Welcome to Episode 124!
STIMY Episode 124 features Jacqueline Novogratz – the founder & CEO of Acumen – a non-profit global venture capital fund that aims to use entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty.
She was also born for crisis.
As the OG of impact investing, her impressive list of accolades include:
- One of the World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds 2017 by Forbes
- Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Entrepreneurship, 2016
- The Resolution Project Champions Circle Award, 2016
- Bloomberg Markets 50 Most Influential in Global Finance, 2014
- Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2008
She also sits on the board of:
- Aspen Institute board of trustees
- Pakistan Business Council Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business (CERB)]
- Advisory Councils of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, the Oxford Saïd Global Leadership Council and UNICEF.
P/S: This interview is also available on YouTube!
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Who Is Jacqueline Novogratz?
Jacqueline Novogratz is a woman who has always know that she wanted to do good in this world.
When she graduated from the University of Virginia, she described herself as someone who was “excited, idealistic & had dreams in your head of changing the world and didn’t have a clue how to start”.
That start ended up being at Chase Manhattan Bank – despite telling the interviewer that she had no interest in banking & was only there because her parents told her to!
She did so well, the then COO, Tony Triciano, wanted to fast track her career and have her be his right hand person.
She said NO. She wanted to change the world.
And left for Africa.
- 2:57 The Novogratz clan (like the Kennedys?!)
- 4:22 Orphanage
- 8:36 A Little Boy
- 9:46 Saying NO to Tony Triciano, the then COO of Chase Manhattan Bank?!
- 11:24 Leaving the job of a lifetime
Africa Doesn’t Need Saving
In Africa, Jacqueline suffered failure after failure after failure.
She learned that while she had gone to try & save the African continent, Africa neither wanted nor needed saving.
But those lessons were invaluable and led her down the path of founding Acumen.
When she left her job at Chase, her father said that she was giving up the career of a lifetime & her mother was sure that she would never marry.
Even Jacqueline thought so too.
Because her sense of purpose was so strong, she was afraid that any partner she had would hold her back.
That is, until Chris came into the picture.
But you’ll just have to listen to this episode to learn more. 😉
- 12:33 Africa doesn’t need saving!
- 13:40 Being Born for Crisis
- 15:16 The secret sauce to establishing Duterimbere – Rwanda’s first Microfinance bank
- 16:21 Being maniacal
- 18:30 Agnes & the Rwandan genocide
- 20:48 Building on the 4th floor with no safety net underneath with Dan Toole?!
- 22:34 When the tides started to change
- 24:59 Mike, the Forrest Gump of Bitcoin
- 26:56 Acumen in Southeast Asia
- 32:11 Won’t social entrepreneurs succeed without Acumen?
- 34:55 Jacqueline’s personal KPIs
- 37:29 Listening with her whole body
- 42:19 Marriage
- 45:20 Advice for finding the right partner!
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:
- Daniel Flynn: Co-founder, Thankyou – on the secret to create viral campaigns with one of the most well-established social enterprises in Australia
- Apolo Ohno: The Most Decorated US Olympian in History – on the power of psychotic obsession & how to win in 40 secs
- Lydia Fenet: Top Christie’s Ambassador who raised over $1 billion for non-profits alongside Elton John, Matt Damon, Uma Thurma etc.
- John-Son Oei: Co-Founder of EPIC Homes – in building EPIC Homes in 3 days for the underprivileged!
- Lincoln Lee: Saving people with RICE Inc & winning the $1 million HULT Prize (the most prestigious social enterprise award for universities in the world)
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- Jacqueline Novogratz: Twitter, Instagram
- Acumen Malaysia
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STIMY Ep 124: You Will Never Marry! | Jacqueline Novogratz (Founder, Acumen)
Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES!
Welcome to episode 124 of the So This My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Jacqueline Novogratz. Now Jacqueline is the founder and CEO of Acumen, a nonprofit global venture capital fund that aims to use entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty.
She is also the OG of Impact Investing.
Now Jacqueline's list of accolades is impressive to say the least. Let's list some of them.
She was listed by Forbes as one of the world's 100 greatest living business minds in 2017. She was also an Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year 2008. Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for social entrepreneurship in 2016, and Bloomberg Markets 50 most influential in global finance in 2014.
She also sits on the boards of, the Aspen Institute Board of Trustees, the Pakistan Business Council Center of Excellence in the Responsible Business, and also the Advisory Councils of the Harvard Business School Social and Depress Initiative, The Oxford Global Leadership Council and UNICEF.
But at the core, we are speaking about a woman who has always known as a child that she wanted to do good in this world.
When she graduated from university, she described herself as being excited, idealistic, with dreams of changing the world, which ironically enough began at Chase Manhattan Bank. Despite her telling interviewer that she had no interest in banking and was only there because her parents told her to.
She did so well at Chase, the then COO, Tony Triciano, told her that he wanted to foster her career and have her be his right hand person, but she said no.
