Customer Reviews


170 Reviews
5 star:
 (106)
4 star:
 (34)
3 star:
 (19)
2 star:
 (8)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to change the world
There are so many things in the world that want changing -- how does a young, committed college graduate decide where to begin? Jacqueline Novogratz was an international credit banker on the fast track with Chase Manhattan Bank, but her work in Brazil showed her that big commercial banks had nothing to offer the poor. Having always planned to change the world, she turned...
Published on December 4, 2008 by Linda Bulger

versus
160 of 177 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to love this book.
I really wanted to love this book. I've been a big fan of Jacqueline Novogratz ever since I started reading about the Acumen Fund's work while serving in the Peace Corps in central Africa. In the years since, I've been working for a global health organization in several countries and read up on developments in this field regularly - and like Novogratz, I'm a UVA grad! And...
Published on March 21, 2009 by Blair


‹ Previous | 1 217 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

160 of 177 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to love this book., March 21, 2009
By 
Blair (Chapel Hill, NC) - See all my reviews
I really wanted to love this book. I've been a big fan of Jacqueline Novogratz ever since I started reading about the Acumen Fund's work while serving in the Peace Corps in central Africa. In the years since, I've been working for a global health organization in several countries and read up on developments in this field regularly - and like Novogratz, I'm a UVA grad! And getting my MBA! I thought I'd eat this book up.

What first struck me was that this book is much less about the developing world (to say nothing of the Acumen Fund) than it is about Novogratz herself. The author is not a gifted writer, as others have pointed out, and the constant attempts at vivid descriptions of scenes of Africa and India become very tiresome. They also lend to the strong theme of the author's utter naivete. Novogratz seems to be constantly shocked or surprised when something she tries doesn't work, and nevertheless repeats the same self-sure pattern of presumption on her next "project."

I was an innocent abroad once too. The developing world, especially Africa, has a steep learning curve... but it's one that the author, from her luxury accommodations in the capital, jet-setting between countries as an overpaid ADB "consultant," hobnobbing with expat (read: white) elites in tennis clubs and fancy restaurants where local Kenyans/Rwandans/Tanzanians/etc. are nonexistent, never seems to overcome. She's exactly the type of foreign "expert" which she skewers early in the book (and whom exasperates the rest of us in this field). My eyes became sore from so much rolling, hearing her wax eloquent about local people and cultures to which she clearly has little true exposure or understanding of.

I give it two stars because many of the lessons she discusses - about accountability, the power of business in bettering people's lives, instilling a sense of dignity through economic security - are sound. I just wish she would talk more about business and less about, say, how shocked - just shocked! - she was when she was mugged while jogging alone in Tanzania, or about how she feels about the Rwandan genocide.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good stories; lackluster writing, December 4, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Jacqueline Novogratz's writing is not particularly elegant or original, but her stories are powerful. She has worked all over the developing world as a consultant who helps poor women start businesses. She is a strong believer in the transformative power of capitalism.

She could be right about that. But some of her stories, particularly the ones about Africa, seem to point more to the rampant corruption that ruins attempts to improve lives than to the small successes that microfinancing sometimes creates. Her hopefulness and faith in people, despite this endemic corruption, is commendable, but at times it seems a bit romantic, although she often decries this over-optimistic romanticism in other Western development workers.

Her stories about Rwanda are the most riveting. She worked in Rwanda in the 1980s before the genocide and then returned often after the genocide to find her friends and hear their stories. The stories, not unexpectedly, are harrowing. Many women lost almost all their relatives and children; one was in prison for inciting genocide.

Her meditation on the efficacy of bed nets to prevent malaria is thoughtful and convincing, and she discusses honestly the pros and cons of selling versus giving away bed nets.

The reader comes away with a detailed picture of life in the developing world, in all its beauty and horror, and with admiration for the people who keep trying to help despite the enormous obstacles.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to change the world, December 4, 2008
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There are so many things in the world that want changing -- how does a young, committed college graduate decide where to begin? Jacqueline Novogratz was an international credit banker on the fast track with Chase Manhattan Bank, but her work in Brazil showed her that big commercial banks had nothing to offer the poor. Having always planned to change the world, she turned her back on high finance and took a position in West Africa with a nonprofit microfinance organization. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World is author Novogratz's own story of her love affair with that work.

