top of page

Jacqueline Novogratz

Founder and CEO


May 28, 2024
  • iTunes
  • Spotify
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
Ep 113: Jacqueline Novogratz - Founder and CEO, Acumen
00:00 / 01:04

Phoebe Lind [00:00:58] Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Energy Impact Podcast. My name is Phoebe Lind, and I'm here today with Jacqueline Novogratz, who is the founder and CEO of Acumen. Welcome to the show.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:01:12] Thanks, Phoebe. I'm happy to be here.

Phoebe Lind [00:01:14] Great. Let's get started with a little bit of background. I'd love to know where you grew up. How did your background lead you to a career in impact investing?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:01:24] So, I actually grew up in a military family, and so there was no specific "where." I think I was in 10 schools by the time I got to the 5th or 6th grade. My background was... Big family, seven kids. Moved around a lot and learned to be flexible, adaptable, and also, probably scrappy. I had to learn to be an entrepreneur very early on, and all my siblings are entrepreneurial as well.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:01:57] I don't think I thought about... There was no impact investing when we were growing up. And in fact, I don't think I even understood what investing was. I did want to know the world and I did want to do something good with my life. And so right out of university, I got what I would call an "accidental job" as a banker, a job for which I did not think I would apply. And that job took me to 40 countries over a 3-year period where I really got to understand the economic, financial, and political lows that made nations what they were, at a time when our nations were much more separate than they are today. And I would say that was the beginning of my understanding of financial markets, global issues, and it goes from there.

Phoebe Lind [00:02:57] That's a lot of travel for very early in your career. Why were you doing so much travel then?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:03:03] There was a program called Credit Audit. And interestingly enough, which is why it was also accidental, they tended to choose a lot of liberal arts majors who they thought would ask the dumb questions. And so, they would take us around like little squads and literally send us to Kuala Lumpur for a month where we would analyze Chase's portfolio from a an operational, financial, and political perspective. Essentially, the risk profile company by company, and then, overall. And I loved it. But I would literally get a call from Kuala Lumpur, "Go home to New York. You've got four days. We need you in Buenos Aires."

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:03:55] For me, particularly at that time, pre-internet, pre-cell phones, pre-even any awareness of any of these places, it was the greatest adventure of my life. I mean, I could go on and on. Just seeing culture and people and foods and... Unlike today, where you see Starbucks and McDonald's wherever you go, then, you were literally moving into completely unknown worlds, except worlds I had researched and understood through literature and books.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:04:33] What surprised me was how much I loved numbers and finance and understanding how investing could fundamentally create, take an idea, turn it into something real, create jobs. And before you know it, trading systems and railways and trucking companies, and each of them were different business models for different reasons.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:04:59] What I also saw, though, in that time, as you can imagine, in my early 20s of just great flourishing, was how the poor were completely left out of that whole equation. And it was the early '80s; it was a time of great hyperinflation and a lot of growing mistrust, particularly in Latin America. Not unlike we are seeing in many of our countries today. And so, that was a big turning point.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:05:34] I started to ask myself, "What would it take to make a banking system that actually included the very people who were the backbone of building economies at the local level?" And that led me to discover the Grameen Bank, which was microfinance, tiny loans made to women, proving that even the poorest women in the world were great credit risks if you structured the loans appropriately for who they were. Whether it was reckless or visionary, I found my way to Kigali, Rwanda, and helped a small group of women... I was a co-founder of that nation's first microfinance bank.

Phoebe Lind [00:06:21] And what was the name of the microfinance bank?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:06:24] We called it Duterimbere, which means "to go forward with enthusiasm." It was awesome. And the women were incredible and we had all these dreams of changing everything. Because literally the month I arrived, Napoleonic law from the 16th century was overturned, and for the first time in the country's history, women could open a bank account without their husband's signature. But we were looking at an average income level of $112 per year. Financial illiteracy, mostly illiteracy in general, both numeracy and literacy, and a barter system where very little money even changed hands. So, we were starting at the beginning of a modern economy in a way that I didn't understand at the time. That was another incredible education.

Phoebe Lind [00:07:18] What made you want to start in Rwanda? I mean, you did so many travels across the world. I'm sure you saw poverty in a lot of different situations and a lot of different problems you could start with. What made you want to start with microfinance in Rwanda?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:07:31] So, Phoebe, this is a terrible thing, but I did not want to start in Rwanda. I had never heard of Rwanda.

