Podcast 096: Jacqueline Novogratz – Two decades of hard-edged hope coupled with off-grid solar changed the lives of hundreds of millions; what’s next?

For over two decades, Acumen and its partners have dared to go where traditional investors feared to tread. Acumen’s pioneering vision and legendary hard work have brought life-changing, off-grid electricity to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. And, along the way, their work has inspired and supported intrepid entrepreneurs and innovators in some of the toughest market environments on earth.  Now, this clear-eyed, gritty bunch, filled with hard-edged hope and armed with proven models and even more patient capital has set their sights on new goals. 

Listen in as Acumen founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, shares a glimpse into the fundamentals and underlying principles behind Acumen’s ground-breaking approach to patient capital and where they are headed next and why.

Here are some of the highlights from their discussion…

“I really believe that when we see another person, neither above nor below us, that’s when we plant the seeds of our mutual transformation. And that mutual transformation is our shared dignity. And in this moment of so much interdependence, I truly believe, and I know you and I share this, that to build a world where we all get the dignity of knowing we’re doing our best for each other, which is what we need to be doing right now, we have to get electricity to every human being on the planet. It’s got to be clean, and it is the foundational block on which a human being can build her life.”


“…we are so interdependent as a world, that if we don’t fix this, if we don’t see this problem as all of our problem and… recognize that low-income people in those communities are disproportionately impacted by climate crisis, … on a continent (Africa) that is going to double in population in the next 30 years. That is not a situation that is good for anyone, not for economic development, nor productivity, not for violence and peace, not for the refugee issue, and so again it brings us to the urgency of now.”


“We finally got to a place where we are invested in 40 companies. Those 40 companies have brought off-grid clean solar light and electricity to over 220 million individuals on the planet.”

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Acumen Capital Partners

Acumen Fund

Book: Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz

Road map: The energy sector braces for 2022 midterm elections | S&P Global Market Intelligence

Solar Energy Industry Association links:

Full Transcript

Bill Nussey:

Well, hello and welcome, uh, I am Bill Nussey, the host of, uh, Freeing Energy podcast, it is my deep privilege to sit down and have amazing conversations with some of the most visionary and- and impactful climate leaders of our age. It’s also a big privilege for all of us that work to publish the Freeing Energy podcast and this includes, Sam, Bailey, Sean, Cheyenne, and Melinda, that- that all of you listening are sharing some of your very precious time with us, to listen in, to perhaps learn some things and hopefully even be inspired by the amazing guests that we have.

So, you know, most of you have listened in for a while, have figured out that I’m a pretty serious nerd, and one of my favorite nerd outs, is the, uh, annual TED Conference, and I had the privilege of going to it for a couple of decades, uh, since 2000 really, and it was, uh, pivotable for me in so many places along my journey into energy and into freeing energy.

You know, started as, for those of you who’ve read the book know that I first heard Amory Lovins, who has been an incredible inspiration, he spoke from the TED ta- TED stage about Reinventing Fire, uh, Al Gore laid out the, uh, um, some of his earliest work on An Inconvenient Truth. I remember writing down in the book to say, “Bill you need to get into climate darn it.” Uh, and so that was actually sort of commemorated my first official move into it.

Uh, and- and- and on a much smaller version of the TED stage, I gave a TED Talk, which was really the earliest versions of Freeing Energy, but it was actually the 2017 Teen TED Conference where I met today’s guests for the first time, uh, in Vancouver, British Columbia, outside of one of the events. Uh, the theme of the Conference that year was, “The Future You.” It- it featured presentations by people like Elon Musk and even, (laughs), Pope Francis who delivered a talk on, “Why the only future worth building includes everyone.”

What struck me most about this conversation was her different approach from anything I’d ever heard before about, “How we can address the inequities of poverty, particularly energy poverty,” uh, using s- tools that I was familiar with, which were business and this changed my perspective on how we can address poverty, and energy poverty around the world. So, I am so excited, uh, to bring on as a guest today one of the people that’s inspired me for years, and someone whose become a great friend, Jacqueline Novogratz, welcome to our podcast Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

It is so exciting to be with you Bill, thank you for that lovely introduction.

Bill Nussey:

There’s so much I wanted to cover, um, but let’s just do a quick trip into the wayback machine, and this is a really fascinating part that you talk about in your books and- and some of your public speeches, but you grew up in a Military family. A Military family this is, you know, you had a lot of siblings, uh, we’ve read that your family moved 18 times in a dozen years, because of your dad’s different assignments.

