Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Jacqueline Novogratz

A life of purpose? A new philosophy?

We each want to live a life of purpose, but where to start?

Better immersion than to live untouched

Jacqueline Novogratz introduces us to people she’s met in her work in “patient capital” — people who have immersed themselves in a cause, a community, a passion for justice. These human stories carry powerful moments of inspiration

Jacqueline Novogratz. Social entrepreneur

Jacqueline Novogratz founded and leads Acumen, a nonprofit that takes a businesslike approach to improving the lives of the poor. In her book “The Blue Sweater” she tells stories from the philanthropy, which emphasizes sustainable bottom-up solutions over traditional top-down aid. Full bio
Filmed Dec. 2010
I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling around the world these days, talking to groups of students and professionals, and everywhere I’m finding that I hear similar themes.
On the one hand, people say, “The time for change is now.” They want to be part of it. They talk about wanting lives of purpose and greater meaning.
But on the other hand, I hear people talking about fear, a sense of risk-aversion. They say, “I really want to follow a life of purpose, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t want to disappoint my family or friends.”
I work in global poverty. And they say, “I want to work in global poverty, but what will it mean about my career? Will I be marginalized? Will I not make enough money? Will I never get married or have children?”
And as a woman who didn’t get married until I was a lot older — and I’m glad I waited — (Laughter) — and has no children, I look at these young people and I say, “Your job is not to be perfect. Your job is only to be human. And nothing important happens in life without a cost.”
These conversations really reflect what’s happening at the national and international level. Our leaders and ourselves want everything, but we don’t talk about the costs. We don’t talk about the sacrifice.

“Our lives are so short, and our time on this planet is so precious, and all we have is each other.”|By Jacqueline Novogratz

1:29 One of my favorite quotes from literature was written by Tillie Olsen, the great American writer from the South. In a short story called “Oh Yes,” she talks about a white woman in the 1950s who has a daughter who befriends a little African American girl, and she looks at her child with a sense of pride, but she also wonders, what price will she pay?

Better immersion than to live untouched.” But the real question is, what is the cost of not daring? What is the cost of not trying?

I’ve been so privileged in my life to know extraordinary leaders who have chosen to live lives of immersion. One woman I knew who was a fellow at a program that I ran at the Rockefeller Foundation was named Ingrid Washinawatok.

She was a leader of the Menominee tribe, a Native American peoples. And when we would gather as fellows, she would push us to think about how the elders in Native American culture make decisions. And she said they would literally visualize the faces of children for 7 generations into the future, looking at them from the Earth, and they would look at them, holding them as stewards for that future.

Ingrid understood that we are connected to each other, not only as human beings, but to every living thing on the planet.

nd tragically, in 1999, when she was in Colombia working with the U’wa people, focused on preserving their culture and language, she and two colleagues were abducted and tortured and killed by the FARC.

And whenever we would gather the fellows after that, we would leave a chair empty for her spirit. And more than a decade later, when I talk to NGO fellows, whether in Trenton, New Jersey or the office of the White House, and we talk about Ingrid, they all say that they’re trying to integrate her wisdom and her spirit and really build on the unfulfilled work of her life’s mission. And when we think about legacy, I can think of no more powerful one, despite how short her life was.

I’ve been touched by Cambodian women beautiful women, women who held the tradition of the classical dance in Cambodia. And I met them in the early ’90s.

In the 1970s, under the Pol Pot regime, the Khmer Rouge killed over a million people, and they focused and targeted the elites and the intellectuals, the artists, the dancers. And at the end of the war, there were only 30 of these classical dancers still living.

And the women, who I was so privileged to meet when there were three survivors, told these stories about lying in their cots in the refugee camps. They said they would try so hard to remember the fragments of the dance, hoping that others were alive and doing the same.

one woman stood there with this perfect carriage, her hands at her side, and she talked about the reunion of the 30 after the war and how extraordinary it was. And these big tears fell down her face, but she never lifted her hands to move them.

