Our Team

TED Blog: Jacqueline Novogratz on the Pakistan floods and our shared humanity

The following article was posted on the TED Blog on September 20, 2010.

Founder of Acumen Fund Jacqueline Novogratz recently visited Pakistan (along with TED Curator Chris Anderson) to offer what help she could and work with local friends on their relief efforts. On returning to New York, she gave a short talk at TED HQ and shared the stories of the Pakistani people she met along with a profoundly touching video created using her photographs against the music of Peter Gabriel (who generously gave his permission).

An impromptu Q&A with TED staff took place after her talk but wasn’t captured on film, so the TED Blog followed up on Friday and asked some of the questions her touching stories prompted. Here are the answers she gave:

After you spoke, one person asked “What can we do to help?” Could you answer that question again for the TED.com community?

There are some incredible Pakistani organizations and individuals doing things on the ground. There’s a real opportunity to give directly. We need to share the links to Ali Siddiqui’s family’s foundation, the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation. There are two other great organizations — one is called the Sindh Rural Support Organization (SRSO) and is run by Dr. Sono Khangharani. The other is the National Rural Support Program. There are also some terrific international organizations, like Mercy Corps and the IRC there.

What I found most promising was that civil society, private individuals and organizations are stepping in. Those who have the connections to access goods, to facilitate distribution and to use other assets that their companies have, are able to move goods and services very quickly and efficiently. For instance, Ali Siddiqui has access to airlines, trucks and the technology platforms of the financial services companies, and so has been able to move things quickly, efficiently and with real accountability. They are also putting up significant funds of their own. At this point, the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation has raised more than a million dollars from Pakistanis for this work. So by giving to organizations like these, you contribute to what citizens in their own country are already trying to do. That’s a real model of partnership, which is the kind of model we need in the world.

Is this the first time you’ve seen a model like this working at this scale?

At this scale: yes. But, I’ve certainly seen it before. In the earthquake, the Pakistani population really stepped up as well and gave clothing, food and real support. But the earthquake was much faster, it affected a smaller number of people. Just trying to imagine what this scale is — 20 million people displaced — is so mind-boggling. Pakistan needs all the help it can get.

Meanwhile, all reports indicate that aid has been slow in coming considering the size of the disaster. What do you think about that?

I think that aid has been slow in coming because of fear of corruption, fear of association with terrorism, and I would say that there’s an element of donor fatigue as well. But with that said, this is a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. What’s happening now is a much-needed relief effort. What’s next is the reconstruction phase which will continue for some time, which needs our help and ultimately will impact all of us.

Would you mind addressing some of the comments the video of your photographs of Pakistan has received on YouTube as well as the emails you’ve received about it? There have been some rather xenophobic statements — how do you feel about that?

I think there’s too much fear in the world. Fear is clearly manifesting itself in really shocking and sad responses. It’s important to recognize that it’s a very small minority, but that voice not only makes you sad, it also reinforces that the world needs to go back to fundamental principles. We need to remind ourselves that all people are created equal, and that fundamental to what it means to be human is a yearning for dignity. I think we often don’t realize that dignity for the poor is dignity for all of us. When we deny the poor and the vulnerable their own human dignity and capacity for freedom and choice, it becomes self-denial. It becomes a denial of both our collective and individual dignity, at all levels of society.

The kind of conversation you’re referring to is unaccountable — it’s a non-conversation. It’s just a series of very sad and fear-filled comments. I prefer to see it as a reminder of how much work there is to be done on behalf of everyone. What we have to do, as a world, is to continue to put out the meme that this disaster is not happening to people who are not like us. These are people who are exactly like us, and indeed, are us.

During your time in Pakistan, our shared humanity must have been so apparent. What was it like to meet so many people in such an awful situation?

Well, when I woke up in New York in the middle of the night and said to Chris, “I can’t be on vacation,” it was because, over the last ten years, I realized that this has become my neighborhood, in a very physical way. It surprised me how much I felt that this was my neighborhood, but actually, this is how we should all be feeling.

When I was there, a couple things really reminded me of our shared humanity. Clearly, one was looking at the faces of the children and seeing incredible potential, and talking to people like the man who said, “Why would I go back?” He said, in English “I have seven years of education. I want to contribute. I want to be part of this.” I kept thinking, “Would I have this grace? Would I have this ability to interact with someone very privileged if I had been stripped of everything?”

The other piece that really hit me was that when we talk about people who’ve lost all their belongings, we have to contextualize what that means. When you see people who are without, it’s too easy to react with pity. What’s more powerful is that when you see people who’ve lost their belongings, and those belongings consist of three or four blankets and a couple of changes of clothing for an entire family, and you realize that you can put those belongings into your carry-on bag, that’s the really humbling piece. We live in a world in which we’re seeing an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. And yet, those without are still thinking about the very same things that any of us would think about in a similar situation: Are my children ok? Can I protect them? Can I feel proud in front of my husband or my wife? When will I get back so that I can send my kids to school? When can we start to get on with our lives?

On the horizon in Pakistan’s future, there are many considerations. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a second round of fatalities because of malaria, cholera and malnutrition. Can anything be done about the conditions that are facilitating this?

