Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion

Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion

I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling around the world these days, talking to groups of students and professionals, and everywhere I’m finding that I hear similar themes. On the one hand, people say, “The time for change is now.” They want to be part of it. They talk about wanting lives of purpose and greater meaning. But on the other hand, I hear people talking about fear, a sense of risk-aversion. They say, “I really want to follow a life of purpose, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t want to disappoint my family or friends.” I work in global poverty. And they say, “I want to work in global poverty, but what will it mean about my career? Will I be marginalized? Will I not make enough money? Will I never get married or have children?” And as a woman who didn’t get married until I was a lot older — and I’m glad I waited — (Laughter) — and has no children, I look at these young people and I say, “Your job is not to be perfect. Your job is only to be human. And nothing important happens in life without a cost.” These conversations really reflect what’s happening at the national and international level. Our leaders and ourselves want everything, but we don’t talk about the costs. We don’t talk about the sacrifice. One of my favorite quotes from literature was written by Tillie Olsen, the great American writer from the South. In a short story called “Oh Yes,” she talks about a white woman in the 1950s who has a daughter who befriends a little African American girl, and she looks at her child with a sense of pride, but she also wonders, what price will she pay? “Better immersion than to live untouched.” But the real question is, what is the cost of not daring? What is the cost of not trying? I’ve been so privileged in my life to know extraordinary leaders who have chosen to live lives of immersion. One woman I knew who was a fellow at a program that I ran at the Rockefeller Foundation was named Ingrid Washinawatok. She was a leader of the Menominee tribe, a Native American peoples. And when we would gather as fellows, she would push us to think about how the elders in Native American culture make decisions. And she said they would literally visualize the faces of children for seven generations into the future, looking at them from the Earth, and they would look at them, holding them as stewards for that future. Ingrid understood that we are connected to each other, not only as human beings, but to every living thing on the planet. And tragically, in 1999, when she was in Colombia working with the U’wa people, focused on preserving their culture and language, she and two colleagues were abducted and tortured and killed by the FARC. And whenever we would gather the fellows after that, we would leave a chair empty for her spirit. And more than a decade later, when I talk to NGO fellows, whether in Trenton, New Jersey or the office of the White House, and we talk about Ingrid, they all say that they’re trying to integrate her wisdom and her spirit and really build on the unfulfilled work of her life’s mission. And when we think about legacy, I can think of no more powerful one, despite how short her life was. And I’ve been touched by Cambodian women — beautiful women, women who held the tradition of the classical dance in Cambodia. And I met them in the early ’90s. In the 1970s, under the Pol Pot regime, the Khmer Rouge killed over a million people, and they focused and targeted the elites and the intellectuals, the artists, the dancers. And at the end of the war, there were only 30 of these classical dancers still living. And the women, who I was so privileged to meet when there were three survivors, told these stories about lying in their cots in the refugee camps. They said they would try so hard to remember the fragments of the dance, hoping that others were alive and doing the same. And one woman stood there with this perfect carriage, her hands at her side, and she talked about the reunion of the 30 after the war and how extraordinary it was. And these big tears fell down her face, but she never lifted her hands to move them. And the women decided that they would train not the next generation of girls, because they had grown too old already, but the next generation. And I sat there in the studio watching these women clapping their hands — beautiful rhythms — as these little fairy pixies were dancing around them, wearing these beautiful silk colors. And I thought, after all this atrocity, this is how human beings really pray. Because they’re focused on honoring what is most beautiful about our past and building it into the promise of our future. And what these women understood is sometimes the most important things that we do and that we spend our time on are those things that we cannot measure. I also have been touched by the dark side of power and leadership. And I have learned that power, particularly in its absolute form, is an equal opportunity provider. In 1986, I moved to Rwanda, and I worked with a very small group of Rwandan women to start that country’s first microfinance bank. And one of the women was Agnes — there on your extreme left — she was one of the first three women parliamentarians in Rwanda, and her legacy should have been to be one of the mothers of Rwanda. We built this institution based on social justice, gender equity, this idea of empowering women. But Agnes cared more about the trappings of power than she did principle at the end. And though she had been part of building a liberal party, a political party that was focused on diversity and tolerance, about three months before the genocide, she switched parties and joined the extremist party, Hutu Power, and she became the Minister of Justice under the genocide regime and was known for inciting men to kill faster and stop behaving like women. She was convicted of category one crimes of genocide. And I would visit her in the prisons, sitting side-by-side, knees touching, and I would have to admit to myself that monsters exist in all of us, but that maybe it’s not monsters so much, but the broken parts of ourselves, sadnesses, secret shame, and that ultimately it’s easy for demagogues to prey on those parts, those fragments, if you will, and to make us look at other beings, human beings, as lesser than ourselves — and in the extreme, to do terrible things. And there is no group more vulnerable to those kinds of manipulations than young men. I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous animal on the planet is the adolescent male. And so in a gathering where we’re focused on women, while it is so critical that we invest in our girls and we even the playing field and we find ways to honor them, we have to remember that the girls and the women are most isolated and violated and victimized and made invisible in those very societies where our men and our boys feel disempowered, unable to provide. And that, when they sit on those street corners and all they can think of in the future is no job, no education, no possibility, well then it’s easy to understand how the greatest source of status can come from a uniform and a gun. Sometimes very small investments can release enormous, infinite potential that exists in all of us. One of the Acumen Fund fellows at my organization, Suraj Sudhakar, has what we call moral imagination — the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and lead from that perspective. And he’s been working with this young group of men who come from the largest slum in the world, Kibera. And they’re incredible guys. And together they started a book club for a hundred people in the slums, and they’re reading many TED authors and