And the women decided that they would train not the next generation of girls, because they had grown too old already, but the next generation. And I sat there in the studio watching these women clapping their hands — beautiful rhythms — as these little fairy pixies were dancing around them, wearing these beautiful silk colors.

I thought, after all this atrocity, this is how human beings really pray. Because they’re focused on honoring what is most beautiful about our past and building it into the promise of our future. And what these women understood is sometimes the most important things that we do and that we spend our time on are those things that we cannot measure.

 I also have been touched by the dark side of power and leadership. And I have learned that power, particularly in its absolute form, is an equal opportunity provider.

In 1986, I moved to Rwanda, and I worked with a very small group of Rwandan women to start that country’s first microfinance bank. And one of the women was Agnes — there on your extreme left — she was one of the first three women parliamentarians in Rwanda, and her legacy should have been to be one of the mothers of Rwanda. We built this institution based on social justice, gender equity, this idea of empowering women.

But Agnes cared more about the trappings of power than she did principle at the end.

And though she had been part of building a liberal party, a political party that was focused on diversity and tolerance, about three months before the genocide, she switched parties and joined the extremist party, Hutu Power, and she became the Minister of Justice under the genocide regime and was known for inciting men to kill faster and stop behaving like women.

She was convicted of category one crimes of genocide.

And I would visit her in the prisons, sitting side-by-side, knees touching, and I would have to admit to myself that monsters exist in all of us, but that maybe it’s not monsters so much, but the broken parts of ourselves, sadnesses, secret shame, and that ultimately it’s easy for demagogues to prey on those parts, those fragments, if you will, and to make us look at other beings, human beings, as lesser than ourselves — and in the extreme, to do terrible things.

there is no group more vulnerable to those kinds of manipulations than young men.

I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous animal on the planet is the adolescent male.

And so in a gathering where we’re focused on women, while it is so critical that we invest in our girls and we even the playing field and we find ways to honor them, we have to remember that the girls and the women are most isolated and violated and victimized and made invisible in those very societies where our men and our boys feel disempowered, unable to provide.

And that, when they sit on those street corners and all they can think of in the future is no job, no education, no possibility, well then it’s easy to understand how the greatest source of status can come from a uniform and a gun.

Sometimes very small investments can release enormous, infinite potential that exists in all of us. One of the Acumen Fund fellows at my organization, Suraj Sudhakar, has what we call moral imagination — the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and lead from that perspective.

And he’s been working with this young group of men who come from the largest slum in the world, Kibera (where is it?). And they’re incredible guys. And together they started a book club for a hundred people in the slums, and they’re reading many TED authors and liking it. And then they created a business plan competition. Then they decided that they would do TEDx’s.

And I have learned so much from Chris and Kevin and Alex and Herbert and all of these young men. Alex, in some ways, said it best. He said, “We used to feel like nobodies, but now we feel like somebodies.”

And I think we have it all wrong when we think that income is the link. What we really yearn for as human beings is to be visible to each other.

And the reason these young guys told me that they’re doing these TEDx’s is because they were sick and tired of the only workshops coming to the slums being those workshops focused on HIV, or at best, microfinance.

And they wanted to celebrate what’s beautiful about Kibera and Mathare — the photojournalists and the creatives, the graffiti artists, the teachers and the entrepreneurs. And they’re doing it. And my hat’s off to you in Kibera.

My own work focuses on making philanthropy more effective and capitalism more inclusive. At Acumen Fund, we take philanthropic resources and we invest what we call patient capital — money that will invest in entrepreneurs who see the poor not as passive recipients of charity, but as full-bodied agents of change who want to solve their own problems and make their own decisions.

We leave our money for 10 to 15 years, and when we get it back, we invest in other innovations that focus on change. I know it works. We’ve invested more than 50 million dollars in 50 companies, and those companies have brought another 200 million dollars into these forgotten markets.

