“Whoever you are, and whatever you do, the world needs you to lead. There will be times when happiness may feel elusive and the horizon impossible to reach. But remember that each day, we wake up to another chance to renew the world. Daily, we have a choice to recommit to the work we came to do. Daily, we can reconstitute the promise of hard-edged hope. … The world is waiting for you.”
Jacqueline Novogratz had a promising career as a young banker on Wall Street…until she gave it up to move to Rwanda to start a microfinance organization instead. Over the next decades, she continued to look for ways she could have more of an impact on helping people to get out of poverty; to that end, she started Acumen, a global non-profit fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty.
This book is her call to all of us to make “a daily choice to serve others, not simply benefit ourselves”. It is hard, but as she writes, “Change is possible. And because large-scale, sustainable change is possible, I have come to see it as a responsibility to be part of that change.”
Each chapter in the book shares one of the principles she has identified for enabling that sort of change. I’ll list them below, along with a relevant quote to explain each principle.
But what makes the book memorable is the stories she tells. These principles aren’t theoretical, but grounded in the steely determination of thousands of people around the world who decided “I will find a way to make things better for these people”…and then did exactly that. From India to Rwanda to Colombia to Kenya, she shares dozens of stories of people who had no training, no privilege, no money, finding a way to get the resources they needed to make a difference in their community. These change-makers were powered by their commitment to the people they wanted to serve, and in that commitment, they found innovative solutions.
She is also a great writer – as I went through the book to write up this summary, I realized I had so many highlighted lines in my Kindle version that it was hard to decide which to include, and this summary is extra long despite me trying to be selective. It’s easy to read, and she ties the compelling stories she tells to the principles she hopes to impress on the reader.
I found this book inspiring and powerful as a reminder that change starts not from a brilliant idea, but from really listening to people and connecting to them so that you thoroughly understand their problems, and you take on their problems as your problems. One line that really struck me is “In times of both success and failure, we can choose with whom we stand. Going beyond yourself to enable others not just to persevere but to thrive…”
This question has haunted me since reading the book – who will I choose to stand with? Will my life be about more than doing what benefits myself and my family? What are the values I will choose to embody in the world on a daily basis? I haven’t answered these questions yet, but I am paying attention, and noticing the ways in which I feel myself shrink back from possible opportunities, and run towards others. I am starting to tune in to what values I will stand for, and who I will serve. We shall see how that develops.
Below are the 14 chapters/principles in the book:
- Just Start: “You may not yet have a crystal clear sense of your purpose. That’s okay. It will grow with you. But if you have an inkling that you’d like your life to be about something bigger than yourself, listen to that urge. Follow the thread. The world needs you. Just start.”
- Redefine Success, discussing the choice to pursue impact over the more conventional and easier path of money and promotions: “Success doesn’t just wait for us on a distant horizon. Success is within all of us, waiting for us to live into it. It exists in the beauty we create, the goodwill we offer, the ideas we spread, the causes for which we stand, and the lives we help transform.”
- Cultivate Moral Imagination: “Moral imagination means to view other people’s problems as if they were your own, and begin to discern how to tackle those problems. And then to act accordingly. It summons us to understand and transcend the realities of current circumstances and to envision a better future for ourselves and others. … Moral imagination is muscular, built from the bottom up and grounded through immersion in the lives of others. It involves connecting on a human level, analyzing the systemic issues at play, and only then envisioning how to go beyond applying a Band-Aid to making a long-term difference.”
- Listen to Voices Unheard: “Privilege can deafen us to those who feel less worthy or valuable. … Outsiders, who’ve been told repeatedly that they are unworthy or don’t belong, often internalize negative beliefs imposed on them by others and make themselves smaller, unable to give voice to their true feelings, opinions, or desires. … we must learn to listen not just with our ears, but with all of our selves. … Listen not to convince or to convert, but to change yourself, spark your moral imagination, soften your hardened edges, and open yourself to the world.”
- You Are The Ocean in a Drop: from Rumi, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the ocean in a drop.” “Being aware of and acknowledging the identities others hold is a key skill for navigating complex conversations. … A peaceful, sustainable planet demands that we celebrate our individual multiple identities while recognizing the one thing we have in common: we are all human beings.”
- Practice Courage: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the ability to look fear into the face and continue to walk forward. Only by nurturing our courage will we prevent our fears from making and then keeping us small. … No one escapes life without broken parts. When we find the courage to repair what is broken inside ourselves, to reconcile the hurts we’ve internalized and the hurts we’ve inflicted on others, we can finally renew our fragile world. This kind of repair requires moral courage, the will to face fears, and to fight for those who are unlike us.
- Hold Opposing Values in Tension: “Effective leaders looking to bring about change have no choice but to hold opposing values without rejecting either. … In a world of interdependence, we will flourish only if we move to “both-and” thinking, integrating purpose and profit, generosity and accountability, the community and the individual. … For each of us, the first step is to reach across the wall of either-or and acknowledge the truths that exist in opposing perspectives.”
- Avoid the Conformity Trap: “Mustering the moral courage needed to do what’s right, not what’s easy, requires knowing when conformity is a force for good and when it instead muffles our conscience. … if you dare to act on dreams of change, you must find the guts to stand apart while also building the relationships needed to design better systems.”
- Use the Power of Markets, Don’t be Seduced by Them: “Knowing how to use and build markets is one of the most powerful tools we have for solving our problems. Use the market as a listening device and let it teach you what people value alongside what they can afford. … Yet, only when companies regularly quantify and value nonpecuniary but fundamental human and environmental benefits will we see a more inclusive, sustainable market system.”
- Partner with Humility and Audacity: “Solving humanity’s toughest problems requires no single hero, but a system of people, companies, organizations, and government that rally around a common enterprise. … If we believe that a moral revolution requires everyone, we must become skilled at building partnerships across sectors. … [we wish] to enter a new partnership with greater openness to what the other side can offer and a courageous vulnerability to sharing fears – and with the patience to take the time it needs to build trust.”
- Accompany Each Other: “Accompaniment is the willingness to encounter another, to make someone feel valued and seen, bettered for knowing you, never belittled. … The simple act of showing up and connecting with another’s humanity can help a person rekindle hope in ways they might not otherwise have dreamed of doing. … The opposite of accompaniment is separation. We reduce people to statistics in ways that dehumanizes them, keeping ourselves at a distance from the ugly realities of our decisions – or our inaction. … In times of both success and failure, we can choose with whom we stand.”
- Tell Stories That Matter: “The job of the moral leader – which is the job of all of us – is to learn to tell the stories that matter, stories that unite and inspire, reinforcing our individual and collective potential, and paint a picture of the future that we can build and inhabit together.”
- Embrace the Beautiful Struggle: “Every change agent must find within herself the strength to carry on through the dark times and the courage to push against a resistant status quo, not just for a couple of years but, potentially, decades. … Remember that in the struggle, there is a beauty that endures.”
- Manifesto: “Freedom does not exist without constraint. Saying aloud those values that bind us, whether we start with our families, our organizations, our communities, or our nations, is a start. Aspiring to live those values is the next step. Within each of us lies the basis for the only revolution that will save us: a moral revolution.”