liking it. And then they created a business plan competition. Then they decided that they would do TEDx’s. And I have learned so much from Chris and Kevin and Alex and Herbert and all of these young men. Alex, in some ways, said it best. He said, “We used to feel like nobodies, but now we feel like somebodies.” And I think we have it all wrong when we think that income is the link. What we really yearn for as human beings is to be visible to each other. And the reason these young guys told me that they’re doing these TEDx’s is because they were sick and tired of the only workshops coming to the slums being those workshops focused on HIV, or at best, microfinance. And they wanted to celebrate what’s beautiful about Kibera and Mathare — the photojournalists and the creatives, the graffiti artists, the teachers and the entrepreneurs. And they’re doing it. And my hat’s off to you in Kibera. My own work focuses on making philanthropy more effective and capitalism more inclusive. At Acumen Fund, we take philanthropic resources and we invest what we call patient capital — money that will invest in entrepreneurs who see the poor not as passive recipients of charity, but as full-bodied agents of change who want to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. We leave our money for 10 to 15 years, and when we get it back, we invest in other innovations that focus on change. I know it works. We’ve invested more than 50 million dollars in 50 companies, and those companies have brought another 200 million dollars into these forgotten markets. This year alone, they’ve delivered 40 million services like maternal health care and housing, emergency services, solar energy, so that people can have more dignity in solving their problems. Patient capital is uncomfortable for people searching for simple solutions, easy categories, because we don’t see profit as a blunt instrument. But we find those entrepreneurs who put people and the planet before profit. And ultimately, we want to be part of a movement that is about measuring impact, measuring what is most important to us. And my dream is we’ll have a world one day where we don’t just honor those who take money and make more money from it, but we find those individuals who take our resources and convert it into changing the world in the most positive ways. And it’s only when we honor them and celebrate them and give them status that the world will really change. Last May I had this extraordinary 24-hour period where I saw two visions of the world living side-by-side — one based on violence and the other on transcendence. I happened to be in Lahore, Pakistan on the day that two mosques were attacked by suicide bombers. And the reason these mosques were attacked is because the people praying inside were from a particular sect of Islam who fundamentalists don’t believe are fully Muslim. And not only did those suicide bombers take a hundred lives, but they did more, because they created more hatred, more rage, more fear and certainly despair. But less than 24 hours, I was 13 miles away from those mosques, visiting one of our Acumen investees, an incredible man, Jawad Aslam, who dares to live a life of immersion. Born and raised in Baltimore, he studied real estate, worked in commercial real estate, and after 9/11 decided he was going to Pakistan to make a difference. For two years, he hardly made any money, a tiny stipend, but he apprenticed with this incredible housing developer named Tasneem Saddiqui. And he had a dream that he would build a housing community on this barren piece of land using patient capital, but he continued to pay a price. He stood on moral ground and refused to pay bribes. It took almost two years just to register the land. But I saw how the level of moral standard can rise from one person’s action. Today, 2,000 people live in 300 houses in this beautiful community. And there’s schools and clinics and shops. But there’s only one mosque. And so I asked Jawad, “How do you guys navigate? This is a really diverse community. Who gets to use the mosque on Fridays?” He said, “Long story. It was hard, it was a difficult road, but ultimately the leaders of the community came together, realizing we only have each other. And we decided that we would elect the three most respected imams, and those imams would take turns, they would rotate who would say Friday prayer. But the whole community, all the different sects, including Shi’a and Sunni, would sit together and pray.” We need that kind of moral leadership and courage in our worlds. We face huge issues as a world — the financial crisis, global warming and this growing sense of fear and otherness. And every day we have a choice. We can take the easier road, the more cynical road, which is a road based on sometimes dreams of a past that never really was, a fear of each other, distancing and blame. Or we can take the much more difficult path of transformation, transcendence, compassion and love, but also accountability and justice. I had the great honor of working with the child psychologist Dr. Robert Coles, who stood up for change during the Civil Rights movement in the United States. And he tells this incredible story about working with a little six-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges, the first child to desegregate schools in the South — in this case, New Orleans. And he said that every day this six-year-old, dressed in her beautiful dress, would walk with real grace through a phalanx of white people screaming angrily, calling her a monster, threatening to poison her — distorted faces. And every day he would watch her, and it looked like she was talking to the people. And he would say, “Ruby, what are you saying?” And she’d say, “I’m not talking.” And finally he said, “Ruby, I see that you’re talking. What are you saying?” And she said, “Dr. Coles, I am not talking; I’m praying.” And he said, “Well, what are you praying?” And she said, “I’m praying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'” At age six, this child was living a life of immersion, and her family paid a price for it. But she became part of history and opened up this idea that all of us should have access to education. My final story is about a young, beautiful man named Josephat Byaruhanga, who was another Acumen Fund fellow, who hails from Uganda, a farming community. And we placed him in a company in Western Kenya, just 200 miles away. And he said to me at the end of his year, “Jacqueline, it was so humbling, because I thought as a farmer and as an African I would understand how to transcend culture. But especially when I was talking to the African women, I sometimes made these mistakes — it was so hard for me to learn how to listen.” And he said, “So I conclude that, in many ways, leadership is like a panicle of rice. Because at the height of the season, at the height of its powers, it’s beautiful, it’s green, it nourishes the world, it reaches to the heavens.” And he said, “But right before the harvest, it bends over with great gratitude and humility to touch the earth from where it came.” We need leaders. We ourselves need to lead from a place that has the audacity to believe we can, ourselves, extend the fundamental assumption that all men are created equal to every man, woman and child on this planet. And we need to have the humility to recognize that we cannot do it alone. Robert Kennedy once said that “few of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.” And it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written. Our lives are so short, and our time on this planet is so precious, and all we have is each other. So may each of you live lives of immersion. They won’t necessarily be easy lives, but in the end, it is all that will sustain us. Thank you. (Applause)