And left for Africa.
There, she suffered failure after failure after failure. She learned that while she had gone to try and save the African continent, Africa neither wanted nor needed saving.
But those lessons were invaluable and let her down the path of founding Acumen.
Now, this interview is one of my favorites, and there is a YouTube version of this as well. Just follow the links in the show notes.
And the reason why this is one of my favorites is because Jacqueline is a person with a very clear sense of her why.
It was so clear, she was actually determined that she would never marry because she was afraid that her partner would eventually hold her back from changing the world.
That is until Chris Anderson, curator of the TED Talks that we all know and love, came into the picture.
But you won't want me to spoil the story. It's best to let Jacqueline share it herself.
So are you ready?
Hi Jacqueline. Thank you so much for joining me today.
We are going to blitz through your life cuz we only have one hour and there is so much to cover and so many stories that you are a part of that. You've also heard that I think our listeners will love. And I always start by going to the very beginning.
Mm. And I learned very quickly, you're the eldest of seven kids. You've moved around because your dad's in the military 19 times before you were 10. And I learned that your family's compared to the Kennedys.
What does it mean to be part of the Novogratz clan?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Well, I'm not sure it's truly often, but It's probably not for all the best qualities of the Kennedys, quite frankly. Yeah. Big Catholic family. Very athletic. Rambunctious. We sort of grew up in a house of cowboys where we were all I would say we were a tribe. In a way we were like a big Asian family in that there were a lot of expectations around showing up around duty, around taking care of each other.
Sometimes my mother would say, I will always love you, but I don't like you very much right now, so could you please change your behavior?
And she was a myth maker and I think that that was a really big part of. What it meant to grow up with actually not very much money. Moving around. So not very much stability, always having to make new friends, but knowing that you were part of something where you were safe.
Ling Yah: And even though you had seven siblings, your dad wanted to adopt from an orphanage as well? He did.
And did that impact the way you saw the world and your role in it?
Jacqueline Novogratz: In my family, there was always room for more, always room for more and for difference. My parents at a time when communities tended to be very homogenous, my parents. Welcomed everyone, and that was just a part of the family ethos. And as a result, which is interesting, that even though we were this big family that was chaotic without a lot of money, we were also the family that everybody wanted to come hang out with the cool ones, the fun ones.
I don't know if we were cool, but we were fun.
Ling Yah: What were some of the fun things that you were doing?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Oh, we just laughed all the time in so many ways. In part my brothers were Mike. Mike is a very unedited, sounds larger than life. He's very la he's very larger than life. In a way they all were bigger, Mike particularly.
And even today, you can't take yourself very seriously because no matter what you quote unquote do in the world, you're reminded of who you were when you were 12 years old.
Ling Yah: You ended up going to study foreign affairs and also, economics at University of Virginia, and I saw your valedictorian address earlier this year, and you actually said that when you graduated, I quote, you were excited, idealistic, and had dreams in your head of changing the world and didn't have a clue how to start.
My question then became, Why was it the first thing you did was to go to Chase Manhattan Bank of all places?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Fair question. Very fair question. But I think I really wanted to change the world when I was six, so my whole life. But I also had the realities of so many young people today friends, my family without very many economic resources, immigrant mentality.
I was actually going to be an English major. And my dad sort of took me aside to say, you'll never be able to support yourself. You have to study economics, which was not in my game plan. And then it was also not in my game plan to go into banking. I wanted to take a year because I had spent so much of my time working to pay my way through college.
And then I happened into this crazy job interview that took foreign affairs economics. Resumes. And when the man asked me why I wanted to be a banker as someone who still can't lie, I told him the truth, which is that my parents made me do the interview process and that I really didn't wanna be a banker.
But here I was fulfilling the duty. And he told me how sad that was because people who had got that job would be in 40 countries in the next three years. And I literally said, please, can we start this interview again? For whatever reason, he said, okay. I left, I left the room, I came back in, I reintroduced myself.
He asked me tell me, Jacqueline, why do you wanna be a banker? And I said, ever since I was six years old, all I ever wanted to be was a banker. I got the job. And that was in 1983. During a financial crisis from the next year, I learned incredible tools of the trade. I learned how economies work. I actually spent a lot of time not only in places like Brazil and Peru Colombia, but here in Malaysia in 1984 or 85, I worked in kl. I wasn't even born. I meet all these young people today and I think I remember your country before you were born. When. The systems were so entirely different and it's been so thrilling to me actually to see how the world has changed in incredibly positive ways.
And so often we look at the picture of where we are now and we don't realize where we were. 30 years ago, which actually isn't very long in history. And how much progress in the most positive ways have been made for women, for people who've felt outside, for people who hadn't gotten any access to education, healthcare, it's actually quite miraculous to me how much generational change is pos possible.
I'm an example of it, but now I get to see it all across the world.
