Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz – Book review which I posted on Amazon.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it due to the very interesting experiences Ms Novogratz had in Africa. Her interaction with people involved on all sides of the Rwandan genocide was moving. The main point I got from the book was that the traditional approaches to charity fail precisely because the recipients know that very little is expected of them and the aid is not distributed to people or businesses which are expected to be self-sustaining. However, this would have been a more interesting book if Ms Novogratz were no longer in the philanthropy industry. She’s clearly torn between her personal experiences which taught her that a more `capitalistic’ approach is needed, versus not alienating people in her industry, which I suspect are hostile to the free-market message. It’s as though she’s signaling to the philanthropic crowd throughout the book; ‘Hey, while the main idea of my book is that your anti-capitalist, albeit well-intentioned, mindset towards the poor have not only failed to do good, but have actually done great harm, I don’t want you guys to feel bad about it.’

In a way, the style in which Ms Novogratz wrote the book oddly mirrors her experiences in Africa. Early on, we read almost exasperated as she recounts how she is insulted and marginalized by persons and organizations supposed to be working with her. You are hoping that she stands up for herself and states her case more forcefully. Especially when earlier she had fondly recalled the Catholic women in her family who `worked hard and lived out loud.’ But their loud voices, like their Catholicism I suspect, was something apparently left back home. Confrontations never really occur.

Similarly, while her first-hand experiences argue for a more capitalistic approach, she spends too much effort trying to mitigate the message. Early on she cautions us about the `cruelty of an unbridled capitalistic system’ and `those who insist on a singular ideology,’ but yet the experiences she relates expose mainly the cruelty of aid without structure or expectations. In that way, I thought she wrote an intellectually honest book, since her experiences seem to belie her stated beliefs.

I’m not sure why this bothered me, but it did. Below is list of the people quoted at the beginning of the chapters. Now I suppose it’s possible that Ms Novogratz happened to be moved by everyone in the list, but much more likely that the list was put together by someone anxious not to offend. I guess that some habits, like some blue sweaters, are hard to shake. The cynic in me wonders if they broke up some of the chapters to get a few more quotes in. ‘Hey, Jackie, we need a quote from a Muslim. Where’s Maathai from? Never mind, we’re going with the Koran.’

1- Nelson Mandela
2- Eleanor Roosevelt
3- Lu Xun
4- Marian Wright Edelman
5 -Madagasy Proverb
6- Okot P’Bitek
7- Rainer Maria Rilke
8- George Bernard Shaw
9- Buddha
10- Gandhi
11- Martin Luther King, Jr
12- The Koran
13- Wangari Maathai
14- Lao Tzu
15- Oliver Wendell Holmes
16- Robert F Kennedy

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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