Her early days in Nairobi were not a great success. The project was intended to provide microloans to poor women, but the local women leading the project did not appreciate a brash young American who knew nothing of their culture. Sidelined from any role in that enterprise, she wound up in East Africa where she developed a deep commitment to the women of Rwanda. Knowledge of banking principles was not enough to assure success, and she gradually attained the insights necessary for her work to succeed. Rwandan women were traditionally excluded from economic rights, and large international aid projects offered them nothing they could use. Novogratz soon learned that if you help a woman, you help a family. Her goal was to provide microloans AND the skill set necessary to start and grow business. The concerns of the women were food, clothing, and shelter for their families, clean water, basic health care, irrigation for the crops they chose to grow. Aid that fosters these basic services is a necessary adjunct to the development of income, if families are to lift themselves out of poverty.

Novogratz's trial-and-error stories are frank and sometimes funny, but the reader is constantly aware that a young woman alone in Africa is living on the thin edge of danger. After more than two years, during which time she formed strong bonds of friendship and established important local institutions in Rwanda, she was aware that she needed to know more about leadership to go further. She returned to the U.S. to attend business school at Stanford, and took a position with the Rockefeller Foundation where she established the Philanthropy Workshop, a four-week course offering training in the principles of strategic giving; and The Next Generation Leadership, a program for the development of leaders. She then founded and currently runs the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture fund for investment and development in the world's poorest regions. "Patient capital" is their term for bridging the divide between traditional charity and traditional business investment, using principles of moral leadership and empowerment.

Novogratz knew from childhood that she wanted to change the world. Easier said than done! But walk with her beside women who have nothing but dreams, hear the first-hand horror of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, read about well-meaning but meaningless aid projects, and experience a hundred little epiphanies about leadership and economic development; and you'll begin to believe in the possibility as well as the need. "The West wants easy answers for modern atrocities, revolving around ancient tribal hatreds, international aid gone astray, or political corruption. The real world does not oblige," Novogratz writes. The world wants to punish and prevent "...atrocities that can come only from a deep-seated fear of the Other in our midst; and such fear is fueled in a world where the rich feel above the system and the poor feel entirely left out."

This is a book about life-changing issues. It's a fascinating read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Note: this review is based on an uncorrected reading copy. Thanks to the publisher and to Amazon Vine for the opportunity to review this wonderful book.

Linda Bulger, 2008
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not enough, June 14, 2009
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I agree with the publisher weekly review of this book. This story is interesting and fascinating but it really didn't live up to the promise on the back of the book. I expected this book to be the type you couldn't put down, the one you finish in one or two days because it is so interesting. I believe in the idea of helping others and empowering women. I wanted this book to be gripping, one I could pass around and share the message. It wasn't that type of book.

In fact, with very little gripping highlights, this book was a struggle to finish.

Other reviewers have mentioned and I'll echo it here. This author is not a gifted writer. While they feel the story is worthy of more stars because of the subject, I have a hard time giving it more than a three star rating.

What the author has to say is important and worthy of hearing but this book seemed to be lacking in passion, carry through and seemed to leave you in limbo at times.

The stories she tells about the people of Africa, the people she knew and worked with are the most telling and fascinating. The stories of Rwanda are heart breaking and worth reading. In fact, that is the her forte- telling the stories of others.

It is when she tries to tell about her experiences or her determination to help that the book seems to develop into an ego boost for the author. When she tries to tell the details about the business it becomes more of a text book for businesses. When she share her stories though about other women, that is where the power lies. I wish she would do more of that.

Again, the message is wonderful and the book has worthy points. Some of the stories are fascinating. Overall though, this book simply isn't the most worthy messenger for the messages
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, just keep in mind the poor writing quality., December 18, 2008
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Novogratz's perspective on nonprofit/ philanthropy is an interesting one that I think that many people should consider - her approach is very much along the lines of you can buy a man fish and he'll eat today or you can teach a man to fish and he'll never go hungry. That is, of course, a very simplified explanation of her approach to international philanthropy. This book is an interesting memoir, for Novogratz has lived an interesting life. When you've done the stuff that she has - lived in Rwanda, led philanthropic organizations all around the world, and gone back to Rwanda post-genocide - it'd be hard to not write an interesting memoir. The problem isn't in that it isn't interesting - the problem is that it isn't well written.
I think that this stems from Novogratz's seeming inability to decide if she is writing a memoir, an argument for her perspective of non-profit development, or if she is standing on her soap box. She ends up doing all three at various times to various degrees of success. If she was simply arguing for her perspective of non-profit development and using her own life experiences to back it up, this would be successful, provided that she left off the last two chapters. In these chapters, she gets into a particularly soap box-type tangent where I found myself confused about what she was saying and where it was coming from and did not find it particularly helpful for her general message. Her more memoir-like passages are successful only through other people - there is little to no insight on her own personal development and at times this makes her seem to have a very narrow viewpoint to the reader. Her prose is at times clunky and uneven, but this is less distracting than when you can't figure out what she is trying to say.
Despite all this, I have recommended this book to several people already. If you are interested in nonprofit work, in a possible role in international philanthropic organizations, or want to see a slight (though not terribly in depth) glimpse of Rwanda before-and-after, I would recommend this book to you as well. You won't waste your time - just be prepared for the quality of the writing.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I cannot stop thinking about this book., January 2, 2009
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's been very difficult for me to review Jacqueline Novogratz' excellent book, "The Blue Sweater." Every time I sit down to write about it, I don't feel like I have the words to do it justice. I've gone back and read it a second time, and I still find it hard to organize my thoughts well enough to convey how greatly I appreciate this work. It moved me to think and feel deeply; to ponder over what is essential to live and live joyfully despite economic upheavals, cultural diversity, and resource scarcity; and to consider in what ways I might myself care for my fellow brothers and sisters, love them, and learn from them.

