The Blue Sweater

March 25, 2010

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The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz begins with a touching anecdote about how Jacqueline realized as early as the 1980s how truly interconnected the world that we live in is.  Nowadays, with the prevalence of the internet and the rise of the mobile era, we are even more connected than ever before.  Even in developing countries, access to the internet and information is becoming commonplace.  As Jacqueline has stated, “[the story of the blue sweater made me realize] how interconnected we are, how our action and inaction can impact people we might never know and never meet everyday of our lives all around the world.”

The Blue Sweater is an inspirational story of how Jacqueline came to realize that she could play a role in solving poverty by ultimately starting her own organization, the Acumen Fund.  Jacqueline shows us that she didn’t always have the answers or a clear path forward, but along the way she learned and experimented, just at the Acumen Fund does now.  The book paints the picture of a youthful, and sometimes naïve, Jacqueline, who is eager to dig in to the issues and very relatable.  While reading the book, I could easily see parts of myself in Jacqueline and feel the emotions of her experiences as if they were my own.  Having travelled to Africa and some of the other places she visited, I could relate to her excitement at arriving.  She writes, “The minute I landed in Rio, I felt I’d arrived in a magical place that somehow already lived inside me.  We walked off the plane and across the tarmac in a light summer rainstorm while just beyond us there was not a cloud in the bright blue sky.”  Jacqueline’s prose instantly swept me up and whisked me off, as if I was actually there in Nairobi, Rwanda and  Cote D’Ivore myself.  Through her stories, Jacqueline made me itch to get more involved in solving global poverty myself.  For anyone who is looking for a purpose in life or some inspiration to make a difference, the Blue Sweater is for you.

What earns the Blue Sweater its true stripes is that it is more than just a hallmark inspirational story.  Rather, Jacqueline writes in a way that educates the reader of her perspective on the nuances of the situation in developing countries.  She tells stories of corruption and inefficiencies as well as stories of hope and progress.  Through the book, I learned about how sometimes donors may fund projects that unintentionally leave the poor worse off than before.  Jacqueline’s experience revealed that pumping money and hand outs into the economies of developing countries won’t help much, unless the poor are empowered to take matters into their own hands and learn skills.  At the same time, many characters in the book gave me a sense of hope because they managed to be successful after starting with nothing.  Finally, the Blue Sweater also provides a unique lens on history as Jacqueline lived in Rwanda prior to the genocide and was able to catch up with her friends after it was over to see how they fared and what role they played.  Through that experience, the reader comes to understand how different people may react in dire situations; some of us are heroes, while others are traitors, power-vultures or even victims.

All told, I only have one minor critique of the book; at times, Jacqueline will give the punch line of the story she is about to tell, before telling the story.  Though this is a slight downside, it just goes to show that every masterpiece must have a flaw.  The Blue Sweater is absolutely a must read for anyone who is even the slightest bit interested in international development and poverty alleviation.


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