Ling Yah: You saw at the time, 30 years ago, there's a story you wrote in your diary about a little boy who you invited as a hotel guest, and that just really had effect on you. What's the story behind that, Eduardo?
Jacqueline Novogratz: really was quite idealistic in at that age and and I met this little boy. It was a street kid.
Tough but also sweet. He was a child and I actually took him to my room to take a shower and a bath and get him cleaned up and I got him clean clothes and then I took him to the fancy hotel in Rio de Janeiro and bought him a hamburger and french fries and a puppet. And he was so happy and I was having so much fun with him.
And then the manager came and essentially kicked him out of the hotel and asked me to leave too. And it was so shocking to me that I was a guest of the hotel. This was a, a little boy. What harm was he doing to anyone and yet talk about being overlooked and unseen. It had a huge impact on me that we have this world where some people matter and some people are.
Fundamentally left out.
Ling Yah: Would you say that that story was really prevailing in your mind when Tony Triciano came and asked you to be his right hand person and you thought, there are so many of these leader boys out there that really need my help and I need to get out there?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Sure. You know it was part of it.
Mm-hmm. I would say even more is that on the weekends, both outside of Santiago Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, I would go into the quote unquote poorer parts of the city. And I would see this colorful, vital human life working and creating. And I didn't see it from a place of pity, my own grandmother. Had a third grade education and worked in a sweat shop.
So I was very proximate to these communities and, and I just thought, why wouldn't the bank lend to these people so that they could solve their problems, change their lives? And that's what really had an impact on me. And in fact, I went to my boss to say, let me start a program so that I can lend here.
Because at the time we were lending, I. To very wealthy people, hundreds of millions of dollars, many of whom it didn't seem to me had a real seriousness about repaying the banks. Whereas instinctively I believed that we might get a, have a better chance of having people pay us back if we actually lent locally to people who hadn't had been given that opportunity.
Ling Yah: You were only 25 when you left, what your dad considered the job of a lifetime. I imagine you must have prepped for that conversation with your parents. How did it go down?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Well, I don't think I probably could have prepped a little more in hindsight. Now my mother would say, you know, she didn't have a chance ever with me anyway, because I was going to do what I really believed.
Yeah. But she just thought you would never get married at the time. I mean, My mother's the enforcer in my household. Yeah. And so she was definitely, you cannot go, you will never get married. My father felt I was giving up the job of a lifetime. It was, it was really hard. And I had been raised to be a good girl and not let not disappoint my parents.
Yeah. And so that I think was the hardest. Part that I was really letting them down. On the other hand, I knew that if I didn't go then at age 25 when I wasn't really, I was risking the future career, but I didn't have anything really. I knew that if I didn't go, I'd get on a track and I'd probably never go again.
Ling Yah: Yeah. And you got on that plane, you cried on the, and I cried. Yeah. Landed in Cote d'voire, you also ended up in Kenya, and I learned that you said you went to try and save continent and then you realized that they didn't want saving. Mm-hmm. What's the story behind it? How did you learn that lesson?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Oh, so painfully, yeah.
I didn't come with this, again, this sense of pity, but I did come with this great enthusiasm that there wasn't a problem we couldn't solve and that I really wanted to help do it. And I wasn't properly introduced. The women didn't understand who I was. Some of them were understandably threatened by a 25 year old American girl who hardly spoke.
French and didn't really have an understanding of their culture, and now I see that there was this sense of how dare you at the time I just thought, but I'm here to quote unquote help. I don't ever use the word help anymore. I don't think we wanna be helped or saved. I think we wanna have partners who work with us, accompany us so that we can solve our own problems.
Ling Yah: Failure after failure, after failure. You said before, I was born for crisis. It fits the fact that you stayed on regardless. What do you mean by that though? Born for Crisis.
Jacqueline Novogratz: Maybe it's part of being the eldest of seven in a Cowboy house where we had our share. What I've learned about myself and I have gone through many very, very difficult times in crises. In those moments, there's a part of me that just becomes sort of steely and everything goes away except for what is needed to solve the problem.
A great calm comes over me when everybody else might be spinning and, and I love solving problems. I think I'm also drawn to conflict areas.
Mm. War zones maybe because that's where you see the, yes, the worst of human beings, but you also see the best of human beings, and it's at that extreme evidence of who we actually are as human beings, where I feel extremely alive because you have to hold the spectrum. I would imagine you as a journalist also understand that draw.
Ling Yah: Yes, for sure. There are so many amazing stories that come out that you normally wouldn't get if you just go say to an office every single day, nine to five, go home. Mm-hmm. I mean, there is trouble there, but it's a very different kind of trouble and strife for sure. That's right.
Jacqueline Novogratz: And why are we on earth, if not to know each other, to be a part of each other's stories?
I actually think that is what fundamentally makes us human.
Ling Yah: You were invited to Rwanda to set up Duterimbere.