So, most of us have no idea what that’s like, so tell us, you know, what was it, how did those, that crazy life-changing, uh, dynamic world shape, uh, your worldview today?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I’m the eldest of seven in this Military family, it’s also a Catholic immigrant family and I think that it was those three, um, three factors if you will that had a great influence on my life as a kid. Um, one having a dad who was in Vietnam a lot, uh, made me very curious about who those kids were on the other side of the world, uh, that we were always trying to quote unquote, “Help.”

Um, growing up and certainly as a little girl at, in Catholic school where both my grandparents, the nuns, my parents, talked a lot about, “The idea of responsibility to whom much is given, much is expected.” And, um, and then I would say an immigrant family that by many definitions, uh, with low income certainly my grandmother and grandfather, um, but never thought of themselves as anything but, uh, part of the great American experien- experiment, uh, made me realize that, um, poor says nothing about a person’s character, and just about their income levels, and so I started to learn from a very early age that there was real opportunity for all people, if you saw all people as, “Capable,” and as wanting to solve their own lives, and then as I got older, and this is the part of the story you wa- you’d walked into Bill, I started to see how broken our systems were.

That our markets overlook low-income people and charity, uh, and government too often creates dependency and neither of them really made sense for the kind of child like simplistic view of a world that recognized that we all really want the same things.

Bill Nussey:

So when you all get together as a family, does everyone still get up at the, you know, the revelry in the morning and, you know, go out running when you’re having a Thanksgiving, (laughs), or getting together?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I wouldn’t call it, “Reveling,” um, Bill, but for whatever reason we all, most of us have an early morning thing, and we don’t really know if it’s because our parents made us get up early, or if it’s just biologically who we are, but literally we’re all in a family WhatsApp, all my brothers and sisters and I, and so in the morning it could be 4:00 AM, 5:00 AM, I’ll send out a- a- a WhatsApp, and inevitably me- messages come back. So, you’re never lonely in our family because somebody is always up, it’s just what we do.

Bill Nussey:

We have something like that in our family, but it starts from around 11:00 o’clock in the morning-

Jacqueline Novogratz:

(laughs).

Bill Nussey:

… other than that it’s exactly the same. Um, (laughs), I’m kidding. So-

Jacqueline Novogratz:

It’s- it’s funny, but we, it wasn’t like, I mean, we were very disciplined in some ways, but we had one clock in our flat, in our house, one clock, one brush, and so we weren’t, we weren’t rigidly focused on, you know, chronological, uh, time in that sense, it was more, um, in- i- in a funny way, it’s hard to explain, it might be why we’re all entrepreneurs, all seven of us, but that there’s a, um, there’s a free-flowing but then there’s also a showing up and making do with whatever you’ve got, one clock, one brush, we’re good.

Bill Nussey:

That’s a secret inside of entrepreneurism, that, uh, I have never heard before, I’m gonna make a note of that.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Well you’re the same, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Bill Nussey:

I- I grew up in a different kind of family, but I think the outcomes may have been similar in some ways, that’s it, I love that, thank you, and so, you know, but it wasn’t just this growing up that was pretty unique, you know, you had a career, uh, trajectory early on, you were gonna get into banking, but then you, um, and then you bailed on this career. Uh, it’s kind of a legendary part of your story, and I really encourage all of our listeners to, uh, to discover even more of these, but, you know, you share it in your book, “The Blue Sweater,” which is a great, great read.

Um, so I’m not gonna ask you to talk to about all of this, but the part I really wanted to get out of that is you’ve taken these stories, these parts of your lives, these experience you’ve had, you’ve turned them into, “Well actually stories.” Um, and, you know, you mentioned, uh, the storytelling about banking, which is a really interesting connection, and so how, er, tell me about what storytelling means to you, how do you take something as diverse as banking to art trips through Africa, and how do you weave those into stories, and what’s the power of that for you?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

For me, I think, what banking really helped me understand more than anything was that numbers themselves tell stories. Um, and so it was really the- the first time I understood that a fina- if- if you understand a financial statement, you can understand a person’s values and priorities, um, “Do they, you know, ar- do they really care about marketing, are they putting their money into inventory, um, are they putting their money into their people?”