So let me just dive in and do the best I can. First, the book reads like a novel. It is full of vivid imagery, color, sensitivity and compassion. It is also, like the author, pragmatic and sensible. I was struck by the complexities of poverty but also the incredible hope and promise of those who value every shred and moment of life--because they have to if they are to survive. I was amazed at how something as simple as a mosquito net could entirely transform a life and how people crushed by illness and tragedy manage to be so much more alive and gratefully engaged with the world than so many of us who are more privileged are.

I was brought face to face with my own emptiness in reading this book--not a bad thing--and also a stirring sense of what I might have to offer in this world. "The Blue Sweater" succeeded in shifting my focus, and rather profoundly so. I feel more hopeful for our world now because I'm thinking about what I, myself, need to do in the context of my family and community.

I only wish the book had photographs of the incredible people in Africa, India, and the Middle East whose stories the author shares with us. I found myself very interested in Novogratz' Acumen Fund activities and her ideas about combining philanthropy with market forces to help the poor build and sustain better lives. I was especially struck by the need to listen to the people one is trying to help and that no one solution is enough; it takes approaching problems in many different ways that all feed into each other if people are to build successful, sustainable communities that promote the health, well-being, and dignity of all citizens.

I could not help but wonder if the principles Novagratz has found to be successful could not be applied somehow to middle- and working-class people in the U.S. and other developed countries who are seeing their quality of life erode and yet do not have the skills to survive or even an awareness of ways they harm others. (This is an entirely different kind of poverty, but it is poverty nonetheless, an ignorance and learned helplessness that is ultimately destructive.) If some, like the retiring baby boomers, could be harnessed to help work to strengthen communities and build connections/collaborations with the poorest among us here, it could be a way of skill-building and also increasing awareness of the ways each of us impacts our world. Out of this training ground could come a subset of people with the generalist skills to work in other countries, either in their younger years as a career or in retirement.

I hope someone from the Acumen Fund and like-minded organizations will work closely with the Obama administration to develop models to help those Americans who would like to begin to help themselves and their communities, to the extent that they are able.

Finally, let me say that I was excited to realize the significance of Barack Obama's mother having worked with microfinancing (a major tool discussed in this book that I didn't understand before), because I know that means our new president has a sense of how much can be accomplished when those first small steps are facilitated and people are given hope that WE can transform our world. Time is money, too. If we can find ways to "microfinance" our time according to our interests without having to completely reinvent wheels (say, be able to download a well-developed model for starting a small community garden or a "fun"/safe neighbor's home-based afterschool skill-teaching workshop so latchkey kids have a place to go), together we could quickly make enormous progress. What's stopping me is age and not being quite sure how to begin so success is more likely.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soft Heart/Hard Head, March 30, 2009
By 
Margo Alexander (Key West, Florida) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
First, full disclosure. I am a friend of Jacqueline Novogratz and Board Chair of Acumen Fund. I met her in 2001 at the time she was founding Acumen Fund. Although I did not have experience in this field, I became fully supportive of her evolving economic development concept and of her as a leader and entrepreneur. Her mission was stunningly bold--to end global poverty and change the world.

Acumen Fund was created to be a radically different kind of philanthropy and to avoid common pitfalls of poverty alleviation programs. It aimed to create ongoing, self-sustaining enterprises to solve problems of poverty. As she described her dream, she spoke knowledgeably and definitively but I didn't know how she had come to her opinions and to the founding Acumen Fund. I did not know the personal and intellectual journey that shaped the person I met in 2001. Now I do.