I wonder what's the secret sauce behind that microfinance bank and make it work?
Jacqueline Novogratz: By the time I got to Rwanda, I had learned one of the most important lessons of my life from failure, and that was humility. Mm-hmm. That was, we so often come in as outsiders with answers. If you come in as a guest and start asking questions and listen to other people and who they are and what they want first, and you do that long enough and you show up through thick and through thin over time, you'll be treated as a local.
And I think that was the secret sauce, plus the fact that a very wise friend said, you are not spending the rest of your life here. And so if you wanna build an institution, it has to be Rwandan. And number one, you need co-founders. And two, you can never take credit. You can share it, but you can never take it.
I am so grateful for that advice.
Ling Yah: Weren't you describe as maniacal and just going at lightning speed at a time, what would you like as a co-founder back then?
Jacqueline Novogratz: First of all, I'd still describe as by some people and going all the time. Yeah. But it was a different kind of co-founder. I worked with the first three women parliamentarians in the country, and so this was not their day job, however, Without them, we wouldn't have had the legitimacy, the context.
I wouldn't have had an understanding of how to navigate the larger status quo society. And I could roll up my sleeves with two other women who were more at my level to get things done. And. We had fun, but at one point, because I was such a lunatic in terms of how fast I moved, I got malaria and Emacule, one of the parliamentarians came to my bed and said, well, now that you're finally sitting still, there's something I need to tell you. You're going too fast and we can't keep up with you. And I actually had a. A mentor at the time, a woman named Marys from the Philippines, who was amazing probably 30 years older than I am.
and I went to her in tears because I felt that I was failing again because I was moving so fast. And she said, let's problem solve this. How would we organize it so that progress could be made, but you could constantly be creating. The power in other people. And so I would work in Kigali for two months.
We'd work on all these work plans, and then I would work in the slums in Nairobi and across Kenya working with Women's groups for UNICEF, which is what Mary had overseeing. And then I would come back and sometimes we would have taken a few steps back. It didn't matter.
Over time, it became Rwandan and now if you walked in, nobody would even know who I was.
I am. And that to me is success that you, you work with people, you let them lead, and your footsteps disappear. Yeah.
Ling Yah: I wanted this point to talk about Agnes. So Agnes is one of the co-founders. She co-create a liberal party based on Multi tribal democracy. She also was the executive director, but then she later became one of the highest ranking planners in the Rwandan genocide.
And I just wonder, I mean, did it make you question who you were working with and thinking, gosh, do I need to care about the monster inside of us, some kind of safeguard to ensure we don't cross that line?
Jacqueline Novogratz: The Rwanda genocide.
That we changed, changed our understanding that never again, frankly, after the Cambodian genocide was something that we have to continue toward, against. My personal interaction with it changed my understanding of what it means to be human fundamentally. Sitting across from Agnes in prison and thinking about this woman who had a freckled face and wearing a pink dress made me realize that it's too simple to try to separate the world into good people and bad people, angels and monsters.
That angels and monsters live inside every single one of us, and that our monsters are our broken parts, our shames, our grievances, our insecurities, our secrets, and that in times of insecurity, and I frankly feel we're living in one of those times right now. It becomes really easy for demagogue leaders to prey on those broken parts to blame.
Others for our own problems and sometimes to make us do terrible things.
And Agnes represented that more than any other human being because I watched her and people would say, would you have imagined that she would've helped lead a genocide? And I would always wanna say, How many people do you work with on a daily basis that you think, oh, you could do that, that it's the unimaginable.
And yet, in a world where success is defined by money, power, and fame, people start searching for power and choose power over purpose. And that's what ultimately leads us to do things that. We shouldn't be doing.
Ling Yah: I wanna talk about acumen, obviously. First Acumen, COO, Dan Toole, he once described how it was like building acumen, so I feel like we're standing at the fifth floor of a brick building and we are putting brick by brick together without a safety net underneath.
I wonder, what was it like for him to say something like that?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Well, Dan came, Dan and I worked together in Rwanda.
And so Dan was really, and is, he's still one of my closest friends, an emergencies guy coming out of the humanitarian perspective. And suddenly we were trying to change capitalism in a way, and he'd say, We go into these meetings, ejaculated, people tell you you're crazy.
And they're throwing all these terms at us that I don't even fully understand. And so we've never done this and the world has never done this, and you're just expecting me to lay the foundation, but we're 50 feet above the ground. And I was just say, Rome was built brick by brick. And he is like, I know, but I'm on the fifth floor.
And. That's what it felt like going into a meeting and trying to describe that markets overlooked the poor. Too often that top-down aid in government too often creates dependency, and that what we needed was something in between that took the discipline of markets and the humanitarian ethos of what government's supposed to do.
And people would be like, you obviously don't understand how business is done. And all we could do was take a step. See what we could prove. Know that it might take us several years, but over time, if it worked and we didn't know for sure that it would, we might be able to help create an entirely new way of doing things, but we didn't have a roadmap.