Um, really easy once you start to look at the numbers of a- a financial statements, and balance sheets. Um, when you look at nations and you start to understand, “Well what percentage of, uh, of a national budget goes into the Military, versus healthcare?” Um, it tells you lot about values, and so I think what banking helped me understand, particularly since at that time I was traveling around the world analyzing the credit worthiness of both small companies and massive conglomerates, was to see narrative in numbers.

That was the way I could really understand where companies were, where they might get into trouble, what they cared about, what they clearly did not care about.

Bill Nussey:

Of all the methods of telling story’s, numbers is arguably the most universal, it’s the least, uh, open to subjective, uh, interpretation and so when you can use numbers as part of your storytelling regime, uh, you can tell a more impactful story that’s in many ways more universal, not that everyone, not that all stories can be told at all through numbers, but it is a language that, uh, a wide set of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can at- at least agree these numbers, “One plus one, does equal two.” I- I really appreciate that perspective.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Thanks, I wish we taught our kids through that perspective, um, because I think that then personal finance which should be taught in every school would have more relevance to young people, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Bill Nussey:

Um, wow, well let’s just keep pushing forward. So, you- you’ve had this, uh, this amazing journey, um, and one of the themes if- if not the core theme is, to help im- help lift the lives of the poor across the world, and, uh, your early efforts to empower women in particularly around banking and money and financial freedom, uh, micro-financing, the difficulties and struggles of doing business in so many, uh, places in the world, many of which the governments aren’t enti- entirely, uh, open and willing to embrace this.

Uh, your work to address housing issues, inequities that run deeply, deep in the, practically every culture, country and corner of the world, but the- the area that caused our journeys to come together and remain together is around energy, and y- you- I think Acumen and- and Jacqueline were some of the first people in the world to real- that I’m- I saw this, to put together the- the role of energy and… in poverty and the bringing business as a lens through which to address it. Uh, tell us how you kinda came across that insight, that energy is, uh, such an important part of addressing low income and poor parts of the world?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Thanks Bill. Um, I mean, in- in all honesty no false humility here, I, um, I- I think that for many years I accepted what I would call, “The miserable state of what is,” that, um, we knew that a billion and half people had no access to electricity. Intellectually that’s hard to move from your head to the visceral part of yourself to really understand what it means, to have no electricity.

I had lived in central Africa, I’d lived in West Africa where people had no electricity, and I just bought into the status quo, that therefore, their option was dirty, smelly, expensive, dangerous, kerosene lamps, like the ones that the United States used in the late 18th century, and so, um, when I started Acumen, electricity wasn’t, uh, top of mind for me, and even if you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1947, electricity is not a human right.

Um, and so it’s almost as if, you, if you have it you take it for granted, and if you don’t it’s not something that is within your purview, and I- I’m embarrassed to say that- that it didn’t really hit me, until 2007… well in the ’90s solar was starting to come into, uh, East and Central Africa, but it was kind of hippy solar-

Bill Nussey:

(laughs).

Jacqueline Novogratz:

… uh, (laughs), you know, exactly what I’m talking about, it was the, “Appropriate technology movement,” and you had these wonderfully well-intended people with, um, solar cookers that might melt butter, but, (laughs), didn’t do anything else, (laughs).

Bill Nussey:

(laughs).

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Um, so I was interested in it, but sort of it wasn’t effective and, you know, me Bill, I need it, I need to go to what’s effective, and so it wasn’t until 2006, when the- the price of solar was about four dollars a watt. So, it was super early, and I was interested in it for the developed world.

Um, when Andrea Soros one of our board members who went through a- a university master’s degree in environmental sciences at Bard came to me and said, “You know I really think we should be looking at energy and the poor,” and, um, I said, “Sure, but I don’t really, what are we talking about here, how will it work?” And, um, and she said, “Look you care about water, you care about health,” and she made the- the- the real argument to me, gave us a million dollars.

Um, that was the beginning, I- I honestly as a seeker had no idea where that journey would lead. I didn’t know the difference between AC and DC, um, Tesla and Edison and, um, and yet one of the things Acumen does best is be seekers. We know how to ask beautiful questions even if we don’t always have the answers. Um, about that time these two coeds from Stanford Business School, uh, Ned Tozun, and- and- and Sam Goldman, came to our office with a- a 30 dollar prototype of a, of solar light that they wanted to market to the poor.

