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Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund &
Jocelyn Wyatt, co-lead and executive director of Ideo.org

Dynamic Duos: Acumen Fund's Jacqueline Novogratz And Ideo.org's Jocelyn Wyatt On Poverty Solutions

Here's what happens when two individuals—and their organizations—tackle global poverty challenges together.

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund
Jocelyn Wyatt, co-lead and executive director of Ideo.org

Novogratz: The privilege for me has been to see Jocelyn going from being a fellow at Acumen to creating an organization and becoming a leading voice around design for low-income people that connects to the young people doing this all around the world.

Wyatt: The Acumen fellowship program is really centered around building leadership skills, learning how to act with integrity and thoughtfulness and how to represent ourselves in the world, which I tried and continue to try to model from Jacqueline.

The women first met in India in 2005: Wyatt was in business school doing an internship in Hyderabad at VisionSpring, which provides vision care for the poor. Novogratz was thinking of investing in the organization, visiting India with Tim Brown, the CEO of Palo Alto-based innovation and design consultancy Ideo, always a champion of applying design to solving poverty-related problems.

“I had taken many, many donors or prospective donors through the field,” Wyatt says. “Typically we would drive three or four hours out into the country to visit an eye-screening camp. The donors would stand on the sidelines and take their pictures and ask me a million questions and then get back in the vehicle and drive back to the city.”

But it was a different story when Novogratz showed up. “When we got out of the car, Jacqueline immediately went and sat on the ground and approached the women and held their hands,” Wyatt recalls. “She asked them a number of different questions to really be able to understand what the situation was in terms of health and vision and livelihood in their village. On the way home we spent time talking about how might we improve the services that VisionSpring was delivering to really be able to have greater impact on people’s lives.”

COLLABORATE, THEN COLLABORATE AGAIN

After finishing business school, Wyatt did a fellowship at the nonprofit venture capital fund Acumen, where she found a mentor in Novogratz. The Acumen founder says that she saw in Wyatt “a great deal of integrity, character, perseverance, resilience, and toughness that she’s continued to build on.”

Wyatt went on to join Ideo, and in 2008, the women collaborated on Ripple Effect, a joint effort with funding from the Gates Foundation that provides access to clean drinking water for the poor in India and Kenya. “Through that experience we started to realize that we needed a different kind of model to increase our impact,” Wyatt says. In 2011, she co-founded the nonprofit Ideo.org with guidance from Novogratz, who now sits on the board. Says Novogratz: “It’s been thrilling to watch her go from being a fellow at Acumen to being a partner in a true sense.”

BEGIN BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Their most recent joint project is the five-week online Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation course, which leverages leadership training materials from both Ideo.org and Acumen. Some 15,000 people from around the world enrolled in the first session.

“I think both Ideo.org and Acumen are really starting to think about, can we teach a way of leading and thinking and acting in an interconnected world? And if so, what are the skills and attributes that must be taught online?” Novogratz says. “We’re just getting started. But I think that both Ideo.org and Acumen have a philosophy of start and let the work teach you.”

SHARE ALIKE

The partnership between Novogratz and Wyatt is as much an alliance of like-minded organizations as it is of individuals tackling the same noble goals. The two say that their cross-organizational relationship is a model for a new generation of business leaders who want above all to create change in the world.

“Ideo and Acumen are essentially sharing ideas and resources and people and intellectual property freely in service of something bigger than any of them,” Novogratz says. “I think the future of business and change in the world will come from organizational relationships like this, where you’re essentially breaking down barriers. That’s really the value of this kind of partnership, and I think we need to see more of these out there in the world.”
Read more pairings from Fast Company's 10th Annual Innovation By Design issue:

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