This year alone, they’ve delivered 40 million services like maternal health care and housing, emergency services, solar energy, so that people can have more dignity in solving their problems.

Patient capital is uncomfortable for people searching for simple solutions, easy categories, because we don’t see profit as a blunt instrument. But we find those entrepreneurs who put people and the planet before profit.

ultimately, we want to be part of a movement that is about measuring impact, measuring what is most important to us. And my dream is we’ll have a world, one day, where we don’t just honor those who take money and make more money from it, but we find those individuals who take our resources and convert it into changing the world in the most positive ways.

And it’s only when we honor them and celebrate them and give them status that the world will really change.

11:16 Last May I had this extraordinary 24-hour period where I saw two visions of the world living side-by-side — one based on violence and the other on transcendence.

I happened to be in Lahore, Pakistan on the day that two mosques were attacked by suicide bombers. And the reason these mosques were attacked is because the people praying inside were from a particular sect of Islam who fundamentalists don’t believe are fully Muslim. And not only did those suicide bombers take a hundred lives, but they did more, because they created more hatred, more rage, more fear and certainly despair.

But less than 24 hours, I was 13 miles away from those mosques, visiting one of our Acumen investees, an incredible man, Jawad Aslam, who dares to live a life of immersion. Born and raised in Baltimore, he studied real estate, worked in commercial real estate, and after 9/11 decided he was going to Pakistan to make a difference.

For two years, Jawad hardly made any money, a tiny stipend, but he apprenticed with this incredible housing developer named Tasneem Saddiqui. And he had a dream that he would build a housing community on this barren piece of land using patient capital, but he continued to pay a price. He stood on moral ground and refused to pay bribes. It took almost two years just to register the land. But I saw how the level of moral standard can rise from one person’s action.

Today, 2,000 people live in 300 houses in this beautiful community. And there’s schools and clinics and shops. But there’s only one mosque. And so I asked Jawad, “How do you guys navigate? This is a really diverse community. Who gets to use the mosque on Fridays?” He said, “Long story. It was hard, it was a difficult road, but ultimately the leaders of the community came together, realizing we only have each other. And we decided that we would elect the three most respected imams, and those imams would take turns, they would rotate who would say Friday prayer. But the whole community, all the different sects, including Shi’a and Sunni, would sit together and pray.”

We need that kind of moral leadership and courage in our worlds. We face huge issues as a world — the financial crisis, global warming and this growing sense of fear and otherness. And every day we have a choice.

We can take the easier road, the more cynical road, which is a road based on sometimes dreams of a past that never really was, a fear of each other, distancing and blame. Or we can take the much more difficult path of transformation, transcendence, compassion and love, but also accountability and justice.

I had the great honor of working with the child psychologist Dr. Robert Coles, who stood up for change during the Civil Rights movement in the United States. And he tells this incredible story about working with a little 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges, the first child to desegregate schools in the South — in this case, New Orleans.

Robert said that every day this six-year-old, dressed in her beautiful dress, would walk with real grace through a phalanx of white people screaming angrily, calling her a monster, threatening to poison her — distorted faces.

And every day he would watch her, and it looked like she was talking to the people. And he would say, “Ruby, what are you saying?” And she’d say, “I’m not talking.” And finally he said, “Ruby, I see that you’re talking. What are you saying?” And she said, “Dr. Coles, I am not talking; I’m praying.”

And he said, “Well, what are you praying?” And she said, “I’m praying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'”

At age six, this child was living a life of immersion, and her family paid a price for it. But she became part of history and opened up this idea that all of us should have access to education.