I knew by then how the poor made decisions, and that, um, the expectations that people would buy a 30 dollar light even though they were spending about 15 dollars a month on kerosene, um, wasn’t a set of numbers that made a lot of sense, because if you could only afford 50 cents a day in kerosene, um, it was unlikely that you had 30 dollars in your pocket.

So, if you didn’t have a financing mechanism that would give you loan for that 30 dollars to buy your light, or if that lighting company didn’t have a way to sell to you on a, on a, on a basis, a layaway basis if you will, um, i- it was going to be more difficult to- to start a market. That’s why Acumen’s patient capital was so important.

Bill Nussey:

When we were traveling and I’ve read a lot of, and listened to a lot of the things that you’ve put out there publicly, you weave in a word, uh, that, er, doesn’t come up as often as it should, and you connect energy and poverty and financing and Acumen, you talk about dignity.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Mm.

Bill Nussey:

How do these technologies and financing mechanisms become relevant to dignity?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

The human condition, we want, we wanna be seen, we wanna know that we can contribute, we want to have choice, freedom, um, and so many times our systems get in the way for, of that, and sometimes we get in the way of it ourselves. I deeply believe that every human being has an inherent dignity, you see the light shine through, and I have so many stories of people I’ve met who, um, are rad pickers, uh, head loaders, you know, carrying huge loads on, goods on their heads for no money, um, farmers.

Where you meet them and- and- and while it may not look like they have nothing, they have some much to offer, we see it in their eyes, that’s their inherent dignity, and yet as a world our inherent dignity shines when we enable other people to have the opportunities that we would like to have, um, that we don’t really get dignity unless another person gets dignity. I just was w- it was just in India working with a number of our companies operating in the climate space.

The story I’m gonna tell, isn’t exactly about climate, but it- it’s connected, because it could’ve been with lights, and, um, it was, I was talking to a group of young agents that were connecting very, very low income and outcast people to a tech platform, that would give them access to basic services in India, and I asked the group, I was telling them, “How much I care about dignity, even though we’re investors, and do they have any stories for me?”

And this little 19-year old raised her hand and she said, “You know a year ago, it was a day just like this monsoon rains pouring, and I heard about a woman who had lost her husband, and she was eligible for a widow’s pension, and so I, um, went to her home to tell her that widows pension was 20,000 rupees, and, um, and then under my big umbrella we filled out all of the forms, and then a few weeks later, the woman and her family came to me, um, and they were so happy that they had gotten this pension about 250 dollars, and then they handed me 10,000. Um, and I realized then that they may have thought I was a government official who expected payment for helping them, and I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m doing this because it’s my duty.'”

And she said… and maybe in that moment the woman had dignity because she was happy, she had gained her rightful pension, and me, I was happy for the feeling of knowing I had done my duty, that I had served my coun- my community and my country. I really believe that when we see another person neither above nor below us, that’s when we plant the seeds of our, of our mutual transformation.

Speaker 1:

Hearing Jacqueline talk about how electricity and human dignity are so intertwined stirs deep visceral feelings, feelings that are hard to ignore, at least that’s the case for us here at the Freeing Energy Project, for most of us though the core issues Acumen addresses are far, far removed from our every day lives. Most people give little thought to just how important those local energy systems are to millions of others around the world. Perhaps we simply take the electric grid for granted here in the United States.

The United Nations 1948 Declaration of Human Rights might have enshrined human dignity as a universal right, but access to electricity isn’t mentioned, and as we are learning from today’s guests, access to electricity is linked to human dignity, and though access to electricity isn’t explicitly defined as a right, it is a benefit of our broader economic and social systems, that very importantly, we each have a voice in shaping.

Even if most people don’t realize it, using that voice is what we want you to think about, particularly in elections. Modern life without electricity is unimaginable for the majority of Americans. It’s been a given for the vast for majority of the US citizens for over a century, yet few of us pay attention to where that electricity comes from, how it gets to us, or why it costs what it cost?

We simple flip a switch and the electrons flow, the lights come on, our chargers work, and our beer, and perhaps even life-saving medications stay cold in the fridge. That is until the electrons stop flowing and the lights don’t come on, those meds go bad, or the price increases so much that many are left unable to afford heating, or cooling homes. For a disturbing and dramatically increasing number of reasons, that is happening in more and more places across America, for longer and longer periods of time.

