Excellent essay, Jacqueline. I’d like to share some thoughts on moral leadership, particularly when we consider that of the three billion people living in poverty, the majority are women and girls.
In the face of this terrible inequality, I believe that we, as women, have a disproportionate degree of responsibility to try to lift more and more women out of poverty.
Exactly how can we do this? If we’re not engaged in direct services for the poor, it can feel that nothing we do really makes a difference. The numbers are so big, and the impact of so many programs that are created to alleviate poverty often seems so small.
I believe it’s time for women to harness and optimize our individual and collective power to make a big difference. While there are more women living in poverty today, there are also more women with wealth than ever before in our planet’s history (more than 30 percent of the world’s wealth will be controlled by women by 2040, according to many recent global economic survey)s. Such disparity — more women with money, and more women stuck in acute poverty — is not just or moral. So along with our resources, women can also bring to the challenge of alleviating poverty, a value system that is based on justice and the right of all individuals to be able to afford food for themselves and their families, to have shelter and freedom from fear of violence, and to live with dignity.
Jacqueline, you are living proof that women with powerful ideas and the courage to pursue them can and do “stand with the poor,” as Acumen’s manifesto says so clearly, and I am proud to serve on your board.
For those who don’t know about how Acumen got started, in 2001, Jacqueline had an idea for a new approach to addressing endemic poverty, and with her experience as an international banker, her transformative frontline engagement with the NGO community during Rwanda’s genocide (all beautifully shared in her memoir, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World), she started the Acumen Fund — and launched a new model for serving the poor, one that has since impacted 100 million people’s lives (and counting).
If you aren’t familiar with their model, Acumen raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. As the organization’s website reports, the companies in which Acumen invests are solving some of the world’s toughest social problems, from banks in rural Pakistan supporting low-income farmers to ambulances in Mumbai with a mandate to “serve all” regardless of income.
And it all started with one woman’s vision of a more equal world, one based on the moral leadership models of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, all of whose teachings are part of the Acumen Fellows curriculum.
As Jacqueline wrote in another recent blog post, “This is our moment as a world to solve poverty, both material and spiritual. It is within our collective capability if we have the courage to do what is right for the vulnerable, not just the wealthy.”
To celebrate Acumen’s first 15 years, I am calling on the global sisterhood to use our power to stand with the poor, to support organizations like Acumen, and to seek out opportunities to be moral leaders who stand for what is right and just for all.
While we’re at it, let’s use our time, creativity, and resources to invest in other women’s businesses and initiatives.
Acumen does. Over the years, they have invested in more than 130 female entrepreneurs and social leaders from around the world.
Imagine a world filled with women who acknowledge their power, and use it to lift each other up: Fewer women live in poverty. The world is richer in every way, and not just for a few. And we are richer in the values that create and sustain the kind of world that we want for ourselves, and for our children.