My final story is about a young, beautiful man named Josephat Byaruhanga, who was another Acumen Fund fellow, who hails from Uganda, a farming community. And we placed him in a company in Western Kenya, just 200 miles away. And he said to me at the end of his year, Jacqueline, it was so humbling, because I thought as a farmer and as an African I would understand how to transcend culture. But especially when I was talking to the African women, I sometimes made these mistakes — it was so hard for me to learn how to listen.” And he said, “So I conclude that, in many ways, leadership is like a panicle of rice. Because at the height of the season, at the height of its powers, it’s beautiful, it’s green, it nourishes the world, it reaches to the heavens.” And he said, “But right before the harvest, it bends over with great gratitude and humility to touch the earth from where it came.”

We need leaders. We ourselves need to lead from a place that has the audacity to believe we can, ourselves, extend the fundamental assumption that all men are created equal to every man, woman and child on this planet. And we need to have the humility to recognize that we cannot do it alone.

Robert Kennedy once said that “few of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.” And it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written.

Our lives are so short, and our time on this planet is so precious, and all we have is each other. So may each of you live lives of immersion. They won’t necessarily be easy lives, but in the end, it is all that will sustain us.

Jacqueline Novogratz shares stories of how “patient capital” can bring sustainable jobs, goods, services — and dignity — to the world’s poorest.

June 2007 speech at TED

Jacqueline Novogratz. Social entrepreneur
She founded and leads Acumen Fund , a nonprofit that takes a businesslike approach to improving the lives of the poor.
In her book “The Blue Sweater” she tells stories from the philanthropy, which emphasizes sustainable bottom-up solutions over traditional top-down aid. Full bio
Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

“I learned that listening isn’t just about patience, but that when you’ve lived on charity and dependent your whole life long, it’s really hard to say what you mean.

And, mostly because people never really ask you, and when they do, you don’t really think they want to know the truth.

And I learned that listening is not only about waiting, but it’s also learning how better to ask questions.” – Jacqueline Novogratz|By Jacqueline Novogratz

As Chris said, it’s been over 20 years since I started working in Africa. My first introduction was at the Abidjan airport on a sweaty, Ivory Coast morning.

I had just left Wall Street, cut my hair to look like Margaret Mead, given away most everything that I owned, and arrived with all the essentials — some poetry, a few clothes, and, of course, a guitar — because I was going to save the world, and I thought I would just start with the African continent.

0:41 But literally within days of arriving I was told, in no uncertain terms, by a number of West African women, that Africans didn’t want saving, thank you very much, least of all not by me.

I was too young, unmarried, I had no children, didn’t really know Africa, and besides, my French was pitiful. And so, it was an incredibly painful time in my life, and yet it really started to give me the humility to start listening.

I think that failure can be an incredibly motivating force as well, so I moved to Kenya and worked in Uganda, and I met a group of Rwandan women, who asked me, in 1986, to move to Kigali to help them start the first microfinance institution there.

And I did, and we ended up naming it Duterimbere, meaning “to go forward with enthusiasm.” And while we were doing it, I realized that there weren’t a lot of businesses that were viable and started by women, and so maybe I should try to run a business, too.

And so I started looking around, and I heard about a bakery that was run by 20 prostitutes. And, being a little intrigued, I went to go meet this group, and what I found was 20 unwed mothers who were trying to survive.

 it was really the beginning of my understanding the power of language, and how what we call people so often distances us from them, and makes them little. I also found out that the bakery was nothing like a business, that, in fact, it was a classic charity run by a well-intentioned person, who essentially spent 600 dollars a month to keep these 20 women busy making little crafts and baked goods, and living on 50 cents a day, still in poverty.

I made a deal with the women. I said, “Look, we get rid of the charity side, and we run this as a business and I’ll help you.” They nervously agreed. I nervously started, and, of course, things are always harder than you think they’re going to be.

First of all, I thought, well, we need a sales team, and we clearly aren’t the A-Team here, so let’s — I did all this training. And the epitome was when I literally marched into the streets of Nyamirambo, which is the popular quarter of Kigali, with a bucket, and I sold all these little doughnuts to people, and I came back, and I was like, “You see?” And the women said, “You know, Jacqueline, who in Nyamirambo is not going to buy doughnuts out of an orange bucket from a tall American woman?” And like — (Laughter) — it’s a good point.

 then I went the whole American way, with competitions, team and individual.