68 thoughts on “Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion”

  1. plus it's not that black and white. Not all successful people live in immersion. There are some famous people who's fame was based off of fear and strong emotions.

  2. @ConnerKleister no. im saying if i need to lift something heavy im not going to get my girlfriend to help, ill get her brother to help. duh. women have their role and so do men. how hard is this to understand?

  3. how many more of these bloody TED women vids do with have to endure ,will the stupid ever stop ! it's just meaningless emotive waffle , I'm on a mission to thumb down this crap till it stops .

  4. @tenisplayer

    "POOR people live poor because they want it."

    yea right, im sure people LOVE it in their crime filled neighborhoods and even more so when they are in the brink of starvation.

    and rich people are not about sharing either.

  5. @ConnerKleister This comment of yours made me very curious… Do you know of any two things in nature that can be considered equal in every aspect, though they are different?

  6. The feminism on this channel is getting retarded. In one sentence she's talking about her friend who became a monster, and she then apologizes for her, and then in then in the next, she talks about the evil in adolescent males. I'm on the verge of unsubscribing, it's getting old. The reason why discrimination won't end, is because some people insist on continually bringing up issues, such as feminism, as a way to create division. If you want to end division, stop bringing it up.

  7. @Andybaby Why isn't there a TEDmen? We could have pretentious talks about boobs and explosions and other vital men's issues.

