Jacqueline Novogratz Leads Conversation of Audacious Action

Jacqueline Novagratz

“The humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.” — Jacqueline Novogratz

That’s the mission statement that drives Acumen’s CEO Jacqueline Novogratz every day. She’s the founder and CEO of Acumen, a non-profit group that raises donations to invest in entrepreneurial projects that tackle poverty around the world.

A Vancouver audience had the opportunity to hear Novogratz’s thoughts on impact investing as part of a conversation organized by the Vancouver Acumen chapter and the Simon Fraser University Radius program.

“Bright Spots & What’s Missing,” focused on what’s working and what’s missing from social enterprise.

Sharon Duguid, (director and family enterprise advisor, Center for Entrepreneurs and Family Enterprise at PwC) moderated the discussion with Novogratz and Kevin Royes, serial soulcial-preneur and youth entrepreneurship educator.

Entrepreneurship is about going over, around, under or right through obstacles. It’s not for the faint of heart. Duguid asked, “How do you approach the naysayers, the tight-fisted, the policy people, how do you keep the momentum going?”

“Start and let the work teach you,” said Novogratz. “It’s too easy to wait until everything is set up perfectly before you try to move.” She shared the story of four guys wanting to change the ambulance industry in India: “We thought they were crazy. It was such a big, broken, corrupt, bloated industry, but still said why not give it a try. Over time, very quickly we saw how a tiny, no-name, ethical, entrepreneurial organization could navigate this morass.”

Ziqitza Healthcare has grown to the second largest ambulance company in Asia. She shares more of the story in her winter 2014 letter.

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She offered that if “you’re entrepreneurs, you can’t wake up in this morning thinking you can anticipate everything that’s going to happen. The standing on the shoulders of others, learning from it, and the willingness to move from a place of moral authority with fearlessness, to take on challenges, sometimes with soft power, and sometimes by playing hardball. It’s about not being afraid of either side.”

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In terms of priorities, and doing what’s right, Novogratz isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses. While offering that in many regards it’s a great time to be alive, she also cautioned, “I think there’s a risk that with so much wealth being concentrated in one tiny, tiny, tiny pinprick of a corner, we’re actually at risk of losing empathy.”

“I don’t know if we’re only going to get it through this one-to-one relationship model,” she added. “I think we have opportunities as social entrepreneurs to be thinking about the kinds of solutions that can really humanize great innovation.

“We’re seeing the next coolest app getting ridiculous multiples, but we’re not seeing the kind of innovation we need to get water to the right places. The more we can somehow make that sexy, and celebrate entrepreneurs who are using innovation to create change the more things will change for the better.”

She talked about building ethics, by citing a story about a Ziqitza employee who found a wallet on the Indian roadside with about $50 in it. He took the wallet to the hospital and personally gave it to the patient once out of surgery. He trusted no one to do the same, and was held up as a public hero.

“We have to consider another metric for success,” Novogratz suggested. “It’s not just the one who has the most money wins. It’s how much are you giving? How much dignity are you giving? How much are you enabling others to gain?”

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Duguid asked Novogratz and Royes what the most compelling issue they face in their daily mission.

“We have be careful when looking at a tree with some diseased leaves for instance,” said Royes. “Our tendency is to go to the leaves and try to fix them. I’m constantly driven by this idea of creating the biggest amount of change with the least amount of effort.”

Novogratz answered, “At the heart of it, is how do you navigate these complex and interlinking systems of finance, venture capital, philanthropy and the very poorest people on the planet in a way that moves from respect for everybody. And, that can really tear at you in a lot of different ways. How do you keep that core, so that everybody will have a place to play in this growing ecosystem.”

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Entrepreneurship was at the heart of the conversation. “How do you cut past the distractions, and focus on what needs to be done right now?” asked Duguid.

Royes talked about reading “Mastery” and suggested, “There’s a period of apprenticeship before we start to settle in, start to make sense and see the bigger picture. We have to appreciate that we’re going to be making mistakes in business that I’m going to learn from. That’s part of it, and I even have to accept the possibility of failure. That’s OK because it’s part of becoming an apprentice. We have to get in the game, we have to start taking some action, we have to start somewhere.”

He touched on the fact that by 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce: “That’s a good future to look forward to.”

As well, he pointed to the recent Deloitte Millennial survey saying he’s excited by the prospect that “70 per cent see themselves working independently.” This could be a good trend, because clearly there are no shortage of employers feeling unprepared for this new generation of leaders.

In terms of key social trends like collaboration, sharing, and a growing global connectivity, that are reshaping our markets, Royes talked about this being “a people to people time. Big institutions are moving very slowly, and people are creating so much change outside of it.

“People are caring way more about where things are coming from. Part of our jobs as creators is to consider how we’re connecting with the people in this world and how they’re spending their money. It doesn’t matter what the initiative is, if we don’t connect why the person is buying something in the first place.”

The story originally appeared in the Huffington Post BC

Photos by Thompson Chan and Nikki Koutsochilis

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