Phoebe Lind [00:07:36] Was that another accidental job?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:07:38] It was another accidental job. You start to hear these stories when you look back and you think, "Was there some other element at work here?" I loved Brazil. I tried very hard to get to Brazil. And even microfinance was, for me, more of a means than an end. But I wanted to start where I could start. And there were about five institutions globally that were doing these tiny $30 loans. And I thought, "That makes a lot of sense." But I couldn't find any opportunities in Brazil.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:08:12] And I was actually working in Kenya when this woman who I had met prior came into my office and asked me if I would go to her country, Rwanda, to see whether it might be feasible to start some financial institution for women. It took me a long time to understand what country she was talking about. I thought she said, "Uganda." And she said, "No, no. Rwanda," with a very thick Rwandese accent. I said, "Oh, you mean Luanda, Angola." And she said, "No, Rwanda." And I though, "Okay, now." And I knew a tiny bit of a very small country in Central Africa and I thought, "Hey, if African women are asking me to come and do a study with my skillset, I'm going."

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:09:06] And sure enough, I fell in love with the women. I fell in love with the country. And I thought, "If the answer is yes, what are we waiting for?" And that, I think, is the power of being young and, I guess, a bit naive, but super determined and ready to roll. And we did it. We did it. Rocket speed. And I saw that a small group of women, a small group of human beings, had the potential within themselves to change at least a small corner of the world if you have the courage to start. And we were lucky enough also to have the luck that some of these founders with me were very, very connected and had power within the context of Rwandan society at the time.

Phoebe Lind [00:10:06] So, you left your life as a banker behind and started a new career in Rwanda. How did you take that experience? And then, bring us up to speed to 2024.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:10:20] So, that experience taught me two things. One, the power of giving individuals access to those inputs, whether it's credit or other inputs, to allow them to change their own lives. I also saw that microfinance, these tiny little loans, were starting to be seen as a way of helping every single human being be an entrepreneur. And I learned very quickly that we're not all entrepreneurs. And that many of the women...

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:10:49] You see this in the gig economy. We all are survivors. We all have entrepreneurial qualities. But many of the women would take the loans just to earn a little bit more income to feed their families. And as soon as they actually got to any level of comfort, they would stop. Less than 5% would actually go on to try to build, grow, take real risk.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:11:13] And so, I started to think about what would it take, actually, to build companies then to provide people with jobs? Because that's really what the women like. They didn't want to have to be dependent on their own survival skills every single day. And so, that was number one. That credit and access to those inputs are important and two, we're not all entrepreneurs. We need to use the tools of entrepreneurship to build jobs and other opportunities for people to flourish.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:11:45] The third was that access isn't enough. And I think this is connected to energy markets as well. That we could give people access, but if they didn't know how to make use of that access, they weren't going to get themselves out of poverty, and we weren't going to create systems that changed poverty.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:12:07] So, I started a bakery at the same time that I started this bank so that I could learn what it would take to actually build a company. And there, I saw how important it was to help build the capabilities of the women there who were incredibly smart, willing, but had very little confidence and limited skills when it came to actually interacting with the larger marketplace. And I saw how much you could change if you focused both on the fundamentals of the business and on the building, the capabilities of the people who'd been left out of markets altogether.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:12:51] This third thing, I guess, from that period actually happens seven years after I first landed in Kigali. I was there for about three years, then I went to the United States for four. And the Rwandan genocide happened actually 30 years last week, which is hard to believe, when it started. The genocide taught me... Well, the genocide shifted my whole understanding of what it means to be human. My co-founders played every role of the genocide, including being killed, including being a major perpetrator. And I saw how we have the capacity within each of us for good and for evil. And then, in times of real insecurity, inequality, instability, it becomes very easy for demagogic leaders to prey on our broken parts, our insecurities we all have, and sometimes make us do terrible things.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:13:51] And I learned that dignity is more important to the spirit than wealth. That what happened in the genocide... It became very easy to blame people for the problems that we might feel that we had to other people. Just as we can't look at a human being as good or bad, or I dare say, a nation as good or bad or a market system or a government system, so did we have to take a non-binary approach to building our market systems so that we could see capital for what it is, a means to an end.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:14:40] And so I asked myself, "What if we flipped?" Instead of saying, "I work in the private sector and this is my tool. And I'm only going to use my tool in the way that serves me, i.e. maximize profit." Or, "I work in the charity side and I've been given this budget to help people, so I really want to help them. It doesn't really matter if they want my help because I'm here to help them." Which often creates dependency, which I dare say is the opposite of dignity. "What if we started by focusing on the problem we wanted to solve? Insisting on human dignity." By that I mean choice, opportunity, the ability to participate in one's own life. "What kind of tools would we build?"