  8. In a world in which women are still sold as slaves and stoned to death, for whatever reason, how can you maintain that "Inequality was truly real 20-30 years ago"? There's a bigger problem out there than your perception accounts for.

  9. @defect530

    Notre Dame, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, Taj Mahal
    Law, Equality, Freedom
    Napoleon, Julius Ceasar, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne

    Men have done more than woman did, as napoleon puts it:
    Women are nothing but machines for producing children.

  10. @GrudgyDiablo How can you call bullshit on something that your comment indicates you've never heard of before? It doesn't happen much in North America, but these things most definitely happen. It's not exclusively a female thing, but statistically, it happens much more to women. In less developed parts of the world, males usually dominate in very overt ways, and therefore are able to oppress women in similarly overt ways.

  11. @ShApEsHiFt3r I take it that you're not familiar with the fact that women in the UK and the US still make on average 0.70 cents to a man's dollar (with the same experience and qualifications), that women continue to do more than 80% of all housework and childrearing in developed countries; that rape goes unprosecuted and that rape crisis centers have a 5 year wait period in the UK? These are just a few issues, but your position is the same as white folks saying that there is no racism.

  12. @tenisplayer

    you must be a huge d-bag.

    i actually live pretty well. To say that poor people are crappy and rich are good is one of the biggest act of douchebaggery i have ever witnessed.

    that is just retarded statement.

    just an example, Mubarak is filthy rich yet a big douchbag. Madoff become rich by screwing over hounders of people.

    you gotta be kidding. Sure many poor people are poor because they cant handle money but to say they are not good people is just retarded.

  13. @ShApEsHiFt3r Well you do know that 80%+ of the world population is still living in developing countries and in these countries women are literally treated like shit right? Don't act as if the Americas & Europe are the only places that matter.

  14. @ShApEsHiFt3r Hmm. I thought you had something meaningful to say. Evidently not.

    I should have known better… this is the internet after all. Well, never mind then dear :), run along now.

  15. @ShApEsHiFt3r I came from a developing country too. If you're so keen on the statistic, you can go check it out on Population Reference Bureau itself : though common sense could've told you that, just assess the most heavily populated countries like China & India. Prenatal sex identification is illegal in these countries, and even with that China still manages to have 120 boys for every 100 girls. If you think those are made up too, simply google, there're pages of news articles about it.

  16. @ShApEsHiFt3r I cannot believe you got 41 likes on your ignorant remark. You speak of the inequality between women and men as if it were not a serious issue because you have failed to get acquainted with all the facts about it and have no idea how bad things are for women in other parts of the world, which are dominated by social standards that are also being assimilated into your continent. It is people like you who, unable to see the gravity of the situation, allow your country to fall apart.

  17. @ShApEsHiFt3r I'm sorry. I had not read the other comments. I posted my reply thinking naively that no one had realized how stupid you were.

  18. Holy Fuck. @7:26 she demonizes your sons! WTF! Prior to this point she sounded like someone sensible. The rest of her talk was even reasonable. Why did she need to equate every adolescent boy to Hitler Youth?

    Feminists suck. They don't even realize they are part of the problem.

    When you point at men and say "Look, the problem!", you seriously undermine your call for equality.

    The overall talk was not terrible. But 7:26 was.

  19. @ShApEsHiFt3r — Idealistic determinism has never improved social change. To someone used to the way society operates, it may sound reasonable, but to people studying anthropology, biology, and/or sociology it's pretty obvious that our customs are built on male dominated ways of behaving. It's not just the constant reports of things like Islamic "honor killings," but domestic abuse within the U.S., the way our political system runs, economy (and lower female wages), trends in philosophy etc…

  20. @tenisplayer

    well you certainly could have use different words to convey that message. living well and being a good person is entirely different then being rich.

    rich usually describes wealth not personal attributes just as been a good person and respecting others.

  21. @ShApEsHiFt3r So many people listen to TED talks by woman and only listen to the parts that support this view. This talk is, for the most part, gender-ambiguous. Women talk about women because they are friends with women, they relate to them – but not all women are hardcore feminists. This talk was pretty balanced – but it's directed at the women who attended this conference, not you. How can you blame her for deciding that this is what she wants these women to hear?

  22. Why is it that all women always talk about women and inequality all the time?
    At the same time men on TED always talk about humans and people?

    Feels like men focus on problems and women nag on concepts…

  23. @tenisplayer

    i guess there was just a mis-communication at first between us.