Ling Yah: Was there a point where you thought, Ooh, the tide is changing, people are starting to get it?
Jacqueline Novogratz: There was a point when I thought the tide was changing. I was starting to get it. Oh, there, there were two points. One was we had made this investment in a malaria bed net factory in Tanzania, and the first time I went, of course, nothing was there.
A year later, there were four machines and women working, and they were producing these long lasting malaria bed nets that were. Saving people's lives. A year later, there were 10, a year later, there was a 70,000 square foot factory employing 13,000 women producing 30 million nets every year. And I thought, it's working, it's happening.
The second was this idea of dignity.
We made an investment in a company called D Light doing solar light, and I went to visit a grandma. Who had one of these lights. And by this point I had been working in development for many years and I had talked to many grannies who had been given grants objects that, you know, here's your solar lamp.
And they say, thank you very much. You're so wonderful. Maybe they feed you and you go away feeling good and nothing changes. And suddenly I was watching this tiny woman talking to the district, a distributor. And saying let me tell you how you could improve this lamp. 1, 2, 3, 3 different ways that you could improve this lamp.
And I watched him listen to her and take her seriously. He wasn't standing there with a false sense of benevolence. She wasn't pandering. And in that interchange, Was the seeds of their mutual dignity. And that was the moment I literally got teary and thought, this is why I started Acumen. We need a different conversation that understands that when she gets dignity, he gets dignity.
And I'm not just doing this. So that low income people have access and choice and opportunity. When they do, then we have a world that we're proud to live in and it gets better for all of us. I would say those were two really critical moments when the tie turned with the world was. Then suddenly everybody was talking about impact investing and I thought, wow, this is interesting.
Now, they didn't all do it in the way that Accu did it, but I think language often proceeds change.
Ling Yah: We've mentioned Mike before the crypto king, or self-describe or Forrest Gump of Bitcoin, which I thought was hilarious. I told you we
Jacqueline Novogratz: laughed a
Ling Yah: lot. Yeah. I thought what was interesting is oh, he said the key is to make a lot of money and give it back to the world and you disagree.
Have you managed to convince him otherwise?
Jacqueline Novogratz: I would say we're still having the conversation. Mm-hmm. I'm so proud of my, yeah, crazy alive, very human. Lots of
Ling Yah: parties, parties,
Jacqueline Novogratz: mistakes, spectacular successes, sometimes all on the same day. You know. Over the last years, I think in part because Mike has had public failures he's gained deep empathy for people in the criminal justice system in the United States, which is so fundamentally broken.
We live in one of the most violent societies and one of the most heavily incarcerated societies, and I'm so proud of the way that he has used his influence and his power. To extend it to those who haven't had power or influence. Again, not in a falsely benevolent way, but in a way that's really taking on the system.
And through Mike, I've met just extraordinary men who been in the prison system for 20 to 40 years and have come out better leaders than many of the leaders I know who. I have a fairly righteous sense of who they are in society.
Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES, quick interruption to let you know that STIMY now has a weekly newsletter that focuses more on the behind the scenes of building this podcast, the people I'm meeting and what I'm getting up to in my journey during my year of yes.
If you're interested, just visit www.sothisismywhy.com/124 to subscribe.
Now let's get this episode with Jacqueline Novogratz.
We can't talk about acumen without talking about Southeast Asia because you're now here in Malaysia.
I wonder what is the story behind Acumen coming to this part of the world?
Jacqueline Novogratz: So Acumen on the in, we do three things at Acumen. All focus on solving problems to build a world of dignity. Acumen ventures, we invest in companies that are solving big problems of health, education, energy, agriculture. We invest for 10 to 15 years.
We accompany those entrepreneurs. We measure what matters, and when money comes back, we reinvest it. The second piece of vacuum ventures is more traditional impact funds, and we'll soon have about a half a billion dollars under management. Those in those investments, as you said, have reached almost more than half a billion people.
It works along the way. We learned though that two things, one, as you get closer to solving a problem, You will only solve it systemically if you partner. So we have Acumen Alliances. The third is that you also need not just talent, you need people who have moral leadership in the way that they are building.
That's Acumen Academy. By moral leadership, I mean people who aren't leading like too many of our leaders do today, which is from a sense of. I can only be right if you are wrong. I can only win if you lose the zero sum. Our world is too interdependent for a zero sum way of thinking and operating, and yet we're living in a moment of history where we're pulling away from each other, within our countries and across countries.
So for the first. A few years of Acumen Academy. We stayed in Acumen's, more traditional footprint. South Asia, east, west Africa, Latin America, the us. And then it became clear that Acumen Academy needed and wanted to be global.
Kathleen Chew of Y T L Foundation had been a supporter of Acumen, and importantly, I first met her without having any idea who she was, nor did she have any idea who I was, wasn't in a taxi on the way.