The list of causes is growing, the winter storm that crippled the electric grid in Texas, the wild fires across California, and other Western states, hurricanes devastating the electric grid in Puerto Rico and Florida, yet again, floods in Kentucky and Georgia, and this year more and more consumers all across America are experiencing rate shock as the cost of energy soars for everyone.

It’s time for us to pay more attention to the electrons in our own lives, in our homes, and in our communities, our local energy, particularly during election season. One way to do that is for each of us to better understand how our electricity is made, where it comes from, and who makes the decisions about it, and of course how much it costs us? At first blush that might seem too daunting a task, but break it down into smaller bits, and it’s easier to understand, and doing that will help us all use our voices better.

We each likely know where our monthly electric bill comes from, that’s a good place to start, is it an investor-owned utility, perhaps your electrons come from an electric cooperative, or a municipal utility. If you are a customer of an investor-owned utility like, Florida Power & Light, or Pacific Gas and Electric, decisions about your electrons are governed by State and Public Utility Commissions and those officials are either elected or appointed by governors.

For municipal utilities local governing bodies like, City Councils make local energy decisions, and for electric cooperatives customers are actually members and own a piece of the cooperative and vote for Citizen Board Members who make the decisions about your electrons. Coop board members might well be a neighbor which certainly makes it easier to voice your concerns. The 2022 Election is just around the corner, and while it seems we are always in the midst of an election cycle, energy issues are taking the stage on ballots more and more.

All across the country at federal, state and local levels, issues centered on local permitting, grid modernization, cyber attack prevention, utility rate design, rebates and incentives, along with community and residential solar access rights are popping up on ballots and being defined in more and more candidate platforms. A standard in Poor’s Global Market Intelligence blog from earlier this year, provides an easy to understand breakdown of the relationship between statewide elections and your local energy.

The report notes gubernatorial elections generally bring changes in the makeup of state, public utility commissions, while the commissions are independent regulatory bodies, gubernatorial actions can influence the commissions investigations, priorities, and direction. In 26 of the 36 states in which a gubernatorial election will be held in 2022, the governor appoints the commissioners who serve on the state’s regulatory bodies. In 20 of the 26 jurisdictions, the governor appoints the chairs of all their respective regulatory bodies.

In the states where the governor appoints the utility commissioners, 27 commissioner terms are set to expire within the first year of the governors new term. So, just because you beer is cold in the fridge, don’t take your energy for granted, it really doesn’t matter what you believe, or whom you support, get to know your electrons in this years elections, get to know where they come from, how they’re made, and who’s making decisions about them, and what the issues are that are effecting your local energy, then get out and vote, it’s your right after all, you do have a voice. Checkout our show notes in this episode to see the standard in Poor’s blog, and other links to help you better understand your local energy, and don’t forget to like and subscribe to the Freeing Energy podcast. Now, let’s get back to Bill and Jacqueline to learn more about how Acumen is using electrons to help change the lives of millions less fortunate than many of us listening to today’s discussion.

Bill Nussey:

You know, and you and I were talking the other day, and really the genesis of this discussion today was, “You were taking something that was seen as audacious at the time that no one was sure would work, and has worked to a degree that’s almost unimaginable in its success, but yet still scratching the surface, and you’re taking that audacity into new markets.” Um, so can you tell us a little bit about the new initiatives, where you’re sort of retrenching, starting over and being bold, as bold as anyone could be again, uh, to sort of make a change to the people who are still not in the areas that are served by s- so many of the companies that have grown-up?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Thanks Bill. Yeah. I mean, I guess, our big, audacious idea 21 years ago, was patient capital, that- that, “Money is money, it’s fungible, and that if we could take philanthropy and invest long-term in entrepreneur solving big problems of poverty, like electricity, and if we accompany those entrepreneurs over time, we would see outsized impact, and- and hopefully get our money back,” and indeed we’ve gotten, not all of it back but much of it back and have seen our- our investments, um, impact 430 million people around the world.

Um, in the space of off-grid energy, and electricity, starting with that first 250,000 dollar investment in daylight when no market existed for 1,5 billion people, who had no access to electricity, who lived in the dark after, uh, the sun went down. Um, we made a lot of mistakes along the way, because no one knew how to build a market, where there was no distribution, no pricing, no financing, no infrastructure, uh, but a lot of corruption of status quo full of diesel and kerosene mafias that did not want solar to succeed.