Completely failed, but over time, the women learnt to sell on their own way. And they started listening to the marketplace, and they came back with ideas for cassava chips, and banana chips, and sorghum bread, and before you knew it, we had cornered the Kigali market, and the women were earning three to four times the national average.

And with that confidence surge, I thought, “Well, it’s time to create a real bakery, so let’s paint it.” And the women said, “That’s a really great idea.” And I said, “Well, what color do you want to paint it?” And they said, “Well, you choose.” And I said, “No, no, I’m learning to listen. You choose. It’s your bakery, your street, your country — not mine.” But they wouldn’t give me an answer.

So, one week, two weeks, three weeks went by, and finally I said, “Well, how about blue?” And they said, “Blue, blue, we love blue. Let’s do it blue.”

I went to the store, I brought Gaudence, the recalcitrant one of all, and we brought all this paint and fabric to make curtains, and on painting day, we all gathered in Nyamirambo, and the idea was we would paint it white with blue as trim, like a little French bakery. But that was clearly not as satisfying as painting a wall of blue like a morning sky.

So, blue, blue, everything became blue. The walls were blue, the windows were blue, the sidewalk out front was painted blue. And Aretha Franklin was shouting “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the women’s hips were swaying and little kids were trying to grab the paintbrushes, but it was their day.

And at the end of it, we stood across the street and we looked at what we had done, and I said, “It is so beautiful.” And the women said, “It really is.” And I said, “And I think the color is perfect,” and they all nodded their head, except for Gaudence, and I said, “What?” And she said, “Nothing.” And I said, “What?” And she said, “Well, it is pretty, but, you know, our color, really, it is green.” And — (Laughter)

 I learned then that listening isn’t just about patience, but that when you’ve lived on charity and dependent your whole life long, it’s really hard to say what you mean. And, mostly because people never really ask you, and when they do, you don’t really think they want to know the truth. And so then I learned that listening is not only about waiting, but it’s also learning how better to ask questions.

 I lived in Kigali for about two and a half years, doing these two things, and it was an extraordinary time in my life. And it taught me three lessons that I think are so important for us today, and certainly in the work that I do.

The first is that dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth. As Eleni has said, when people gain income, they gain choice, and that is fundamental to dignity. But as human beings, we also want to see each other, and we want to be heard by each other, and we should never forget that.

The second is that traditional charity and aid are never going to solve the problems of poverty.

 I think Andrew pretty well covered that, so I will move to the

third point, which is that markets alone also are not going to solve the problems of poverty.

Yes, we ran this as a business, but someone needed to pay the philanthropic support that came into the training, and the management support, the strategic advice and, maybe most important of all, the access to new contacts, networks and new markets.

And so, on a micro level, there’s a real role for this combination of investment and philanthropy. And on a macro level — some of the speakers have inferred that even health should be privatized. But, having had a father with heart disease, and realizing that what our family could afford was not what he should have gotten, and having a good friend step in to help, I really believe that all people deserve access to health at prices they can afford.

I think the market can help us figure that out, but there’s got to be a charitable component, or I don’t think we’re going to create the kind of societies we want to live in.

 it was really those lessons that made me decide to build Acumen Fund about six years ago. It’s a nonprofit, venture capital fund for the poor, a few oxymorons in one sentence. It essentially raises charitable funds from individuals, foundations and corporations, and then we turn around and we invest equity and loans in both for-profit and nonprofit entities that deliver affordable health, housing, energy, clean water to low income people in South Asia and Africa, so that they can make their own choices.

We’ve invested about 20 million dollars in 20 different enterprises, and have, in so doing, created nearly 20,000 jobs, and delivered tens of millions of services to people who otherwise would not be able to afford them.

