Read Chapter 9,10,11
With reference to specific quotations from the text in the book, discuss some/all of the following questions:
Table of Contents
About the Author
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To my parents,
Bob and Barbara Novogratz,
who taught me to love the world,
to all who aspire to give more
to the world than you take from it
We make our lives with each other. This book has been
nurtured by multitudes. To all of them I am grateful.
Thanks to my brilliant editor, Barbara Jones, and the
great team at Holt. Barbara, you pushed me to
uncomfortable places, edited with insight and care, and
talked me off a few cliffs. And the book is better for it.
Thanks, too, to Ruby Rose Lee and the copy editor, Jenna
Dolan, who reviewed the manuscript. Thank you to my
irrepressible agent Elyse Cheney and your team for
believing in and fighting for this book. And for being
dreamers who do.
Cyndi Stivers, you are a miracle. Thank you for
accompanying me from the very first days of Sunflowers to
the final editing with thrilling speed and surety. William
Charnock, the shepherd, you always said yes, made my
challenges yours, remained impossibly positive, and kept
me sane. Bavidra Mohan, your thoughtful feedback
illuminated those early, messy drafts. Seth Godin, your
creativity and friendship put wind beneath my wings that
carried me across the world and back. Thank you.
My sister Beth supported my spirit throughout, just as
she did with The Blue Sweater. Beth, I love our
collaborations, and your generosity astonishes.
Carlyle Singer, Acumen’s fearless president, is my
partner in building both an institution and a movement. She
made it possible for me to write this book while remaining
close to the work. Thank you, Carlyle, for modeling shared
leadership and for being a friend.
I could not have completed the book without the
bighearted support of a small and mighty group at Acumen
who helped do whatever it took to organize and reconsider
fragments and journals of stories told and untold: Lindsay
Camacho, Charlotte Erb, Sonya Khattak, and Maureen Klein.
Lynn Roland helped make this our shared book. Thank you
to patient readers who gave truthful, constructive feedback:
Sophia Ahmed, Wei Wei Hsing, Esha Mufti, Chee Pearlman,
and, of course, my mother, the most voracious reader I
know. Thanks to Regional Directors for your patience
through this process, for your ideas, for teaching me more
than you know. Thanks to Sunny Bates, Karie Brown, Leslie
Gimbel, Jeanie Honey, Otho Kerr, and Taylor Milsal for your
I feel like the luckiest woman on earth to do work I
adore with people I love. Thanks to the entire Acumen team
across the globe. You model the principles of this book,
teach me daily, and inspire me to be a better version of
myself. Your commitment to excellence has helped build
four new organizations in our extended family—Acumen’s
off-grid energy fund KawiSafi, our agriculture resiliency fund
ARAF, our Latin America Growth Fund, and our spin-off from
Lean Data, 60 Decibels. Each of those teams, too, have
influenced the ideas in this book, and for all of you, I am
I interviewed many Acumen entrepreneurs and fellows
both on-site and at distance and appreciate every visit,
every interaction. Each one of you has taught me more than
I can say. And though many of your stories and lessons
about making capital work for us are not included here,
nothing is wasted. Indeed, the collection of Acumen’s nearly
130 entrepreneurs and 600 fellows around the world
represents a treasure trove of human possibility; all of you
have lessons worth sharing.
Many thanks go to Acumen’s phenomenal board of
directors who encouraged me to write this book in the first
place: our indominable chair Shaiza Rizavi, Andrea Soros
Colombel, Cristina Ljungberg, Hunter Boll, Julius Gaudio,
Kathleen Chew Wai Lin, Kirsten Nevill-Manning, Margo
Alexander, Nate Laurell, Pat Mitchell, Stuart Davidson,
Thulasiraj Ravilla, as well as Dave Heller, William Mayer,
Robert Niehaus, Mike Novogratz, and Ali Siddiqui, who only
recently rolled off the board after many years of service.
Thank you to every advisory member (I’m including those
not acknowledged elsewhere): Jawad Aslam, Diana Barrett,
Tim Brown, Peter Cain, Niko Canner, Jesse Clarke, Beth
Comstock, Rebecca Eastmond, Paul Fletcher, Katherine
Fulton, Peter Goldmark, Per Heggenes, Katie Hill, Arianna
Huffington, Jill Iscol, Maria Angeles Leon Lopez, Federica
Marchionni, Felipe Medina, Susan Meiselas, Craig Nevill-
Manning, Noor Pahlavi, Paul Polman, Kerry J. Sulkowicz, Vikki
Tam, Mark Tercek, Pat Tierney, Daniel Toole, and Hamdi
Ulukaya. For your constant support, thank you. And, of
course, none of this learning would have been possible
without Acumen’s remarkable community of partners,
course takers, supporters, and friends around the world.
