I’m on lock-down. A one year lock-down from initiating any change that adversely affects our family financially. This lock-down, imposed by my husband, feels a bit like being grounded from hanging out with my friends. I feel restrained and am trying my best to infuse some interest and energy into my life within the boundaries that have been set for me. Here are the things I’m not allowed to do this year: Adopt a child, go to graduate school, get an in-ground trampoline, and get another exchange student. These are just a few things that I have tested the waters with, only to be reminded of my one year gag order.
So I’ve taken to reading and researching and reading some more. I’m well schooled now in the ethics of international adoption, I’ve decided I should get an MBA but only through a program that does not require me to retake the GRE (No worries, I found one!), I found a You Tube video of how to build your own retaining wall for an in-ground trampoline to save costs, and I’ve continued skyping with our former exchange student to remind myself how lucky we were to have been given a beautiful German host-daughter that we’ll know forever. But I’m bored again.
Now I am tapping into the depths of my mind where my hopes and dreams live. I’m toying with my lifelong yearning to change the world and trying to figure out what that means going forward. I think I’m on the right track having worked in the non-profit sector my whole career. I have the good fortune to work in philanthropy and to build relationships with people who, like me, want to change the world. I can even say with great certainty, that the place I’m working IS changing the world and if philanthropists invest in our organization, their generosity will be a catalyst for not only change and innovation, but will save lives.
But I want to understand more about charity and more about the world. What I’ve noticed in nearly 15 years of working in non-profits is that while charity is well-intentioned and very necessary, there are many times when private dollars are just placating a problem and not really working to fix it and create SUSTAINABLE positive change. Notice the word sustainable. Like, when the grant dollars go away and your program ends and the at-risk teens don’t get their after school activity, the change you are trying to make is not sustainable and everyone goes back to square one. Of course, I am over-simplifying my point but that’s part of what has me thinking about other ways to solve major social problems.
Enter my chosen book for vacation: The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the organization Acumen Fund. The Blue Sweater has been one of the books that has changed my world view. Jacqueline’s passion for finding new and innovative ways to tackle poverty spoke directly to my feelings about traditional charity – there IS a third business model between for-profit and non-profit. Forbes Magazine calls her model “philanthropic venture capital.” And that’s literally what it is – taking charitable dollars and investing them in social entrepreneurs in select areas of the world who have ideas that can create sustainable solutions to social problems, therefore addressing the larger issue of poverty. They are riskier investments with lower returns (hence her term, “patient capital”), but with patience, the return is larger than any venture capitalist could ever imagine – the social impact that comes from giving even just one person the tools to raise themselves up from poverty…forever. I think Acumen Fund is on to something and I want to learn more about it.
And you know what the best part is about my new obsession with social entrepreneurship and social venture capital as a tool to save the world? It’s free.