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:15:26] Philanthropy should be the most risk-oriented capital we have, but it's often where we see people take the least amount of risk. They play it safe. They want to be loved. They want to feel good. And so, that was the starting point. Paid philanthropy. Recognize the power of investment and use that philanthropy to make 10 to 20 year equity investments or debt investments in those entrepreneurs who also didn't see the world in a binary way, who wanted to build businesses in service of solving tough problems of poverty. Could we take our investment as patient capital? Make the commitment to that entrepreneur and her company, and then accompany the entrepreneur to help her build her capabilities? Measure the impact, as well as the financial returns, and any money that came back would be reinvested.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:16:23] And that was the beginning of Acumen. There was no impact investing. The world was very much "I make money in one pocket and I give it away in the other." And there was very little trust between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector, all of which made no sense to me.

Phoebe Lind [00:16:44] I appreciate the very deep care that you put into your work. I imagine bearing witness to the Rwandan genocide was both very impactful, somewhat traumatic, but also clearly inspired you to want to continue to do good work in this space.

Phoebe Lind [00:17:01] Looking at impact investing... It wasn't really called impact investing back then, but now you work on a lot of different projects related to economic challenges, social challenges. And increasingly, you focus on energy and climate issues, as that is also a great impact on, especially, people in poverty. What were the first projects that you wanted to tackle as you were opening this new space of impact investing?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:17:31] I'm such a believer in starting where you are with what you have. And so at the very beginning, I knew East Africa. Now, I'll go back to 2001. I understood that India was this growing laboratory, particularly for health care and health care delivery systems. And that if you were going to make health care work for the poor, you had to find ways to deliver it at very, very large volumes and very, very slim margins. And I was fascinated by that.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:18:06] So, we started working in health care, mostly health technologies, in East Africa and India and learned a ton. I always had the idea that we would work in multiple sectors, finding ways to solve problems of poverty through investing in entrepreneurs. It was 2007, which was a really important year for the world. Tom Friedman wrote about it in his book "The World Is Flat."

Phoebe Lind [00:18:42] I read it in undergrad as well.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:18:44] Right? All these technologies started coming together. So I would say, for our first six years we did a lot of wandering in the desert. The world was still very separate. 2007, it was clear that there was no electricity for 1.5 billion people. It was also clear that most people relied on dirty, expensive, tiny amounts of kerosene that they would use every day. It's what the United States and Europe used in the 19th century, and yet Africa and much of South Asia and East Asia hadn't moved beyond it at that point.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:19:21] There was talk then about big solar coming in, but again, the poor were fully left out. And so, these two young guys, Ned Tozun and Sam Goldman, came into our office with this $30 solar lamp... Still at Stanford Graduate School of Business... And this big dream. And I think it's part of Acumen's ethos to say, "Well, no one else is solving it. Here you've got two guys with a vision, a willingness to start small, the humility of knowing what they do not know, which is pretty much everything. And we're willing to go on the ride with them. That's what we're here for."

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:20:06] And so, they were the first people we backed. And I would say, they were my greatest teachers. I didn't really know anything about the technology of solar, certainly not even energy. I couldn't have told you the difference between AC and DC. And yet, Acumen is driven to solve problems, and so were these guys.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:20:32] They then spent seven years, probably, wandering in the desert, trying to understand what does it actually take to fully disrupt the status quo, a market for kerosene, and help low income people make the decision themselves to switch into solar? You have to figure out everything. The distribution. When you have no infrastructure, how do you get it to them? There's no financing. How will people pay for it? People are extremely poor. No trust. Lots of well-intended charities have come and gone offering technologies that did not work. Why would you risk your hard earned money on this?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:21:17] And then, something we don't often talk about are the kerosene mafias. That status quo exists for a reason, and the people that control it do not want it to change. So as soon as you do start making headway, someone will come and either take your lights away or, possibly sabotage, lie about what you're creating. Lots of obstacles. It's why the character was so important?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:21:43] We started to see that it worked. That people, when they got it, they loved it. They would tell their neighbors about it. It became a market phenomenon, but not like Silicon Valley virality. And so, we started investing in other off-grid solar energy companies. And then, mobile banking came into play in 2011. Now, you had your financing mechanism because the solar could combine with the mobile banking and people could pay on a daily basis for their electricity. It's called "pay as you go."