When all is said and done, you are the vanguard.
These pages carry the written wisdom of individuals far
wiser than I will ever be. I cannot possibly name all of them,
but the writings of Chinua Achebe, David Brooks, John
Gardner, Anand Giridharadas, Seth Godin, Jon Haidt, Marie
Howe, Chris Lowney, Maria Popova, Bryan Stevenson,
Pádraig Ó Tuama, Elaine Pagels, Amartya Sen, and Krista
Tippett especially have been a gift. I also owe much to the
Good Society Readings and friends from the Aspen Institute,
where I am a trustee and proud Henry Crown fellow.
Thank you to the Rockefeller Foundation who supported
me with a monthlong residency at its Bellagio Conference
Center. That time helped me get started and introduced me
to a community of encouraging friends. Thanks to Akhil
Gupta as well.
Belonging to a big, crazy, loving family not only grounds
me but makes my life richer and my work more effective
and expansive. I’m forever grateful to my parents, Barbara
and Bob; to my siblings, Robert, Michael, Elizabeth, John,
Amy, and Matthew; my in-laws, Sukey, Cortney, Tina,
Nadean, and Mike. To my stepdaughters Elizabeth and Anna
and their spouses, Joseph and Sam. And to the next big
generation of family members who will change the world
along with their peers. It is for you and every other young
person on this planet that I ultimately wrote this book.
Finally, to my darling Chris, for your patient ear, your
constant support, for your forever love, for everything.
1986. Kigali, Rwanda. I am standing in a field on a blue-sky
day, surrounded by tall, yellow sunflowers. I am a twenty-
five-year-old former banker dressed in a flowy skirt, wearing
flat, mud-speckled white shoes, my head filled with dreams
of changing the world. Beside me is an apple-cheeked,
bespectacled nun in a brown habit smiling broadly. Her
name is Felicula, and I adore her for taking me under her
wing. Along with a few other Rwandan women, she and I are
planning to build the first microfinance bank in the country.
Today, we’re visiting a sunflower oil–pressing business, the
kind of tiny venture our bank might one day support. We
plan to call the microfinance organization Duterimbere,
meaning “to go forward with enthusiasm.”
All I see is upside.
2016. Kigali, Rwanda. I am standing at an outdoor reception
on a starry night, surrounded by men and women in dark
suits. I am the fifty-five-year-old CEO of Acumen, a global
nonprofit seeking to change the way the world tackles
poverty. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and his top
ministers are at the reception to meet potential investors in
a new $70 million impact fund Acumen is building to bring
solar electricity to more than ten million low-income people
in East Africa.
I have become all too familiar with the risks of making
and then trying to deliver on big promises. Yet I’m confident
Acumen and its partners can launch and implement this
fund, and thus prove the power of innovation to help solve
one of the continent’s most intractable problems.
Just before I begin to make a formal presentation to the
group, a young Rwandan woman wearing a navy suit and
low-heeled pumps approaches me.
“Ms. Novogratz,” she says, “I think you knew my
“Really?” I ask. “What was her name?” I haven’t a clue
to whom she is referring: too many of my friends were
murdered in the genocide.
“Her name was Felicula,” she responds brightly.
My eyes well with tears. “I’m sorry,” I stammer. “Would
you remind me who you are again?”
“My name is Monique,” the young woman answers with
soft-spoken confidence, her eyes holding mine. “I am the
deputy secretary-general of Rwanda’s central bank.”
Words fail me completely. I am transported back to the
days when Felicula and I dreamed together of a world in
which women would have greater control over their lives.
Of course, we started with a low bar: until 1986, it was
illegal in Rwanda for a woman to open a bank account
without her husband’s permission. Although Felicula and I
and our other cofounders had big dreams to make a
difference, had you told us in 1986 that within a generation I
would be standing before a young Rwandan woman charged
with overseeing her nation’s financial system, I’m not sure
we would have believed you.