It was in a taxi. And we talked and talked about her having seven children, and me kept being the eldest of seven. Growing up with Catholic background, it was all about values. It was about what we cared about. It wasn't about professions or status. It was about what? We'll, what it means to be human in a different kind of way.
Yes, That started our relationship and I believe all relationships are formed in those beginning moments based on those values. And so when we started looking outside, I talked to Kathleen and said, well, what do you think about South Asia? It makes so much sense for acumen. Not because we wanna bring acumen to Southeast Asia, but because there's so much innovation happening here because the world is tilting to the east and because you can't really have a global conversation without the wisdom of Asia and particularly Southeast Asia, which has so much focus on the collective on a sense of responsibility, not only rights on duty.
The world desperately needs that all of our tensions are on your right. I'm wrong. We need a creative tension around the individual and community around responsibility and rights. And so build, extend a community in ways that identify the new innovations, but also the old values and bring that into the larger globe local, global community.
And so, We wouldn't be here without Kathleen. without Lam from Vietnam, without Stanley from Singapore. And those three who are members of the Asian philanthropy circle. Yeah. They're the anchors. They're the entrepreneurial philanthropists who then worked with some long-term acumen team members from the region to build from the bottom up.
And I love learning and building and growing. And the last few days with 80 of the 110 and a A V P N as well.
AVPN has been a great player too. I've also been there. I feel like we're part of this community that is global and so to be here at AVPN and see Sarah quorum Pakistani fellow who is fundamentally changing telehealth in Pakistan as this amazing woman, doctor, or ak incredible Indian technology platform company that has moved a billion dollars in into the lives of their very poor people by giving them access to government services.
In conversation with fellows here, this is the dream. And Acumen's role can be to identify that innovation wherever it exists in the world and share it with the rest of the world. Take those insights, inspire a new generation that we truly can build a world that isn't focused solely on profit and the individual at the center of our systems, but that insists on putting our shared humanity and the sustainability of the earth there.
Ling Yah: There are some people, critics who might say, these social entrepreneurs, they will succeed regardless of whether Acumen is here or not. I wonder how you would answer that and what that actual value add is.
Jacqueline Novogratz: Entrepreneurs who succeed have the determination to succeed and they will find a way. That's why I love social entrepreneurs.
They see the world word impossible. And they take it as a challenge. And so I think there's some truth to, I would've succeeded one way or another. Yeah. Even if be doing this, if the door were two feet to my right, I'd probably knock down the brick wall.
Then I'd even find the door.
The reason for acumen is an acknowledgement that social entrepreneurs, Have a very lonely path. Taking on the status quo and trying to create new ways of doing things is by definition not easy. And it's particularly not easy when you're surrounded by a society that values success in much more traditional ways.
And I would say I grew up in that same system. And so acumen. Acumen Academy are here to provide that community, that sense of home, absolutely the right kind of capital, because we need that too. And hopefully we can model that. But the vision long term is that these social entrepreneurs become the role models and they're creating the business models for the future.
And in 15 to 20 years, we'll be able to look across the world and see. These Acumen Academy individuals leading major corporations, civil society organizations, ministries, maybe heads of state, but they will know their country. They will know how to have difficult conversations across race, class, ethnicity, religion, and they will know other countries and move away from this bifurcated vision of the world where innovation comes from one place.
But rather we'll truly see each other as human beings in a singular human endeavor that understands that we will rise together or we will fall together. And I think that's what Acumen represents. But it's not like Acumen's coming to town. It's there's a community that needs to be born and born again.
And we're as strong as the individuals within the community are strong, particularly if everyone in it lives from that ethos that if we give more than we take, everything changes.
Ling Yah: Acumen might not have come to town, but Jacqueline has come to town. I'm sure your team has spent a long time prepping for this. You must also have some kind of personal KPIs before you came.
What were your goals coming here and did you achieve them?
Jacqueline Novogratz: My goals coming here. So I often say that trust is the rarest and most precious currency we have. If you can imagine that Kathleen and Stanley and Lum built programs here in South Asia, Southeast Asia with our team fully online, and there was no acumen at the time. It's just amazing to me. And so this is the first time that all of the fellows had the opportunity to meet in person, and I wasn't going to miss that.
And the foundry coming together, the foundry coming together, and the foundry are those fellows who've gone through the immersive and now they're part of the acumen.
To immerse myself, feel it, see it. So the k p I was to acknowledge the work, immerse myself and understand the, people here, the opportunity so that we could dream a little bit to together to acknowledge and honor the anchors, YTL and Lum, his son, Jeremy, Stanley.
Our team who is just incredible when I think about what they've built and how they've built it, the fellows and I can see now the cluster of fellows already working on mental health, working food systems, working in energy, working with indigenous people, and. I'll tell you, I wanna connect them to, oh, we have people working in, food systems in Columbia, in Los Angeles and in Northern Pakistan and in India, and they're part of your tribe too.