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:22:24] Now, you start to see companies hitting the J curve. Acumen then needed to help these companies raise more capital than we had with our philanthropy, and we started our first for-profit funds, one called KawiSafi, which means "clean energy," so that we could then upscale the companies that we had invested in and others that we were seeing that were moving quickly.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:22:47] And then, we started to see that we were part of building an ecosystem. Once you got people access to solar... And to give you a visual, it's about $150. You get four lights, a cell phone charger, a radio. You can upgrade to television. And once people got that, now they were part of a modern economy; they had access to the world. They could see what they didn't have and ways that they could increase their income.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:23:19] And so over time, we started to see distribution systems being built. It was no longer just Coca-Cola. This were rural distribution to get people the lights and the electricity that they needed. So then, you could distribute cookstoves, which are so critical for deforestation. Then you could distribute solar televisions. Which at first I was sort of uncomfortable with because I just felt like, "Are we building more materialism?"

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:23:47] But now we have an education company called the Akili Networks that reaches about 13 million kids a day through mostly solar television. And people are now learning on their smartphones connected to their cell phones. And now, we're invested in electric motorbikes. And you can imagine a day when people are taking batteries from their motorbikes and bringing it home to bring even more power to their houses.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:24:18] And so, Phoebe, it's been so thrilling to go from literally not knowing what we were doing, but knowing that nobody else did either and having the confidence to try, to 17 years later, seeing almost a quarter-billion people have access to light and electricity that is affordable, that is clean, that is accessible just from the portfolio of companies that Acumen has backed. And if anything has taught me that change is possible, it is this story.

Phoebe Lind [00:24:55] That is so fantastic. Thank you for the... What a journey that your company has had from that very first off-grid solar project. How much of your work today still has to do with access to electricity and energy?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:25:12] I wish it was zero, but we still have 700 million people in the world who have no access to electricity. So, while the world has more than halved those who have it in and those who do not, we're now at a place where reaching SDG 7, the Sustainable Development Goal for universal electrification is within our means. But it will take even more of what I would call "moral imagination," more radical constructs of how we raise and deploy the right capital to support those still intrepid entrepreneurs in countries that have been completely overlooked.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:25:54] If you think about the 700 million, a good 50% to 70% will get access to electricity from the markets that have been built. But there'll be about 220 million people remaining who will not be reached unless we take some dramatic steps. And so, our latest focus has been something we call the Hardest-to-Reach, which is taking a look at those countries where electrification rates at the high end of 45% can go down to 2%. Imagine developing a nation with 2% electric electricity in 2024.

Phoebe Lind [00:26:41] And what country is that?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:26:45] South Sudan. Chad has 4%. Malawi has 14%. It's really shocking when you start to look at it. And yet, we talk about Africa, we talk about all this potential. The potential is incredible. We don't put together the fact that the potential is incredible. You've got all these young people now with smartphones. They see what's happening around the world. And there is a reason that nine coups have been had in mostly West Africa in the last two-and-a-half years, including in the countries in which we are now working to try and reach the last mile. Because if we don't, it's not good for any of us.