In addition to being an enterprising nun, Felicula
Nyiramtarambirwa, along with two other cofounders of
Duterimbere, was among the first three women
parliamentarians in Rwandan history. Early in their
parliamentary tenures, while Duterimbere was just getting
started, the three women felt compelled to take on the issue
of bride price, a system whereby men presented three cows
to a potential father-in-law in exchange for marrying his
daughter. Felicula especially respected the power of
tradition, but not as an excuse for reducing women to
The bill to ban the payment of a bride price passed
easily, but a backlash erupted. Rural women felt diminished.
In their eyes, their economic value had been decimated
overnight. Women and men across the country raised their
voices in protest, and many parliamentarians blamed the
outcry on the rashness of their freshmen colleagues. The
women parliamentarians had failed to understand the depth
of cultural practices in their own nation. They focused on
what could be, but neglected to recognize the world that
was, including the high-stakes realities of politics. In 1987,
just a few days after the bride-price fiasco, Felicula was
killed in a mysterious hit-and-run accident. Some assumed it
was a government-orchestrated killing. The murderer was
I mourned Felicula, and grieved over losing a person
who gave me a sense of belonging without consideration of
my tribe or religion or ethnicity. But if I had lost a chunk of
my innocence with her death, I also had learned the folly
and danger of unbridled optimism not grounded in the
realities of the communities we wish to serve. I grew in
understanding. And thanks to the elemental work
contributed by Felicula and others, our microfinance bank
expanded, reaching borrowers not only in Kigali but across
Then, in 1994, the Rwandan genocide ripped the
country apart, resulting in the slaughter of more than a half
million people, mostly from the minority Tutsi tribe.
Shockingly, one of the cofounders of our beloved institution
of social justice emerged as a leader of that horrendous
bloodbath. After that, I couldn’t help but question all those
platitudes I’d heard about women being more nurturing and
caring than men. Some women, I’d think. Not all women.
Yet, soon enough, like shoots of fragile flowers creeping
upward through granite cracks, a small group of women
leaders came together from across the country to put
Duterimbere back together again. The quiet, resolute
actions of these women who had lost everything but hope
rekindled their resilience and helped repair the nation’s
Thirty years later, not only is Duterimbere surviving, but
it is thriving, and continuing to play its part in Rwanda’s
remarkable recovery. And though the history of the
country’s first three women parliamentarians ended
tragically, Rwanda now has the highest percentage of
women parliamentarians of any country on earth.
Back in Kigali on that night in 2016, I reconnected with
the memory of Felicula, who had started work she could not
complete in her lifetime. She was taken too early, but her
work continued anyway—because she cared, fought fiercely
for her convictions, and brought others along with her. I was
reminded that every one of us stands on the shoulders of
those who have gone before, that every one of us has a
chance to build on the collective knowledge of remarkable
human beings, their achievements, the principles they
cherished. And I was there to reassure myself that we have
infinitely more knowledge, connection, tools, skills, and
resources to tackle the world’s injustices today than we did
back in Felicula’s time.
Or at any other time in history.
The poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from
exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive
where we started and know the place for the first time.”
That night in Kigali, I renewed my commitment to working
toward dreams so big that they may not be completed in my
And I resolved to write a love letter of sorts to anyone
daring to take action in our deeply flawed world.
We are made from what came before. We make
ourselves out of the promises that lie ahead. And we are
always in the process of becoming.
When I lived in Rwanda as a younger woman, cell
phones, the internet, and social media had yet to be
invented. I listened to the news twice daily via the BBC on a
shortwave radio. It was a world of separation: separate
nations, religions, ethnicities, tribes, and genders. Though
that world was terribly unequal and unfair—nearly 40
percent of humanity subsisted on less than a dollar a day—
most of us were blissfully unaware of what was happening in
other parts of our own countries, let alone what was
happening on other sides of the world.
The revolutions in technology and globalization in the
past three decades have changed everything. The rate of
extreme poverty has fallen to 10 percent and cell phones
have connected nearly every individual on the planet. We
can see into each other’s living rooms and gain a view into
one another’s lifestyles. Rights for human beings—and
nonhumans—are expanding. On so many dimensions, the
world has gotten better.
Yet, the same forces that have shaped this world—
technology and shareholder capitalism—hold within them
the potential to destroy us. We are dangerously unequal and
divided. We collectively face the ultimatum of our climate
emergency. And many of the institutions devoted ostensibly
to improving the lives of the many, not the few, are broken,
yet we have not envisioned their replacements.
