every step of the journey to be found. If you feel fearful about taking a step in a different direction, then think about Eleanor Roosevelt's wisdom, which is that every day we should do something that scares us, because that is the way that we change.

[01:01:56] Anna Stoecklein: Yes, Eleanor had lots of [01:02:00] wisdom to impart on us. That's a very good one.

[01:02:02] Anna Stoecklein: If people take one thing away from this conversation with you today, what would you want it to be?

[01:02:08] Jacqueline Novogratz: I mean, definitely just start. Know that the world not only needs you, but that the world is waiting for you, and that there is truly a movement of people who want to build solutions in every country on the planet.

[01:02:27] Jacqueline Novogratz: I have been to more corners of more villages and more slums, and I have never been in a place that doesn't have individuals who want to live from their own agency and make life better for others. Find those people. Be inspired by those people. Most important, be those people.

[01:02:47] Anna Stoecklein: Wonderful. What a great note to end on. Thank you, Jacqueline, so much for participating. This was educational and inspiring in equal measure. It's such a pleasure to get to speak with you.

[01:02:59] Jacqueline Novogratz: [01:03:00] Thank you so much, Anna. Thank you for the work you're doing. Thank you for this really beautiful podcast. I so appreciate it and wish you all the best of luck.

[01:03:09] Anna Stoecklein: Thank you so much.

[01:03:11] Overdub: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and think we need more of women’s stories in the world, be sure to share with a friend! And subscribe, rate and review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to help us beat those pesky algorithms.

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[01:03:55] Overdub: And in exchange, you’ll receive my eternal gratitude and good nights sleep [01:04:00] knowing you are helping to finally change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

[01:04:06] Overdub: This episode was produced and hosted by me, Anna Stoecklein.

[01:04:10] Overdub: It was edited by Maddy Searle. With communications support by Jo Cummings.A special thanks to Amanda Brown, Kate York, and Dan Kendall for their ongoing production support and invaluable advising.

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