 I want to tell you two stories. Both of them are in Africa. Both of them are about investing in entrepreneurs who are committed to service, and who really know the markets. Both of them live at the confluence of public health and enterprise, and both of them, because they’re manufacturers, create jobs directly, and create incomes indirectly, because they’re in the malaria sector, and Africa loses about 13 billion dollars a year because of malaria. And so as people get healthier, they also get wealthier.

The first one is called Advanced Bio-Extracts Limited. It’s a company built in Kenya about seven years ago by an incredible entrepreneur named Patrick Henfrey and his three colleagues. These are old-hand farmers who’ve gone through all the agricultural ups and downs in Kenya over the last 30 years. Now, this plant is an Artemisia plant; it’s the basic component for artemisinin, which is the best-known treatment for malaria. It’s indigenous to China and the Far East, but given that the prevalence of malaria is here in Africa, Patrick and his colleagues said, “Let’s bring it here, because it’s a high value-add product.” The farmers get three to four times the yields that they would with maize.

And so, using patient capital — money that they could raise early on, that actually got below market returns and was willing to go the long haul and be combined with management assistance, strategic assistance — they’ve now created a company where they purchase from 7,500 farmers.

So that’s about 50,000 people affected. And I think some of you may have visited — these farmers are helped by KickStart and TechnoServe, who help them become more self-sufficient. They buy it, they dry it and they bring it to this factory, which was purchased in part by, again, patient capital from Novartis, who has a real interest in getting the powder so that they can make Coartem.

Acumen’s been working with ABE for the past year, year and a half, both on looking at a new business plan, and what does expansion look like, helping with management support and helping to do term sheets and raise capital. And I really understood what patient capital meant emotionally in the last month or so. Because the company was literally 10 days away from proving that the product they produced was at the world-quality level needed to make Coartem, when they were in the biggest cash crisis of their history.

And we called all of the social investors we know. Now, some of these same social investors are really interested in Africa and understand the importance of agriculture, and they even helped the farmers. And even when we explained that if ABE goes away, all those 7,500 jobs go away too, we sometimes have this bifurcation between business and the social.

 it’s really time we start thinking more creatively about how they can be fused. So Acumen made Not one, but two bridge loans, and the good news is they did indeed meet world-quality classification and are now in the final stages of closing a 20-million-dollar round, to move it to the next level, and I think that this will be one of the more important companies in East Africa.

10:42 This is Samuel (Any last name). He’s a farmer. He was actually living in the Kibera slums when his father called him and told him about Artemisia and the value-add potential. So he moved back to the farm, and, long story short, they now have seven acres under cultivation. Samuel’s kids are in private school, and he’s starting to help other farmers in the area also go into Artemisia production — dignity being more important than wealth.

The next one, many of you know. I talked about it a little at Oxford two years ago, and some of you visited A to Z manufacturing, which is one of the great, real companies in East Africa. It’s another one that lives at the confluence of health and enterprise. And this is really a story about a public-private solution that has really worked. It started in Japan.

Sumitomo had developed a technology essentially to impregnate a polyethylene-based fiber with organic insecticide, so you could create a bed net, a malaria bed net, that would last five years and not need to be re-dipped.

It could alter the vector, but like Artemisia, it had been produced only in East Asia. And as part of its social responsibility, Sumitomo said, “Why don’t we experiment with whether we can produce it in Africa, for Africans?” UNICEF came forward and said, “We’ll buy most of the nets, and then we’ll give them away, as part of the global fund’s and the U.N.’s commitment to pregnant women and children, for free.” Acumen came in with the patient capital, and we also helped to identify the entrepreneur that we would all partner with here in Africa, and Exxon provided the initial resin.

12:19 Well, in looking around for entrepreneurs, there was none better that we could find on earth than Anuj Shah, in A to Z manufacturing company. It’s a 40-year-old company, it understands manufacturing. It’s gone from socialist Tanzania into capitalist Tanzania, and continued to flourish. It had about 1,000 employees when we first found it. And so, Anuj took the entrepreneurial risk here in Africa to produce a public good that was purchased by the aid establishment to work with malaria.