So, think about all those obstacles and why we needed philanthropy in addition to more traditional investment capital, KawiSafi, which you s- supported. Um, Bill a for-profit impact fund, um, where we will see returns, fi- financial returns. We finally got to a place, um, where we are invested in 40 companies, those 40 companies have brought off-grid clean solar light and electricity to over 220 million individuals on the planet and-

Bill Nussey:

Mm-hmm.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

… we saw that in 15 years you could move the needle on one of the biggest challenges of our time, and that’s an amazing realization and- and then we started to look at the bigger numbers, because in Asia, where governments in India and China have extended the grid, with- with both clean and fossil fuels, um, you’ve seen about a billion people get access to off-grid, to electricity, but- but when you look at whose left, 800 million people.

Um, the- the large majority of those people are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and of those 800 million people about 215 million exist in 22 Sub-Saharan African countries, where there is an electrification rate of no more than 45 percent in any of those countries, where you have a median age of 19,7 and where, um, unemployment rates are anywhere from 20 to 80 percent. There’re some countries like South Sudan that have a two percent electrification rate.

When you think about what I said about dignity and the, and our mutual transformation, we are so interdependent as a world, that I, if we don’t fix this, if we don’t see this problem as all of our problem, the, and you recognize that low-income people in those communities are disproportionately impacted by climate crisis, you’re gonna see unemployed kids that are getting hit by weather, um, who have phones, so they know what’s happening in the rest of the world, on a continent that is going to double in population, um, in the next 30 years, and that is not a situation that is good for anyone, not for economic development, nor productivity, not for violence and peace, not for the refugee issue, and so again it brings us to the urgency of now.

Bill Nussey:

You know, I don’t know many people that can talk about beauty and dignity and structure debt and-

Jacqueline Novogratz:

(laughs).

Bill Nussey:

… (laughs), without missing a beat and have me just sitting here filled with emotion and inspiration as you talk about it. For someone listening in, how do they know the first steps to take, how do they know if they’re a person to take those steps?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I think all people can take those steps, but too often we ask ourselves, “What’s the cost of daring, when we might come to a very different conclusion if we asked ourself, what’s the cost of not daring?” When I made the decision to move to Africa, which of course was a much more dramatic decision for a 25-year old back then, um, I remember the COO of our bank saying, “You know, do you understand the risks, do you understand this?” And, I- I- I looked at him and I said, “You know, I’m 25-years old, if I don’t go now, I’m going to be on a path where I will never go, and then I will never know.”

And it just felt clear as day to me, and it may not be something… as I said, so dramatic, it may be, um, “Should I organize my street to pickup the trash, because nobody else is picking it up?” It may be, um, “Should I try to start a recycling program at my office?” Uh, at Acumen they, the- it, uh, a wo- a wonderful young person on the team came and really shamed me, because we don’t compost in New York Ci- at Acumen, and I was like, “Well, we’re in New York City,” (laughs), and she’s like-

Bill Nussey:

(laughs).

Jacqueline Novogratz:

… “That is no excuse Jacqueline,” and, “Do it girl, do it.” Um, you know, it can be, it can be within family. I think that we learn, um, all that, all that matters is that you take that first step, and sometimes you’ll stumble, and then you take another step, but the qual- you started with a question was with qualities.

I think one of the most underrated and critical, uh, qualities of leadership is curiosity. You have it in spades Bill Nussey, you’re curious about everything. People who dare to be curious and don’t shut that curiosity down with cynicism are the ones who end up finding ways to make change.

Bill Nussey:

Thank you, and a big shout-out to the 20- 20 somethings, because, uh, to your 20 something self, to mine, to- to Sam’s, to everybody who’s been down that route and for those that are currently in the middle of that, I mean, the beautiful, powerful thing about that point in life is, “You’re naïve enough to know that the things you’re aspiring to do, to go to Africa, to start a company when your dad says, ‘You’ll fail,’ is, you’re na- naïve enough that you actually believe that they could be wrong,” and it turns out-

Jacqueline Novogratz:

And indeed it may turn out that they might be.

Bill Nussey:

… and they might be, but, you know, your older selves like, “That was nuts.” Uh, but it works and that’s how the world gets changed, uh, whether you’re 25 or 75, uh, I think that, uh, these daring leaps, uh, are what define the greatness in the human condition and, um, I think, uh, you- you exemplify that, you’ve shared it with your stories, uh, your books, uh, and certainly today. Um, if you will, uh, indulge me just a few more minutes Jacqueline?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I always have time for you Bill.