And if we can start to pull these, not just dreamers, but doers together with the values of the manifesto, who really do focus on doing what's right, not what's easy. I truly believe you weave enough of this together and systems change and young people see that there's a whole generation that is defining success in a way that can create a new kind of superhero so that that's what they wanna grow up to be, even if they're still are.
A lot of forces say, success looks like money. So, Or fame. I think that this is an opportunity. It weren't an inflection point, and that this is part of a new way of storytelling and a new definition.
Ling Yah: I love the word immersion and I've spoken to many people who've met you as well, and they will always say that.
Your schedule's incredibly packed, but when she's in front of you, she's so focused, you feel like she really is present. She really knows you and it can tell also, when you're talking about meeting Kathleen, you jump straight to what really matters, which resonates with other people I've interviewed who would say, when I was in Harvard Executive Program, they would say, you ask who are you?
Who are you? Who are you? Three times. Who are you, first time? This is what I do. By the time you get to third, it's what I care about, what drives me, my family. It feels as though you have that ability to just go straight to the third level, the deep level. How do you do it?
Jacqueline Novogratz: My mom said as a little girl, I used to listen with my whole body.
So I don't know. my mentor John Gardner used to say, the key to life is to be interested, not interesting. I love people stories. I wanna know who human beings are and maybe my parents did a, good job teaching me to love the world. I really love it and I wanna know it, and I don't feel like I'm that important in it.
What's important is I wanna find the light in somebody else. and I actually think that somehow that culture has transcended through acumen. When I talk to so many of the fellows from Acumen Foundry, they'll say, I'll say, but really, what is it that makes this community different? and it's really to your point, They'll say in, in many other programs, you walk in and everybody starts posturing and say, well, these are the KPIs I've done and this is what I've created at Acumen.
You sort of assume that's all being done and you say, how's your health? How's your family? Are you sleeping? And they used the word home a lot and for a while I would think, oh my goodness, are we too soft? And what I've realized is no. It's that their lives are so hard, their work is so hard. Here's a place where they can talk about failures, where they can talk about vulnerabilities, where they can talk about how do you take on real change even in places where it can be dangerous.
When you're also trying to be a good mother. How do you balance that? Are you making your children pay a price for the work that you're doing? Yes. We need places to have those kinds of conversations so that human beings can take on the change that's needed in the world and do so in a way that actually embeds it and allows it to not only succeed, but sustain and so I think that Acumen's secret sauce, if you will, is a fearlessness in marrying the head and the heart and the spirit.
And realizing that
if all we're focused on is a hard head and KPIs that keep us distant from human beings, not only do our hearts become stone, but we can easily make humans turn into inputs if all we are is heart. Then we too easily end up doing a lot of nothing. And I actually think that's not loving at all. it's sort of Pablo, it's almost disrespectful.
I think I learned early on that. It means we sometimes have low expectations for people, and we're really good as human beings at going down to low expectations. And so you need to hold the two hard head, soft heart. It's not comfortable. You have to walk into a room where the expectations are that you will look smart and professional and efficient, and we need to be all those things.
But if you're working with people who assume that you actually don't care what their answers are, because you already know what they need, you're gonna fail. You have to walk into the room with very low income people who actually don't trust you, have seen people like you come and go to solve their problems and made things worse.
And you have to learn how to build trust, create systems, fight a status quo, take on. Sometimes very tough mafias that would rather you not succeed and almost have more fitness, more intellect, more heart than it takes to just create a profitable business or just have a, a really good heart and do just more alms giving.
Yeah, it's all legitimate. But what I care about is fundamental change that allows people to find themselves and bring their best selves to the world.
Ling Yah: What I love is that it brings me perfect to the next point You talked about. Marriage. He talked about expectations. Okay, now you're gonna get me there. Yes.
We have to talk about Chris, your husband. He's the curator of TED conferences. I learned during my research, he spent four years chasing you. Moved all the way to New York for a 2% chance of you saying yes, and I thought it was hilarious that he said, I'm really glad that you have a checklist of people because you're 40 and you clearly haven't succeeded.
So I have a chance. I'm sure you must have thought very carefully about who your life partner has to be. How did you decide that? Yes, Chris is the one.
Jacqueline Novogratz: You should probably ask gr you know? Okay. You really got me now. Well first of all, the man is a risk taker and it's really hard to say no to him. And when he first asked me on a date and I said Absolutely not And he said, do I have a 2% chance?
And I said, absolutely not. And he said, you're supposed to be this humanitarian. You wouldn't give me a 2% chance. And I said, I'll give you 2%. It's still a joke in our family that, you know, 2% is better than zero. Jacqueline, as long as I have it, I'm going for it. I don't think I had this grand plan. I do think I was afraid that if I married somebody There was a risk of expectations that I would get smaller somehow, and because I, I love family.