Phoebe Lind [00:27:31] I was going to say, when I was doing some research about your company, one of the taglines that I thought was interesting about the Hardest-to-Reach initiative is that it said you were defying market forces. I was curious if you could unpack that a little bit for us. Because obviously, these markets are hardest to reach for a reason. So, how are you working around some of those challenges and defying these forces?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:27:54] I love that you asked me that question. Because our financial system, actually, isn't set up to tackle what we believe is the largest planetary market failure of our lifetime. And that is where we have to define those market forces. Because wherever there's lack of access to energy, there's obviously greater poverty, greater instability. And so, how do we think about defining those markets? We have to recognize that even the development finance institutions, the big banks, don't want to take the kind of risk that is required, and yet so much is at stake.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:28:45] And so, what Acumen does is defy it and go into those economies anyway and think about the right kind of capital that is required and then partner with the right kinds of partners to enable us to then be able to back entrepreneurs.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:29:07] What do I mean by the right kind of capital? One is, unapologetically, philanthropy. $60 million of the Hardest-to-Reach is all philanthropy backed, which allows Acumen to take very, very high-risk equity investments in countries like Benin and in Sierra Leone. And so far, to very good results.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:29:33] A company called Quarto, in Benin, served all the people that it was trying to serve. And what we've done in terms of creating new incentives is that if the company reaches the number of people that we've agreed on, and they are low income and it's first-time access to energy, they can reduce the interest that they owe Acumen to zero. That means you have to raise money for that differential, but we need to show the world that there are different ways that we can control the capital within our system rather than simply be controlled by it.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:30:17] Then, we partner with big institutions like the Green Climate Fund, who are one of the few institutions focused on climate who are willing to put in first loss capital, which means that we can bring in more traditional investors over a green climate fund and they will help mitigate their overall risk. We're learning a lot about the structuring of financial facilities, the need for grants, the critical need for technical assistance going all the way back to The Blue Bakery, because you're looking at places where a lot of the talent has left, or the talent that is in those rural areas has very little education and very little experience in business. And so, you have to build it. That also requires a different kind of financing including grant financing. And so, it's neither a pure investment strategy, nor is it a pure philanthropy strategy.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:31:26] And in some ways, maybe it goes back to our roots, what's most important. And for me, as I watch what's happening in the world as we get more unequal, more divided, more polarized, and we're not keeping our eye on the ball, which is that climate change is creating more forcibly displaced people who have less and less, then it is inevitable that refugees will rise, conflict will rise.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:32:01] When we think about a planetary-sized market failure, what we mean is that this isn't just Africa's market failure, this is our global market failure. And what both frustrates and energizes me is that we know how to solve these problems. We have the technology. The money's there. We have to get our egos out of the way and be clear about what's actually needed to enable people to have access to the kind of electricity that will allow them to build futures that are clean, and that long term, will avert other carbon emissions. And so, I never would have guessed 23 years ago when we started Acumen that this would so much be at the heart of what we do, but I've come to understand how electrification is your first building block to creating real economic potential.

Phoebe Lind [00:33:07] As you've seen some of these strategies that you're proving out, this combination of philanthropy and more traditional investment... And then at the same time, we're seeing governments start to take climate change a little bit more seriously. While it's certainly not as much of an alarm as I would like to be seeing from our top leaders about the market failure we're going to see, are you seeing more interest from more traditional institutions, traditional investors? I noticed you were at COP 28 last year. That's super exciting to be on such a large stage. And that event itself is also growing exponentially. So, are you seeing more interest in the type of investing that you advocate for?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:33:48] I definitely am, Phoebe. This is a funny way to even answer about COP 28, but what I found so moving about COP 28... Which is not a word you would normally associate with any of the COPs. But when presented the Hardest-to-Reach... The expectation is always that you stand up there like a talking head and you talk about the numbers and the investors and the players. And again, I think that this is where we have to move our egos aside a little bit.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:34:24] And instead, it was my team's idea... They really pushed me to speak at a more human level about what we're doing and why this group of partners who are coming together is so unique. Because the partners behind Hardest-to-Reach include the Green Climate Fund, as I said, who I think is a real hero in this space... The Rockefeller Foundation and IKEA Foundation as part of what's called the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, USAID through Power Africa, and Shinhan Bank, the largest commercial bank in Asia.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:35:01] And we all stood on the stage and I told stories and described this rather unconventional facility. And I looked out in the audience of energy ministers and finance ministers and entrepreneurs, and most of the people were teary. You could feel the emotion in the room. And what I thought about after is that if we are going, as a world, to do hard things, we have to be willing to, yes, have the competency to actually pull it off. So do we have to be willing to tap into the humanity that we have inside so that we can experience and extend ourselves to the humanity in people who have been overlooked, undervalued for too long in our history. This off-grid energy space is one of those spaces.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:36:00] And so, storytelling and the work you're doing to get those stories out into the world is so critical, because I am seeing more institutions now coming to me, not just in energy, but in agriculture too, which is so connected. Because where you're seeing a link to food self-sufficiency is in solar irrigation and...