Bill Nussey:

(laughs), thank you. Uh, we like to ask, uh, our guests, like we call them lighting round questions. So, the short and simple answers are welcome, but anything you wanna say. The first one is, you, “What do you love most about being in this transformative role that you’re in, uh, particularly around energy, but just generally?”

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I love entrepreneurs, I love people who, uh, hear the word, “Impossible,” and they get excited, not scared. Um, I love seeing impossible- bilities made possible, and when it comes to, um, off-grid light and electricity, you- you’ve seen it Bill, it makes me cry, there is almost nothing that’s so, is such a metaphor for human dignity than watching a person who’s been dependent on lighting a dirty lantern their whole lives, flipping a switch and seeing their house have light. It is almost biblical, and it’s magic.

Bill Nussey:

If you could wave a magic wand, and have one thing changed in your vision for a better world, what would that be?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

We would listen more deeply to each other, we’d open ourselves and we would listen more deeply, um, with an assumption of goodness and we would try to understand perspectives of people we’ve been somehow taught to be afraid of, uh, um, whether it’s in the United States, across countries, too often within families these days. If I could wave a magic wand, we would start by listening from a place of curiosity and not from a place of trying to convert or convince, just to learn, just to understand, and see where that would lead us.

There’s a great, one of my favorite you, I think I’ve shared this with you before Bill, but one of my favorite quotes by Rumi is, um, “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Bill Nussey:

So, the third question is a, is a bit more, uh, down-to-earth but, if you look out five years, what do you think will be the largest change in how electricity works?

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I think the biggest change is- is decentralized, um, when it comes to electrification and energy, it’s the decentralized revolution that, um, and I, and I, and I absolutely believe that the developed world will follow the developing world and that Africa particularly has an opportunity to leapfrog, that with climate crisis we need to develop more anti-fragile systems. Um, with, uh, the ability to turn on and turn off at the household level. The sun, um, is- is a forever energy, um, source and it’s available to everyone in a way that’s extraordinarily democratic and, um, and I think we have a lot to learn about that, but these keywords that we all bandy about of, um, “Resilience adaptation,” um, as well as, “Mitigation,” but the way we as human beings will adapt and become more resilient to an increasingly hostile, uh, climate has a lot to do with decentralized clean energy.

Whether it’s solar-

Bill Nussey:

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

… or geothermal is a whole other conversation but the easiest for- for poor people, is individualized household, and, eh, solar, and- and mini grids, micro-grids that long-term may lead to a grid, but I see it developing more like cloud technology, and then just extending a big, too often broken grid system.

Bill Nussey:

Well, that dear listener is why Jacqueline is my hero and quoted throughout the book and, uh, so- so wonderful to have her on our podcast today, because that is local energy, that’s what started the mission and, uh, that’s the definition that perhaps matters the most. So, I think the final question is for… the answer is for everyone who listens in. You know, you talk about taking that first step, uh, I think a lot of people listening to this, wanna take that first step, uh, I’m sure you get this question a 1,000 times a day, um, what do you tell people when they say, “Jacqueline, I wanna get on this, I wanna get on this train, I wanna be part of this, where do I start?”

Jacqueline Novogratz:

I say, “Well don’t sto- start by trying to figure out your purpose, because it doesn’t come to people who are sitting at the starting blocks, um, trying to figure their purpose, you start by starting.” You start by seeing a problem somewhere around you that- that peaks your curiosity, and then you take a step toward it, you follow that thread, you let that thread lead you to wherever it takes you next, and if you fall down you have the courage to get up and try again, if you have no idea where to go, find a leader who inspires you, and follow her.

Um, but don’t just sit around thinking about, “Well, what you should be doing,” that leads to a lot of thinking and, um, and we need thinkers, but, uh, right now we also need people who are putting that thought and reflection into action for a world that includes all of us.

Bill Nussey:

It’s been such a privilege to- to get to know you these many years, and thank you for your time today.

Jacqueline Novogratz:

Bill, I can’t thank you enough and I, and I, it says so much about you that you recognize in your very subtle and caring way that, um, no single person does anything of any importance, but this is all the work of incredible people, team members, entrepreneurs, fellows as you know, that support our companies, um, partners like you Bill, that make this work and, um, and I think we’re gonna need more and more collaboration.

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