Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lessons Learned - The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The idea of helping the poor has never escaped me, I am always internally drawn to the possibility of making the world a better place. I believe this is the passion that I share with Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen fund, who unlike me started to realize her dream early in her career. It is with elation that I ravage the pages of her book, The Blue Sweater, mostly for sharing stories that had I possessed the courage, I would also be able to experience and share.

When the idealist and novice imagine a life of a social entrepreneurs in Africa, one would sway, due to their inept knowledge of the reality, to either one extreme: the painful rough path of suffering or the rewarding transcendental joy of changing the world. I myself have unconsciously been apologizing to myself for wanting the former and for enforcing such 'curse' upon my own life, why not vie for that wall street or consulting job? This book, however, shatter my misconstrued reality

Yes, the business of changing the world usually entail certain level of loneliness and hardships, but do not all roads contain their own rubble and hard path? Being negatively judged, unlawfully accused and even being poisoned are part of the package. Jacqueline described it perfectly here,

"Doing this in a different language, in a place far from home, where navigating even simple things could thwart the best intentions challenged me to my bones. There were plenty of nights when the sheer injustice of the world in which I lived would come crashing down. With no means of communication other than letters, a sense of isolation would envelop me, and there were nights that ended in tears of tiredness and sadness for a world that didn't seem to want to see the possibilities right there in front of it. In those times, I would turn to music. Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Cat Stevens began to feel like good friends on lonely nights" 

But unbeknownst to me is the magical adventure this life has to offer at the same time. Weekend is still weekend wherever you are, and the world is not lacking of any perks and fun to throw at you. For Jacqueline, it is that climbing one mountain in Africa or an adventurous travel from the far reaches of Ethiopia to the Kenyan savannas or to the volcanoes of Rwanda. Or even as simple as eating shish kebabs and grilled bananas, dancing to the tunes of African music with Rwandan beer at hand. Those are pictures that my misconstrued mind often denigrated as not being philanthropic, but certainly with every trough, a peak is about to follow.

Another issue that I am having hard time to grip with is the issue of lifestyle: how much are they going to change me and vice versa, how localize should we conform to their lifestyle and how much freedom are we throwing out of the window? I think big part of that answer depend on the level of involvement you want to be in. But this story helps me to understand and find a better conciliatory point between the joy and suffering of social entrepreneurs.

"I'm not sure I even want the champagne, Dan," I said. "I feel a little ashamed by it. I just don't know if it is right to be doing this while we're living here." 

Dan looked at me. "I know it doesn't make a lot of sense on one level. We're working with the really poor, and you and I couldn't be more privileged in relative terms. But don't pretend to be someone you aren't. If you were at home, you'd celebrate with champagne. If you want to remain happy and alive in this work, you need to reconcile this part of who you are and understand the inconsistencies with the work you do and how it all fits into your whole way of being." 

I looked at my lovely friend. As a young man, he'd lost his brother and had already endured great sadness in his life. His commitment to social change had never wavered. Maybe he knew something I didn't. 

Certainly, there are something I do not know unless I jump into it and get my hands dirty. Reading this book awaken the sleeping giant in me, I know I am several years behind, I am 24 now and little that I did except reading and learning about the issue. Other passionate young men and women have flown high and even let their wings being clipped and plucked during the quest, while mine remain ironically unscathed.

Going to Cambodia this year is my first action plan; an adventure to learn the world beyond me and to be familiar with what I think would be my world. Cowardice and comfort are two vices that I have been submitting into, but this time I refuse to bow down and present my tithe. I know I will take what Jacqueline said to heart,

Entrepreneurs see possibility, an idea, and won't stop, regardless of the obstacles, until they make it happen. They aren't necessarily the smartest people in the world, but they are the ones who have the guts and the heart to do whatever it takes to make dreams come real.


Jacqueline Novogratz said...

Many thanks for your lovely blog post and i wish you an amazing journey in Cambodia! Jacqueline

Gerry C Joeng said...

Thanks Jacqueline for reading my post, such an honor!