At the beginning of a relief effort like this people are just moving in, everything’s new, they’re trying to cope with this brand new situation. What happens is that once the waters start retaining, you get situations of stagnant water and with stagnant water, disease flourishes. That’s when malaria and cholera start moving through the population. We’re starting to see that now. Distributing malaria bednets and clean water filters becomes very important in this next phase of the reconstruction.

The next thing that often happens in these situations is that people start adjusting to life in refugee camps, and that has enormous collective psychological ramifications. A culture of dependency can start. It’s too easy to blame either side — this is all part of the psychology of trauma and relief. Early on in the process, it’s very important to bring in initiatives that enable people to be involved in changing their own lives, whether through micro-loans or getting farmers access to seed. The good news is that the floods are leaving an alluvial layer and creating very nutrient-rich soil, so the expectation is that the country will see a bumper crop of wheat. But the farmers have to have access to seed and fertilizer to allow them to sow that wheat. By denying them access, ironically you’ll be putting them in a situation where they’re financially dependent and then become psychologically dependent.

We need to think strategically for the long-term and we should be thinking about the rebuilding and reconstructing right now, before the relief effort is over.

Obviously, the Pakistani economy will suffer as a result of the damage to infrastructure, crops and more. Do you see hope in Pakistan’s future?

The Pakistanis are very resilient people. The result of what’s happening in Pakistan can go either way. We could see a breakdown in society, but we can also see a situation where we are able to build it back better. The United States has already pledged over 150 million dollars, some of that has been focused on humanitarian aid but a lot of that is focused on infrastructure and development.

It seems to me that there’s an enormous opportunity right now to do two things: One is that, in using that aid, we should move away from the traditional approach of using American sub-contractors to do the work and invest immediately in local Pakistani organizations and corporations that can hire some of these young men to rebuild the infrastructure. I met a number of people who said, “Well, what I want do is adopt a village and build it back exactly like it was before.” To me, that feels like a lost opportunity. Let’s aim for something better so that people can start aspiring and seeing themselves as able to be upwardly mobile.

The second piece is to take that aid, even if it’s just a percentage of it — 10 percent of 150 million dollars — and match what Pakistanis themselves are bringing to the table, are willing to execute on and are willing to be accountable for. My bet is that we’ll see not only a different and more positive set of results, but an extraordinary level of goodwill in Pakistan and throughout the Arab world. I daresay we’ll also see a change in the United States as we start to shift from seeing ourselves as policemen or the ones who come in and fix things, to true partners that are looking at what it takes to build real change.

To support Pakistani flood relief please visit http://ontheground.pk


Reflections on the India Fellows Seminar

Each year, the India Fellows Program brings together up to 20 emerging leaders from different regions, sectors, and socio-economic backgrounds in India. During the fellowship year, Fellows remain in their jobs and meet every 6-8 weeks throughout the year for 4 seminars and 2 collaborative projects, each about a week long. As the India Fellows Associate, Jacqui is responsible for supporting all aspects of the program recruitment, logistics, marketing and strategic planning. Below, Jacqui reflects on the first seminar, Foundations of Leadership. You can read more about the fellowship program here[Read More]

Adaptive Leadership in Action: Addressing Cultural Norms & Giving Women a Voice

In the fall of 2013, +Acumen launched the course Adaptive Leadership: Mobilizing for Change in partnership with the Cambridge Leadership Associates. This course is for anyone who wants to become more effective at leading their organization through change. Below, one of the course participants shared her story about how this course impacted her work and ability to affect change. [Read More]

Making Sense of Social Impact in Action: The Value of Educating Our Youth

At Acumen, one of the most common questions we get is how we measure social impact. Our newest +Acumen course – Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. – will provide an entry point for how to think about impact and we’ll share frameworks that help us define what to measure and why. Makoto Matsuura, founder of cobon a not-for-profit focused on youth education in Jakarta, Indonesia and Osaka, Japan, took a pilot version of this course and shared his reflections with us. [Read More]

Good news for philanthropists in the U.K. and Europe

We are excited to announce that Acumen now holds a CAF Charitable Trust in the United Kingdom. CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation, is a registered U.K. charity. By donating to Acumen through CAF, you can use Gift Aid if the amount of Income Tax and/or Capital Gains Tax you’ve paid for the tax year in which you make your donation is at least equal to the amount of basic rate tax  [the charity or Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) and any other charities or CASCs] you donate to will reclaim on your gift. CAF will reclaim 25% Gift Aid from HM Revenue & Customs and pass this through to Acumen.  The donor can claim higher rate tax relief (for more information, please refer to CAF’s online resource, What Is Gift Aid?). [Read More]

d.light Leaders Named 2014 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year

We are thrilled for our portfolio company d.light and Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO, along with cofounders Ned Tozun, President, and Sam Goldman, Chief Customer Officer, for being named Social Entrepreneurs of the year 2014 by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. d.light is a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures and distributes solar lighting and power products with primary markets in the developing world, today announced that d.light, along with 37 other individuals and organizations in the 2014 class, will be fully integrated into the events and initiatives of the World Economic Forum. [Read More]