The Blue Sweater
Bridging the Gap Between Rick and Poor in an Interconnected World
By: Jacqueline Novogratz (founder of Acumen Fund) (Link to the booksite)(Link to Google Book Review)
Ms. Novogratz tells her story of moving from international banking to working in the developing world, where she focused on building opportunities in Rawanda. Her work began before the genocides with (what I consider to be the) most poignant story about the blue bakery – how she helped turn what was a money-losing charity project into an empowering business for the women involved. She later discusses her return to the country after the Genocides and follows up on what happened to many of the people she knew and their various roles.
Two points I particularly enjoyed was the on-going theme of how difficult it can be to do this sort of work, she was very harshly judged and had to earn the respect and trust of the women she was trying to help, and the on-going explanations of how various good-intentioned projects had gone wrong (most often from lack of local understanding, or lack of a long-term addressing of the problem). Throughout her journey, she develops and understanding of the value of micro-finance, and lays out the path that brought her to starting Acumen.
Banker to the Poor, by Muhammad Yunus (founder, Grameen Bank).
Mohammad Yunus, is sometimes know as the father of microfinance. He developed a system of lending very small amounts of money as a way of helping people pull themselves out of poverty. The classic example is a woman who borrows a few dollars or less to buy a thermometer. Once she has this tool, she can start making and selling candy. Soon she will be able to pay the loan back (and perhaps take a larger loan to buy a special sort of pot). Meanwhile, the lending organization has the money back to lend to someone else. Throughout this, the borrower is gaining a financial education.
Yunus began his organization in Bangladesh by extending loans / credit to the lowest levels of society. His particularly clever strategy included lending to groups of 5, which ensured that each of the group members would vet the others, and would provide social encouragement for paying back loans.
I enjoyed the clear direct and to-the-point writing style of this book. This is a story of challenging assumptions and doing exactly what people tell you you cannot do. For example, Yunus was told that you could not make no-collateral loans because there was no reason to repay, but Yunus felt that these people needed access to the loans and that would be sufficient, and was often proven to be correct.