12:48 And, long story short, again, they’ve been so successful. In our first year, the first net went off the line in October of 2003. We thought the hitting-it-out-of-the-box number was 150,000 nets a year. This year, they are now producing eight million nets a year, and they employ 5,000 people, 90 percent of whom are women, mostly unskilled. They’re in a joint venture with Sumitomo. And so, from an enterprise perspective for Africa, and from a public health perspective, these are real successes.

13:18 But it’s only half the story if we’re really looking at solving problems of poverty, because it’s not long-term sustainable. It’s a company with one big customer. And if avian flu hits, or for any other reason the world decides that malaria is no longer as much of a priority, everybody loses.

And so, Anuj and Acumen have been talking about testing the private sector, because the assumption that the aid establishment has made is that, look, in a country like Tanzania, 80% of the population makes less than two dollars a day. It costs, at manufacturing point, six dollars to produce these, and it costs the establishment another six dollars to distribute it, so the market price in a free market would be about 12 dollars per net.

Most people can’t afford that, so let’s give it away free. And we said, “Well, there’s another option. Let’s use the market as the best listening device we have, and understand at what price people would pay for this, so they get the dignity of choice. We can start building local distribution, and actually, it can cost the public sector much less.”

14:22 And so we came in with a second round of patient capital to A to Z, a loan as well as a grant, so that A to Z could play with pricing and listen to the marketplace, and found a number of things.

One, that people will pay different prices, but the overwhelming number of people will come forth at one dollar per net and make a decision to buy it. And when you listen to them, they’ll also have a lot to say about what they like and what they don’t like.

And that some of the channels we thought would work didn’t work. But because of this experimentation and iteration that was allowed because of the patient capital, we’ve now found that it costs about a dollar in the private sector to distribute, and a dollar to buy the net.

 from a policy perspective, when you start with the market, we have a choice.

We can continue going along at 12 dollars a net, and the customer pays zero, or we could at least experiment with some of it, to charge one dollar a net, costing the public sector another six dollars a net, give the people the dignity of choice, and have a distribution system that might, over time, start sustaining itself.

We’ve got to start having conversations like this, and I don’t think there’s any better way to start than using the market, but also to bring other people to the table around it. Whenever I go to visit A to Z, I think of my grandmother, Stella. She was very much like those women sitting behind the sewing machines. She grew up on a farm in Austria, very poor, didn’t have very much education. She moved to the United States, where she met my grandfather, who was a cement hauler, and they had nine children.

Three of them died as babies. My grandmother had tuberculosis, and she worked in a sewing machine shop, making shirts for about 10 cents an hour. She, like so many of the women I see at A to Z, worked hard every day, understood what suffering was, had a deep faith in God, loved her children and would never have accepted a hand-out. But because she had the opportunity of the marketplace, and she lived in a society that provided the safety of having access to affordable health and education, her children and their children were able to live lives of real purpose and follow real dreams.

 I look around at my siblings and my cousins — and as I said, there are a lot of us — and I see teachers and musicians, hedge fund managers, designers.

One sister who makes other people’s wishes come true. And my wish, when I see those women, I meet those farmers, and I think about all the people across this continent who are working hard every day, is that they have that sense of opportunity and possibility, and that they also can believe and get access to services, so that their children, too, can live those lives of great purpose.

It shouldn’t be that difficult. But what it takes is a commitment from all of us to essentially refuse trite assumptions, get out of our ideological boxes.

It takes investing in those entrepreneurs that are committed to service as well as to success.

It takes opening your arms, both, wide, and expecting very little love in return, but demanding accountability, and bringing the accountability to the table as well.

And most of all it requires that all of us have the courage and the patience, whether we are rich or poor, African or non-African, local or diaspora, left or right, to really start listening to each other.




November 2022

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