We need a new narrative. We are too entangled to abide
worldviews based on separation, nor can we look to simple
technological or market solutions. Those stories have run
their course. We will be so much richer, productive, and
peaceful if we learn not only to coexist but to flourish,
celebrating our differences while holding to the
understanding that we are part of each other, bound
together by our shared humanity. That narrative will come
not from above but from all of us.
What we need is a moral revolution, one that helps us
reimagine and reform technology, business, and politics,
thereby touching all aspects of our lives. By “moral,” I don’t
mean strictly adhering to established rules of authority or
convention regardless of consequence. I mean a set of
principles focused on elevating our individual and collective
dignity: a daily choice to serve others, not simply benefit
ourselves. I mean complementing the audacity that built the
world we know with a new humility more attuned to our
Of course, the very notion of moral revolution is a tall
order. Some might call it naïve. But I am not writing with
wide-eyed idealism. Over three decades I have fought many
fights for social and economic change. Much of this time has
been spent building Acumen, investing in social
entrepreneurs who seek to provide essential goods and
services at affordable prices to people living in poverty. The
work has given me a front-row seat to the realities of
making sustainable change in some of the most challenging
places on the planet. What I’ve learned from these
individuals has deeply inspired me; and I want to pass on
those lessons, because they apply broadly.
None of this is easy, of course. I have accompanied
hundreds of change agents through challenges and
sometimes crushing defeats. My face wears the lines of
failures, losses, and far too many sleepless nights.
However, hard battles do not account for all my face’s
creases. Some are etched from smiles and laughter shared
with people who insisted on striving for freedom,
opportunity, and justice against all odds. I have partnered
with good people who have changed their communities,
their companies, their nations, and ultimately, themselves. I
have witnessed people making what others might consider
hopelessly romantic dreams come true—and true not just
for a few, but for millions (in some cases, hundreds of
millions). The actions of these people, not their slogans or
pretty words, have kept alive for me the ideas of purpose, of
impact, of dignity, of love—all separate points on a moral
A new generation is rising, one that is more conscious of
how they live, what they buy, and where they work. Many
are unwilling to work for companies unless those companies
are committed to sustainability and recognize that with
power must come accountability. And a growing number of
companies are listening. I’ve been heartened to see some
CEOs move to stakeholder models, partly in response to
prompting by their younger employees, and because they
themselves recognize the need to change. If you are
working in a corporation, you have ample opportunity to
Cynics might point to a system of governments,
corporations, and technologies so broken that attempts to
change it from the edges are futile. But cynics don’t build
the future. Instead, they often use their jaundiced views to
justify inaction. And never before have we more desperately
needed their opposite—thoughtful, empathetic, resilient
believers and optimists on a path of moral leadership.
This book assumes that you are interested in being part
of world-changing human capital that will help solve
problems big and small. Maybe you are a teacher or a
communicator, an activist or a doctor, a lawyer or an
investor, or some new force for positive change. I have seen
people like you alter the lives of schoolchildren and street
children, refugees, the formerly incarcerated; of people
living in forgotten communities and in places ravaged by
war, poverty, or toxic industries. I’ve witnessed you not just
doing but improving the often-unseen work of serving the
sick, healing the heartbroken, sitting with the dying to
remind others that they, too, are good and worthy of love.
Or you might be a philanthropist. The hard work of
changing systems requires financial resources. And just as
there is a new generation of entrepreneurial individuals
focused on solving complex issues, so there is a new
generation of philanthropists, men and women willing to
give not just money but time, commitment, connections,
and big parts of their hearts and minds.
Change is the domain of all of us.
In every country on earth, people are refusing to
acquiesce to the exhausting, deadening news cycles filled
with catastrophe and cynicism, seeking to make good news
instead. These people are deliberately expanding their
circles of compassion, reaching across lines of difference
with a quiet strength forged in all that we have in common.
Our problems are so similar, so solvable. And we are better
than we think we are.
Those I’ve known who’ve most changed the world
exhibit a voracious curiosity about the world and other
people, and a willingness to listen and empathize with those
unlike them. These people stand apart not because of
school degrees or the size of their bank accounts, but
because of their character, their willingness to build
reservoirs of courage and stand for their beliefs, even if they
Of course, this kind of character isn’t built overnight. It
is honed through a lifelong process of committing to
something bigger than yourself, aspiring to qualities of
moral leadership, defining success by how others fare
because of your efforts, embedding a sense of purpose into
your daily decisions.
Change is possible. And because large-scale,
sustainable change is possible, I have come to see it as a
responsibility to be
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