Reflections on The Blue Sweater

Priyanka Rao - Ecuador


June 23, 2012

The Entrepreneur steps onto the scene of the developing world, and snaps her trained fingers… only to find that third-world countries don’t follow the same rhythm she does.  As Jacqueline Novogratz begins down the path of international development, she faces many of the trials we do as Global Citizen Year (GCY) Fellows: high school graduates who choose to live for seven months volunteering in the developing world before going to college.

Reading Novogratz’s book, The Blue Sweater, from my wooden room in Amazonian Ecuador, I am slightly critical of this ambitious banker claiming that “our collective future rests upon our embracing a vision of a single world in which we are all connected”.  Who is she to paint a shining vision of world peace when I cannot communicate with my host dad?

She goes from being the “smart foreigner who thought they had all the answers” to expressing her “honest desire to help fix a broken system without judgment,” while we GCY Fellows go nodding our heads in exasperation.  Unlike Novogratz, we are fortunate enough to receive formal training on intercultural communication and the effects of ‘culture shock’.

However, Novogratz proved her grit, and chose the path to growth over comfortable compromise when it came to discovering herself and adapting to a new culture.  At the beginning of chapter 2, she challenged me to do the same with a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

What is it I cannot do? I cannot live without someone to talk to.

One question cut to my core fear of accepting my journey and walking it alone; a fear that held me back from action.  I left my search for sympathy and began to make choices of my own.

The Blue Sweater became more than a book, it became a sort of development journal.  Her bold yet humble pages earned the scribbles of my reflections and resolutions to be accountable.  Language does have “very little to do with the words you say and everything with how you say them” and I, too, believe it is “more important to be respected than liked.”  Still, I see the world for its beauty and lessons, while Novogratz sees the world with eyes of purpose.

How am I going to change the world?  What if I wasn’t raised with that iron go-getter spirit? I seem to be more outshined than led on in life by my role models.  Novogratz, though, isn’t afraid to reveal her own mentors.  Some of her most convincing advice comes from the advice of Professor John Gardner. His discussions on community were the basis of my video “Community”: the video that convinced an international university to accept me; yet when it came to making college decisions, it was Gardner’s words I considered before accepting: “To be truly effective, especially internationally, you must root yourself more strongly in your home’s own soil …Only by knowing ourselves can we truly understand others.”

Studying The Blue Sweater became a vitalizing and defining part of my journey.  Story by story, through efforts and admitted failures, Novogratz gained my respect not by claiming to be the authority, but by sharing the wisdom that she was shown.  And yes, she has become my role model- not because she commands me to follow the path in her footsteps but because she demands that I follow my own.

As I become a global citizen, Novogratz will be a role-model, not just as CEO of the Acumen Fund, but as a networker, innovator, and a strong and committed, powerful yet humble woman who has positively changed the world.

Priyanka Rao