Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts from GK Chesterton

"Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We KNOW that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing. It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost. And with that thought came a larger one, and the colossal figure of her Master had also crossed the theatre of my thoughts." GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Blue Sweater - My Story

About The Book

In the spring of 2009, I decided to order some books for the management team where I was working at the time. We had already been engaged in discussion about creating a philanthropic/community project as part of the business and I wanted to broaden the team's vision with inspiration from other leaders. As I was looking at different titles, there was one in particular that caught my attention, "The Blue Sweater: Bridging The Gap between Rich and Poor In An Interconnected World", by Jacqueline Novogratz.

There were three reasons this title stood out:
1) It embraced the reality of humanity's interwoven relationships - People;
2) It offered sustainable solutions in reducing poverty - The Bridge;
3) It involved microfinance - The Method

All three of those reasons are things I care about deeply; so deeply in fact, that I struggled to read the book. Within just a few short pages, I was in tears and my throat tightened up. It became clear that this story reminded me of all the things I wanted to do as a young person. My life took a different course, with its own twists and turns. So, I wrestled through the book, reading a little at a time and pondering her ideas.

Jacqueline has a great writing style. She not only tells her story through vivid descriptions of her surroundings, but also the story of the people she encounters. It begins with the story of a blue sweater, a gift from her uncle when she was little. After donating it to Goodwill, the sweater re-appears over ten years later in Rwanda, worn by a young boy. She writes that this reminds her of how we are all connected, "Our actions - and inactions - touch people we may never know and never meet across the globe."

Early in her career, Jacqueline saw firsthand how banks were not accessible to the poorest citizens and the working class around the world. She began to formulate ideas about changing that reality. The determination to provide access to loans for the poor, lead her on a journey from Credit Auditor at Chase Manhattan, into the heart of Africa. By partnering with existing community-based organizations, she began to understand the shortcomings of traditional charities, and the disconnect between them and the people they sought to help. Her solutions focused on creating self-sustaining businesses that were owned and managed by local residents.

The most challenging, as well as the most rewarding part of this solution, would be putting it into practice. Jacqueline constantly balances these two parts of the equation and writes, "Government should provide incentives and infrastructure to enable self-sustaining initiatives to take root. Private enterprises then deliver the credit and other services needed." Instead of handouts, a self-sustaining initiative would focus on providing and equipping people with the tools, training and credit to build a solid business. Jacqueline took her idea to the next level and started Acumen Fund.

This book has become an inspiration for me. I realize that although I had not been able to follow my dreams as a young person, there's no time like the present to pursue those dreams now.

About The Project

This past summer, the Acumen Fund invited readers to suggest how they would share this book with others. My suggestion was chosen as a finalist and I received a box of 20 books in early October. My idea is to host Book Clubs in partnership with the Women's Shelter and other local community organizations, where people may not be able to buy one. The Book Club would meet for about 6 weeks and then the books would be returned to share with the next group. I believe there are so many life lessons that can be gleaned from the stories in the book - stories of hope, community and trust. Along with discussing the book, I want to incorporate relevant workshops that can be put into practice and invite local speakers to share their knowledge and their stories.

Currently I have one local organization that is wanting to start two Book Clubs in February. I am in the process of creating the curriculum and putting together a Journal for each participant. You can follow our progress on our Blue Sweater Project page.