The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz is the touching memoir of an international banker. “Touching” and “international banker” seem an unlikely combination but Jacqueline made it possible. After a business trip takes her to Brazil and she is moved by those living in the favelas (slums), Jacqueline decides to leave her promising career in New York and use her knowledge to alleviate global poverty using micro-financing to give people a hand up rather than a hand out. She requests a post in Brazil but instead is sent to Africa.
In Nairobi and Côte d’Ivoire, Jacqueline is off to a horrible start. She soon finds that the African business women do not want her help and resent her being sent there. She puts up with everything from being given the cold shoulder to being sabotaged and poisoned, but determined to learn from her experiences she pushes on, soon making friends and having successes among the failures in other African nations including Kenya and Rwanda.
The author shares personal stories of the women with whom she works – their lives becoming intertwined with her own, and paints beautiful pictures of the culture, landscape and daily life.
The title comes from the fact that as a child, the author had a favorite blue sweater with the image of two zebra in front of snow-capped mountains on the front of it. The young Jacqueline loved the sweater so much that she wrote her name on the tag to ensure it would never be lost. Eventually she outgrew the sweater and her mother gave it away to Goodwill. Years later in Rwanda, she comes upon a boy in the street wearing not just the same sweater, but after checking the tag she finds that it is her sweater.
That small story alone made the book worth reading but while the memoir focuses on her time in Africa, Ms. Novogratz also shares tales of her philanthropic banking ventures in other countries including India and Pakistan. There are some parts of the book I had to skim over where the author gets carried away with boring business speak and raw numbers but for the most part, when she focuses on the human side of the endeavor the result is a good read that reminds you how interconnected we all are.