Writer’s Note: This article is the first in a series that focuses on individuals who have made a contribution through business or non-profit endeavors that focus on improving the quality of people’s lives. In honor of Women’s History Month, a story will be written each week this month exploring the life of one of the many women that have changed the social and global landscape through their dedication to socially-conscious entrepreneurial causes.


Once upon a time, a high-school girl donated a blue sweater to Goodwill after a fellow classmate poked fun of how the sweater accentuated her “curves.” A whole decade later, while working in Rwanda, she came across a young Rwandan boy wearing the same blue sweater. She ran up to him. She checked the label. She found her name written on it.


This is the story of Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen (formerly Acumen Fund), a nonprofit organization focused on providing investment to developing nations and changing the way that our society thinks about charity and philanthropy.


I’ve held that story as a metaphor for how interconnected we are, how [our] action and our inaction can impact people we might never know, and never meet, everyday of our lives, all around the world. In many ways finding that blue sweater was the beginning of my journey.”


After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Economics and International Affairs, Novogratz began her professional career providing international credit analysis at Chase Manhattan Bank. After working in the corporate world for a few years, Novogratz left Chase Manhattan, delving into a new world working for the World Bank and UNICEF.  Below are some (and definitely not all!) of her truly inspiring accomplishments after leaving Chase Manhattan Bank:

  1. Co-founder of Duterimbere, Rwanda’s first microfinance institution.
  2. Co-founder of The Philanthropy Workshop and The Next Generation Leadership Foundation at the Rockefeller Institution. Both of these institutions exist to encourage and create the next generation of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
  3. Founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund (see more information below), and
  4. Currently sitting on the advisory boards of Sonen Capital, Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, and the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies.


Novogratz has also received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Wofford College, Gettysburg College, and Fordham University. Her work with Acumen has improved millions of lives around the world, investing more than $80 million in 73 countries across South Asia and Africa. Her work has changed how people perceive aid and philanthropy. She realized that, “People really don’t want handouts, they want to make their own decisions; they want to solve their own problems.” Novogratz describes Acumen as a, “nonprofit venture capital fund for the poor… a few oxymorons in one sentence.” She is outspoken about her belief that neither philanthropy nor market-based capitalism can solve the problems of poverty by themselves, and offers a model in which they can and have worked together.


Novogratz is the epitome of a pioneer in social entrepreneurship. Her work has changed the way that people perceive aid and philanthropy, and her amazingly clear focus on the future (see here) will continue to make this world a better place.


More Information:

Acumen Fund — explore the founders, investments, missions,  how you can make a difference and more at Acumen.org

Jacqueline Novogratz — Read and watch everything you can about her on her page at TED, and read more about her book The Blue Sweater

Recent work — Read Novogratz’s recent newsletter describing how much work has already been done in 2014.


What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet me @dannystevens91 with your thoughts!