Blue Sweater Party at Brown: Problem, Solution, Impact

By Acumen on December 07, 2009

Sara is currently a senior at Brown concentrating in COE (Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship). She is originally from Bogota, Colombia. This past summer she participated in Acumen Fund’s Student Leader’s Workshop for Undergraduates. Sara is also the Director of the Client Services Team and a Loan Officer at the Capital Good Fund.

I was lucky enough to attend Harvard University’s 2007 Commencement ceremony and listen to Bill Gates’ stirring speech. While I found the speech inspiring and fascinating in many ways, I was really struck by one part in particular. Gates said:

“I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.”

This past summer, I had the chance to participate in Acumen Fund’s first Student Leaders workshop for Undegraduates. I left the workshop inspired, with a lot of caring, awareness, and passion – but still uncertain how to turn this caring into action. A lot of ideas were floating around amongst the student leaders; to sell bag tags, sell blue sweaters, and to coordinate amongst ourselves to create a movement out of these ideas. But complexity blocked these initiatives from actually happening.

This brought me back to Bill Gates’ speech. Complexity had made it hard for the student leaders to mark a path of action, and consequently made it hard for our caring to matter. But as Gates said, “To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact.”

With this in mind, I set out to turn caring, awareness, and passion into action.

Problem: With schoolwork and other commitments, I didn’t have the time to set up a full-fledged fundraising initiative for Acumen Fund. So how could I use my skills, passions, and networks to create awareness of Acumen Fund’s mission on the Brown University campus?

Solution: Find an easy, logical way to appeal to a broad audience, sensitize them to the problem of poverty, engage them in a cause, and simultaneously raise money. This is when I asked myself: what do college students like to do?

They like to party.

So I thought I could take advantage of this and extract a philanthropic “pleasure tax” for partying. While it may seem strange to bring the two emotionally polar opposites together, I thought that by “Partying to End Poverty” we could use the things we love – music and dance – against the things we hate – poverty – to create a sense of global unity.

So I met with a couple of venues in Providence and ultimately decided on the State Lounge, as they did not charge a fee for using the venue. And I got Nico Jaar, a famous DJ, to agree to provide music with no charge.

But there were always a lot of parties going on around campus, so I had to figure out how I could encourage people to pay $20 to attend a party when there are a handful of fraternity parties that were free of charge?

To solve this problem, I decided to add a free drink to the ticket (what magical things a drink can do for a college student), to make the dress code semi-formal, and to undertake extensive marketing about the Acumen Model.

I set up a Firstgiving page one month before the event with the goal of raising $1,000 in 24 hours. I went all over campus, announced the event in big lectures, dormitory halls, on Facebook, and Twitter, even just running into people.

I also sent out an email that said:

“…It all started back home in Alexandria, Virginia, with the blue sweater, a special gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, during a morning run, she spotted a young boy wearing what looked like the same sweater. She approached the boy, asked to see his sweater, and found her name still written there on the tag inside. That her garment had made it all the way to Kigali, Rwanda, was ample evidence of the way we are all connected…

In 2001, Jacqueline Novogratz started Acumen Fund, a non-profit organization that is revolutionizing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in transformative businesses that serve the poor.

From Alexandria, Virginia to Kigali, Rwanda, we now bring her story to Providence, RI and invite you to celebrate her story and Party to end Poverty.

Date: Saturday, November 7th

Place: State Lounge (located Behind Olives)

Admission: $20 cover (includes free drink) + any charitable donation

Music by Nico Jaar

*100% of proceeds donated to Acumen Fund

Because you rarely get the chance to drink with dignity, don’t miss this opportunity – DRINK WITH DIGNITY, and buy your ticket today.

The key was to create a sense of immediacy. People wanted to contribute to this. And the early donors were constantly checking the webpage to see how close I was to my goal – because they felt as though they were for promoting the party a couple of weeks later.

Once this foundation was set, I recruited about 20 friends and asked for their help in marketing the event. Initially many people were reluctant to spend $20 on a ticket, even though it was for a good cause. This is why I spent a lot of time individually encouraging people to attend, explaining why Acumen Fund is not just another non-profit organization, but is actually revolutionizing the way the world tackles poverty. I decided to call the event “The Blue Sweater Party” because I knew this would cause everyone to ask: why The Blue Sweater? These were exactly the kinds of conversations we wanted to trigger.

Impact: Delicious food, great drinks, upbeat entertainment, and an energetic and positive atmosphere could be felt throughout the crowd. $3,000 was raised for Acumen Fund but more importantly; over 120 students became engaged in the fight against poverty. Every minute of time or penny donated to this cause means that somewhere, someone’s life has improved. It is our responsibility as students and as future leaders to take action and allow organizations such as Acumen Fund to disseminate their powerful message in order to continue to do the work that they do. This event proved to me that the fight against poverty can be brought to the dance floor and that if we set ourselves to achieve something, we can block complexity and turn caring into action.

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