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:36:37] Our company is called, but it's a company that essentially takes cow manure and converts it, traps the methane, and allows people to cook with methane gas rather than send the methane into the environment in biodigesters. All of this is starting to happen. It's all connected. And again, it's why I'm grateful for the work you're doing in getting stories and ideas out because we need both.

Phoebe Lind [00:37:12] That makes my heart so happy to hear the impact that you're seeing in the world, too. But yeah, I love the element of storytelling in all of this, like bringing it down to the human level. That's what also why we like to go in deep on people's backgrounds too, and what inspired them to get into their work on energy, because it is also so important to the way humans everywhere get to grow and evolve and have better lives.

Phoebe Lind [00:37:38] But looking forward a little bit, what are you seeing as the future of investing in clean energy projects or key investment trends that you think might take us to the next level?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:37:52] That's such a great question. Well, as we look at our energy work across from the hardest to reach, which is clearly the hardest, to what we would call productive use, where we're investing in the next level. So, once people have that basic access to energy, how do they make use of it? Because in Africa, the underutilization of some of the energy capacity is also an issue.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:38:17] I'd say at first level, then, it's productive use. From haircutting to some of the agricultural innovations that I'm talking about, which are fundamental game changers, to milling, to motorcycles, and therefore getting things from place to place, to cold storage and freezers for not just your vegetables, but for your fish and for your meats. I was just in Nigeria and it was probably 107 degrees outside. The power of that, when you think that we have wasted 40% of our food before it reaches the plate in the developing world. And the importance, again, of energy for cold storage, for transport, for enabling people to even have access to agriculture information. So, that's that next step.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:39:18] Then there's another step. Because if you look at Africa, especially, you've got a lot of green energy. There's enormous potential for manufacturing and for assembly that we have not seen enough of. And so, my hope is that there will be green pathways out of poverty. And that's what we're also starting to work on, where you can replace the diesel that people are using for much larger parts of the work that they are doing and build that manufacturing capacity that is fully driven by solar or geothermal or probably a combination of both. Whereby, you can make use of the incredible youth on that continent, and yet, recognize that your overall energy costs are much lower and therefore bring more investment capital in. This is the way we need to build. We need to rethink the way that we look at our natural resources and value them as much as we value money and productivity in a more traditional sense. I guess that's the bigger and better picture.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:40:45] Our human resources and our natural resources... And until we decide that we are going to integrate and measure both the positive externalities and the negative externalities of what our companies do, we're not going to create the kind of change that's needed fast enough. And so, I'd say the meta obsession of mine is to use all of these examples as part of the larger framing. What do we value and how do we build a world where we are living and making good on those values rather than talking about them but continuing business as usual where some people make a lot of money at the expense of our natural world and of our human beings who are so critical to our shared future?

Phoebe Lind [00:41:43] Absolutely. Just reflecting on our conversation already, I know I will be walking away from this very inspired. If our listeners are feeling similarly inspired by your work, or if they're interested in this area of impact investing, where can they find more information or what can they do to get involved?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:42:04] The easiest place is at Acumen,, on our website. We haven't fully launched the newest one, but it will soon be out. And I think, then, it will be an easy place to find what we're doing in energy, in agriculture, in education, in health care. And not just in Africa, which is primarily what we've talked about today, but in India, Pakistan, Latin America, and the United States.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:42:43] I wonder if I could just add two other stories. We've been talking on an intellectual level. This so fundamentally changes lives at scale. And I think that's a really important piece of this work. That company, d.light, has brought light and electricity to over 160 million people now. And what that has taught me is that it's a small group of companies that can allow the private sector to really play its part in electrifying parts of the world that don't have enough electricity to actually develop in the ways that are just.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:43:34] But also, at the household level... If you think about what life is like with no electricity, if you think about what life is like just in total darkness... The fear that comes, the feeling cut off that happens. Then, we have to ask ourselves, "Why?" And, "What will people 100 years from now say about our generation when it would be so easy?"

