Henry David Thoreau once said, "Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." But is the rate of income how we should measure the quality of the human experience, or should it be about having agency over one's own life? This week's guest, venture capitalist, author, and nonprofit CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, sits down with Xander to explain, "The opposite of poverty is not income. The opposite of poverty is dignity." Novogratz breaks down the misconceptions that many have regarding global poverty. She shares her initiatives in creating a "Moral Revolution" to change perceptions, move away from the systems that put profit over people, and move towards alternative actions through her nonprofit Acumen.
After 30 years of business school, Novogratz saw that capitalism's priorities were creating an unequal society. Despite extreme poverty rates decreasing, as with Rwanda's rates at 40% in 1986 and now at 9%, Novogratz believes that the addiction of success and money has diminished "human energy." She attributes this primarily to the growth of tech and capitalism.
"The last 30 years, we've raised both to the rank of religion", says Novogratz. Jacqueline believes that true wealth expands to the overall quality of life, including one's lifespan. While America is considered a first-world wealthy country, it fairs worse in many areas such as dignity, life expectancy, maternal mortality. "African American men in the United States have a lower life span than Bangladeshi men." she says, "That's what it means to think about poverty in a much broader sense of whether you actually have the human agency and the human capability to participate in real ways." Novogratz believes that the best way to bring out the best this country offers is by prioritizing community or the individual and fostering shared human dignity.
Through her organization and advisory position for several businesses, Novogratz offers plans to bring her revolution of profit for a purpose to politics, schools, firms, and corporations. "My tools are the tools of finance and entrepreneurship and partnership," she says, "those are in and of themselves not easy when everything is working." She implements strategies to "build and define our success not by just how the rich are doing but by how the poor and the vulnerable fair." Jacqueline says that it takes an innovative for-profit social entrepreneur and CEO to go against the status quo.
She hopes that more leaders experience epiphanies such as hers when a Nirobi man, inspired after reading her book, Blue Sweater, connected with her as a relatable person with commonalities while shining a light on her privileges. "That moment of human connection situated me on sacred ground," She says, "That to me, that is why we do the work; it's those kinds of experiences that are most important."
Novogratz plans for Acumen to continue by offering online platforms through Acumen Academy, with over a million signed up, learning leadership. She wants to accelerate global investing in indigenous community work and partnerships with businesses and schools. In the next 10-15 years, Novogratz says she hopes for more institutions to value humanity and the earth. "I truly believe we are on our way, but it won't happen without a fight," she says, "It's a focus on giving back in the world more than you take from it. Obviously, we still want to get returns, but what are we leaving in exchange for those returns?"
Her moral revolution asks that we focus not on being rich and powerful but also on helping produce dignity.