    I agree with your point. and good luck.

  24. "Focusing on honoring what is the most beautiful of our past, and buliding it into the promise of our future."

    That's how the Hidden Leaf Village does it!

  25. Until such a time when we can provide abundance for all through technology, building bridges between nations through understanding and resolve, this is one way to try to achieve a solution. Adolescent minds are certainly impressionable, at a time in their lives when they're an their most uncertain as to who they are and who they're going to become, but so are the women. So unfair to generalize, but it serves to reveal where one's values are when does that.

  26. @ShApEsHiFt3r fortunately , most young people like you are not as wrong as you . This is not actually a normal Ted talk . BUT a 'TED WOMEN' talk . Your comment only solidifies how uninformed you are .

    Go learn how wrong you are.

  27. uhm, newsflash TED: motivational speech does not function on intelligent cynics. What's your target demographic… i'm going to have to unsubscribe if this keeps up

  28. @kryptonickraze yeah, well obviously not high end elites, but not idiots either. This motivational speech crap is lowest common denominator material – not soothing for TED

  29. So many people are missing the point of the talk. It's not about young men being dangerous. It's not even just a "motivational speech". It's about how crucial social status is for human beings.

    You can use this fact for positive social change or to incite terrible atrocities. It can be used to for personal happiness or just to understand people around you from a different point of view. Either way, it's fascinating.

  30. @ShApEsHiFt3r It's not really in the past, though.Consciously. yes. I don't think there is anyone (not a significant number, anyway) in developed countries today, who actively thinks that women are worth less than men or that we're somehow less capable. There are still subconsciously absorbed stereotypes and children are still taught that way. Girls wear pink and take ballet classes. Boys wear blue and play with trucks, for example…

  31. @ShApEsHiFt3r And while I don't know what the situation is exactly in the USA or Britain, etc. in my own country I haven't seen a single commercial for a detergent or cooking equipment or an iron even, that isn't targeted solely at women. These things seem insignifigant, but they do, in the end, play a huge part in forming our mindset. I'm not even going to start on places, where women are still legally being stoned to death.I'd like to think otherwise, but sexism exists and we must talk about i

  32. @Tolstoievsky True, but it does succede in getting more people interesting, so it's still good in some way, right?

  33. @ShApEsHiFt3r I did not know that:) The idea is still valid, though. But I have to agree that this type of speech is a patronising and useless way to stuff feminism into our heads.

  34. @GeorgeFairweather91 Well… That changes nothing, instead of giving space to something that might be interesting on TEDwomen – they perpetuate words that now fall on def ears. Isn't it better to show people what they can do?

  35. @TerhiTheFinn Yes it is, but talking about it when the opportunity to actually do something productive – is a waist of time. instead of trying to restrict competition – compete, instead of only thinking about the poor women – think of all people with unfair disadvantage.
    Inequality between genders is a smaller problem than inequalities between classes and ethnicity.

  36. @ShApEsHiFt3r For many people who have gone through traumatic experience, death would've been preferable to a life with no hope of dignity. Saying that 400 people got killed, while probably 600 died of diseases, or in a disaster, and then comparing that, doesn't diminish the suffering of other victims. Or when your mother/sister/wife/daughter gets raped, do you say to her, "pull yourself together, you didn't get shot." Sorry; I just think the comparison thing is a non-sequitur.

  37. yes, looking hard in 2 year old bullshit ted talks for comments you might want to reply is a brilliant use of any sane man's time. I feel so fucking TOLD right n ow

  38. "the most dangerous animal on the planet is the adolescent male", "it is so critical that we invest in our girls(but not the boys of course)" the gender bias really puts me off…

  39. Eeeerr A small point of correction, Kibera is not the largest slum in the world, its like number 5, the biggest is Dharavi in Mumbai, India. However, this talk is just the right boost I was looking for, I really do feel inspired by this woman, big up!!!

  40. I've spent the day watching various TED Talks, and I feel so very inspired and optimistic that my beliefs and hopes for a more spiritually enlightened world are shared by not only me & some of my friends, but by powerful and wealthy people. Being humbled by another's compassion is surely one of the greatest joys. 🙂

  41. This is an intriguing talk with lots of wonderful and inspiring stories, but I wish Jacqueline Novogratz would define what a "life of immersion" means to her. I have a good idea about what it means, but an initial definition would help. 

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