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:44:06] And I was recently in Kenya talking to a woman who just bought a whole home system. And like so many women, she puts her first light on the outside of her house to make her feel less afraid. She has a light, the torch that she can carry to the bathroom at night so that she doesn't step on a snake. She keeps it lit in a corner so her children aren't afraid during the night, which helps them do better at school. They watch educational television. $150 with a very, very limited amount of subsidy, if any, depending on the country, fundamentally changes a family's idea of who they are and how they can contribute to this world of ours.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:44:57] And so, the fact that it's possible. And then, if we're talking about climate change and we're talking about energy access, we absolutely have to talk about those people who've been left out, and it's a lot of them. And this is not a story of despair. This is a story of human possibility, environmental creativity, and a major solution to the climate crisis. If, and we must, understand that solving our energy problems is only possible if we insist on justice and we insist on access. Not just to some, but to all people.

Phoebe Lind [00:45:47] That reminds me of something you said earlier in the podcast where you equated survivors with being entrepreneurs. We're all entrepreneurs in our own way, and we need to make sure that everyone has the resources to do the best that they can with the survival skills that they have.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:46:06] I love that you said that. Because when you see... And I get to meet young people all the time like this. It's a generation, and the whole game changes.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:46:16] I was literally just in Ghana with a poultry company that we're invested in. The holdco is called Hatch. But all of these stories are not overnight stories. This is a 12-year story. But 12 years ago, these two guys who'd never held a live chicken in their lives started a chicken company in Ethiopia. And one of their first hires was a young guy who grew up in a village to an illiterate mother, really fully isolated. And she didn't want her child to also be illiterate and have a life like hers.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:46:56] Got him into college. It wasn't really his choice, but he ended up studying veterinary sciences and luckily got hired by this company where everybody was making things up in the beginning. And long story short, a doctor who now works in Ghana is taking that model to West Africa as part of an overall conglomerate that has, in this year alone, sold 43 million chickens to 4.5 million smallholders, injected about $820 million into local economies so those smallholders can have a hedge against climate crisis. Because chickens are foragers; they don't need to be fed. They provide protein for their children.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:47:51] And for me, this is a story of adaptation, about resiliency, about opportunity, and about recognizing that we can look at the poor in two ways. It's hungry mouths to feed and as a burden. And you're hearing this in too many of our politicians today. Or, we can see them as us. Just like us. With all of the dreams and capabilities and desires to contribute. And at the end of the day, I've seen so many of these multigenerational stories where people who grew up, really, with no resources get a little bit of access and fundamentally change the world. And I just can't imagine more important work, more exciting work, more fulfilling work.

Phoebe Lind [00:48:54] Well, I'm certainly happy that you found the career that you did in this case. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It has truly been a pleasure to speak with you and learn about your journey. Do you have any final messages for our listeners?

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:49:09] Well, you really care about energy, Phoebe. I'm part of a group that also invests in big energy, and so I am so excited by what I'm seeing in how we're decarbonizing the shipping industry. And we are decarbonizing the airline industry and certainly the auto industry. And all of that needs to be done as fast as we can.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:49:39] And when we think about the market values that come to the poor, it's often because it's also invisible. Those little cookstoves that I talked about where women have to chop down wood to cook, combined, because there are 1.5 billion of them on the planet, contribute more to deforestation across the African continent than any other factor. And cookstoves right now emit as much carbon as the entire global shipping industry.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:50:17] And so, where are those opportunities? As you all, whoever's listening, are thinking about, "Well, what would I do? If I don't know anything at this big scale, what do I contribute?" What I have learned is that so many of the real innovations start extremely small. A guy that sees all of these trees getting cut down and wants to do something about it. Or, recognizes that one in three people have no access to a toilet. But also understands that if you can find ways to use the waste, you might find a clean energy source. Let your curiosity be your guide and keep it fully alive. Just make sure that we include the people who we too often overlook, because they are at the heart of building a world that we're all proud of.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:51:21] Your generation, I love, because it's, again, not bifurcated between do-gooders and people who just want to be rich capitalists. There's a deep understanding that this is a moment to do hard things. And what it requires of young people is intellect and the physical stamina to do this work and character and guts.

Phoebe Lind [00:51:50] And with all of those things, we can do the hard things.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:51:53] And with all those things, we can do the hard things. And there's no more meaningful... I'm not saying it's the happiest, on a daily basis, life. But there's no more meaningful way to live, to build a community, and to know you have contributed. And most important, to know that with everything swirling around us, you have tried. And in trying, you become a beacon of hope.

Phoebe Lind [00:52:20] That's fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Jacqueline Novogratz [00:52:24] Thank you to you for what you do. It's exciting.

EIC_Logo_Final__Primary Icon Medium .png


bottom of page