"The Blue Sweater" describes her early development as a social activist and, increasingly, a strong leader. She describes the learning and experiences that formed her ideas and, simultaneously, gives insight into the maturation of an extraordinary person, open to learning, and to teaching, and, above all, to listening respectfully. She is a unique combination of soft heart/hard head and her true voice tells an amazing and inspiring story. It is a journey worth sharing!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not really about the sweater, December 29, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Having chased my own clothing through the local recycling world more than once, I selected this book for the story of how the sweater got from VA to Rwanda. That's not the focus of the book.

The story follows the author, from a reasonably priviledged life as a child of a professional US military family through college and a somewhat accidental interview with Chase Manhaettan which led to her becoming an effective change agent through grass-roots business development. Somewhat dry start and becomes more engaging further along, esp. after the author's interview with Maha Ghosananda in Cambodia.

I learned more about the history of Rwanda than I had known. My own nascent thoughts about the value of a business model in delivering long-term, life-and-circumstance changing aid were clarified. This is not necessarily a popular position in a largely liberal community that equates business with Wal-Mart and global domination.

Well worth the reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be careful, this book will change you, March 2, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Most of us have chosen to live a smaller life, one focused on our work, our families and our neighborhood. It's easier that way.

In this urgent, timely and timeless book, Jacqueline shows us a different way. Jacqueline's world gets bigger every day, not smaller. Her interactions increase possibility, they don't diminish it. Her investments enrich communities, they don't take from them.

When you hear the joy in her voice, or feel the emotion in her stories, you will realize that the world is bigger than you ever imagined.

More important, you'll understand the power of connection, the necessity of interaction and the power you have, right now, to change the world.

Too often, we judge a book by its cover, or a song by its opening riff. The Blue Sweater is a deep book, one that you'll want to reread and then share again and again.

I hope you'll suspend disbelief just long enough to read this book. It will change you, for the better.

Thank you Jacqueline.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is value in the story, perhaps diminished in its telling, April 15, 2011
I hope that my future is as bright as Jacqueline Novogratz's was when she was my age. Of course, by the time she was 27, she'd already been a Wall Street hot shot, established a bank in Rwanda and assisted in the development of numerous small businesses run by Rwandan and Kenyan women. I don't have nearly as many stars on my lapel, but at least I have something to aspire to.

In Novogratz's memoir, The Blue Sweater, I certainly appreciated partaking in the lessons she'd learned along the way towards building the Acumen Fund. She discusses the value of "patient capital," wherein the return on an investment in poor communities isn't going to be rapid, it's not going to be large, but in terms of growing income, creating sustainability and increasing overall social value, patient capital is an incredibly important new concept in investment.

Some of the greatest lessons I took away from reading The Blue Sweater actually came from her mentor, John Gardner. His lessons in philanthropy included the following three items:

1.Teach that the most important skill is listening.

2.Focus on supporting others to do what they already do rather well instead of running programs yourself. Ego is a powerful burden.

3.Find innovations that release the energies of people.

The memoir had a lot of potential to become a great story of triumph in the face of adversity, but our hero-narrator takes a relatively passive role, diminishing the power behind her tale. She reflects upon the great works of others, administering so much positive energy that it comes off as contrived. I believe that the author's intention is to sell the readers of the book on the great emotional value that comes from social enterprise as well as economic and social value. There are a great many people who believe that charity is charity, while business is business and ne'er the twain shall meet. These readers need to be convinced otherwise. However, I feel that Novogratz coddles the audience that is convinced business and charity are mutually exclusive, and as a result overdoes the salespitch to the point of creating a cloyingly disingenuous tone.

Additionally, the passive role she takes weakens the connection between the author and the audience, or the hero and the reader. We readers enjoy literature because we see ourselves in the hero, and we learn the lessons that the hero learns because we are connected, we relate to him or her. We learn so little about Novogratz's character; in particular, we really miss out on what great failures Novogratz has experienced. All the activating events happen to our heroine instead of originating from her personality and actions. She paints herself in a detached, flawless light. If the story of her life is intended to be a morality tale, wherein we readers learn the value of participating in activities that promote social welfare, then her lack of human pockmarks is a serious shortcoming in the telling of her story. Although she does reveal that she was young and naive in the first few chapters, I would rather know of mistakes she'd made and learned from instead of her reflections on robberies that happened to her, and the global events she didn't directly participate in, like the Rwandan genocide and September 11.

In conclusion: I feel 50% positively and 50% luke warm about The Blue Sweater. On one hand, I think she allows readers insight into successful social entrepreneurship from a first person perspective, and we have access to the values that drive her to doing incredible amounts of good in the world. On the other hand the storytelling feels contrived, as though the heartstrings of readers are consciously being manipulated by the narrator, while revealing nothing about the person pulling the heartstrings.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 217 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
$15.99 $11.76
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.