This is a great book, but not in that “great read” sense. Sure, it’s a good read and an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the spring sun. But it is more than a read. A call to action? A warning to those that think making an impact is easy? A thesis on developing economies? A subtle case proving understanding behavior and cultural context is one of the more potent economic tools and a requirement for development success? It’s all of those things so far.
My first reaction was: how the heck does one end up where one does in life? Jacqueline’s stories leave you wondering what the odds really are for all of our lives to end up where they do. Yet at the same time I ask about the unlikely probability of Jacqueline’s life, the futures of the people she works with seem all too likely. Certainly makes a strong case for what a culture and environment of exposure to many possibilities can do. I suppose that’s one of the main points of this book.
For those looking for a Dummies Guide to Changing the World. This isn’t it. As much as it is a call to action (do something!) it is also a warning that results do not come easy. Though her story is tightly packed into 250 or so pages, you can tell that her work was not an overnight success. The Acumen Fund and other successes are the result of decades of hard work (most of it before we had PCs, cell phones and the Internet!) and carefully forged relationships. Heck, I’m not sure I could even learn 1 additional language in the same time she seemed to pick up 2 or 3 plus doing everything else. Creating a microlending institution for developing countries and communities is not the easiest way to get involved.
I was less surprised by the difficulties she had in adapting to behavior (economic, political, cultural) systems built on different consequences than those of the US. Many people hold that there is some Platonic value system that will work anywhere and everywhere once people understand it. There isn’t. Jacqueline learned this. The idea of consequences and associated returns to effort is universal to behavior modification but identifying what those consequences, returns and efforts are for specific cultures is an exceedingly difficult anthropological task.
I can safely say I know very little details about Rwanda and many other areas in Africa. Certainly I have an OK base of basic knowledge picked up from periodicals, documentaries, wikipedia and a handful of novels and non-fiction books. This book goes deep enough to showcase that real people are far more complicated than an AP report or wiki entry can capture. As descriptive as the book is in many aspects, I get the sense that only an extended trip to these locations could properly instill appreciation and understanding.
Last tidbit from me until I finish the book. The idea of running a fund to provide capital to businesses that can help eliminate poverty seems completely insane in a business sense. and yet, after you see how they pull this off you’ll wonder why more big banks, VCs and money types aren’t invested in this approach. I’d definitely like to get my hands on some data to compare ROI on this approach and this market versus Internet VCs, or banking for average small biz in America….
Argh! So much to read, learn and do. best to get on with it.