I'm deeply grounded in community and I had been committed my whole life to something much bigger than me, and I wasn't sure that there was a man who could hold both.
When Chris came into my life like a just a thunderstorm. It took me a while to realize that he was never going to hold me back, and more than that, I, what he loved was that I was committed to something so much bigger than myself. And when we married, which granted, I gave him a really hard time when I finally married him. He snuck in an extra vow and really surprised me and he said, Jacqueline, there's one more vow I promised never to hold you back.
And there have been many times in our lives once when I called him after I was in a shootout in Pakistan and really shaken up and. He said, you know, are you okay? And I said, I'm, I'm good. And he said, do you wanna come home? And I said, no, I wanna stay with my team. And he said, I'm sort of torn because the protector in me wants to say, come home now.
But the man who vowed you that I would never hold you back has to do whatever you wanna do. And I said, that's all I needed to know cuz now you're just with me. And so I have a life partner as well as a, a soulmate and a love. And
I feel really lucky for that. Amazing.
Ling Yah: Any advice for people who are looking for a life partner who also have a mission that feels bigger than themselves and might feel as though no one's gonna add up?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Well, this is what my mom may have gotten wrong all those years ago. I think so often. Women especially start to feel the biological clock or family pressure and think I've got to find my partner now and start holding themselves back because they wanna create space to find that partner.
I'm not sure we actually opened ourselves up to the magic of the partner that might actually be the right one for us. What I have discovered through life is that when you are doing what you love, particularly with people you love, it makes you the most alive and you're much more likely, even if you're working on the other side of the world, to find that life partner.
And I think you will recognize yourselves in each other, and it's probably like everything. When you want something too much, we get all stressed out and that's when we miss it. But if what we want is to be fully engaged and alive in the work that we do, that's when we're beautiful.
And it's why I often ask people in interviews, tell me what you're doing when you feel most beautiful. Mm-hmm. Then I'm, much more likely to be able to figure out in what job are you gonna thrive? And I think we need a better way of educating our children. We don't teach them in school how to have a good relationship, how to choose a job, how to be financially literate.
We teach them skills. To be rich, powerful, and famous. We need people who are in the worlds, who love the worlds and who realize that the more you give, the more you get, and that happens in love too.
Ling Yah: Jacqueline has been such a pleasure to have you. I always end with the same questions. The first is this, and I feel like I know the answer.
Do you feel like you have found your why?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Yes, I do. I wanna build a world where every human being has dignity.
Ling Yah: What kind of legacy do you wanna leave behind?
Jacqueline Novogratz: I never think about my legacy, but if there is an example of a person whose legacy I most admire, it's my mentor, John Gardner, who never aspired to have his name on the wall, nor a big title in front of his name, but who invested in everyone around him, particularly younger people including me.
And sometimes I look across the world and I meet young or people my age who've been influenced by him and equally important acumen fellows, young people around the world. And I hear them using John's very words that came through me. And I think, John, you're still here.
And what better legacy is that?
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Curiosity. Kindness. A focus on the amount of energy they release in other people, not just what they accumulate themselves.
Ling Yah: And where can people go to support you, support Acumen, find out what you're doing?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Our website, which is www dot acumen, a c u m e n.org.
Ling Yah: And anything else you'd like to share that we haven't somehow covered?
Jacqueline Novogratz: Two things. First. I sometimes look at this next generation and I understand how scary the world can feel. We talk about climate change. We see smokey cities and a lot of frightening things in the world, and sometimes people will say to me, what can I do? These problems are too big, and I would say, you can do a lot, but start with what you have, where you are.
It could be a tiny step. Take a step and let that step teach you where you next need to go. The Jesuits say, go to where your deepest journeys meets the world's great needs. You find that by living that. You find purpose by living it. Yeah.
And the second thing is, if there is one rule, it is not only do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yeah. But it is give more to the world than you take from it.
If you're an investor, focus on what you're investing, not just what on you 're extracting.
If you're teaching focus, what is being let into the world.
And you'll find out how much you're being taught back. I think there's not a single profession, a single way of being in the world that couldn't do better. If we use that fundamental idea, and ultimately we find that others see it, they pay attention, and then they change. Fantastic.
Ling Yah: That's the perfect note to end this interview. Thank you so much for your time, Jacqueline.
Jacqueline Novogratz: Thank you so much.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 124.
The show notes and transcript could be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/124.
And stay tuned for next Sunday because we'll be meeting a very special TikTok influencer. She's worked previously at NASA, Boeing, and Hyperloop One, and during the pandemic, she very strategically launched a math focused TikTok channel that exploded to 1 million subscribers in six months and now stands at almost 2 million followers.
To learn more about her journey and why she chose to go from NASA to TikTok and what it's like being an entrepreneur, stick around, subscribe to STIMY if you haven't done so already, and see you next Sunday.