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From Wall Street to Rwanda, U.Va.’s 2013 Distinguished Alumna Seeks a World Beyond Poverty

With Jacqueline Novogratz’s vision and leadership, the Acumen Fund has invested more than $80 million in 73 companies in South Asia and Africa that focus on delivering affordable health care, water, housing and energy to the poor. These companies have created and supported more than 58,000 jobs, leveraged an additional $365 million and touched more than 100 million lives.

Novogratz, who graduated from the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations, will return to the Grounds April 25 to receive the U.Va. Women’s Center’s Distinguished Alumna Award. She also will give a talk, free and open to the public, about “Investing in Social Entrepreneurs to Create a World Beyond Poverty.” She will speak at 3 p.m. in Nau Hall, room 101 with a reception afterward. (RSVP here for the talk, which is co-sponsored by Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development, the McIntire School of Commerce, the Darden School of Business and the Women’s Center, and check out the Facebook event for information.)

The Distinguished Alumna Award will be presented at a luncheon that is part of the Women in Leadership & Philanthropy conference, being held April 25 and 26 in Newcomb Hall. Other conference speakers will include U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan; Valerie “Val” Ackerman, the seventh Distinguished Alumna, who graduated from the College in 1981 and starred on the Cavalier basketball team prior to a career that led her to being the first president of the Women’s National Basketball Association from 1996 to 2005; and Sonja Hoel Perkins, another alumna, who graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce in 1988 and is a successful investor and managing director of Menlo Ventures in San Francisco. Perkins, the daughter of Lester A. Hoel, the L. A. Lacy Distinguished Professor of Engineering in U. Va.’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, grew up in Charlottesville.

Another highlight of the conference will be a performance by alumna Denise Stewart, who received her M.F.A. in playwriting from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Drama department in 2002. She will perform her one-woman show, “Dirty Barbie and Other Girlhood Tales,” on April 25 at 8 p.m. at Newcomb Theater. The play has had runs in North Carolina, Charlottesville, Washington and off-Broadway, and received several four-star reviews at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

U.Va. students, faculty and staff can attend the conference’s break-out sessions free of charge. The lunches and “Dirty Barbie” performance are offered at reduced rates. There are full and partial fees for other attendees of the conference. (Register here.)

Novogratz, who holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University, founded the Acumen Fund in New York City in 2001 and is still CEO. Acumen, with additional offices in Mumbai, Karachi and Nairobi, is a nonprofit venture capital fund that invests in social enterprises, emerging leaders and breakthrough ideas in developing countries to solve the problems of poverty.

“I’m a longtime admirer of Jacqueline Novogratz,” Women’s Center Director Sharon Davie said. “From Wall Street to Rwanda, her story is inspiring. I’m struck by both her courage and her imagination. She’s envisioned and then implemented new approaches to old and seemingly entrenched problems. She gives women across the world who live in poverty the chance not just to survive but to thrive – and she invites others to join her.”

Novogratz’ 2009 best-selling memoir, “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World,” chronicles her quest to understand poverty and challenges readers to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink their engagement with the world.

In December 2011, the Acumen Fund and Novogratz were on the cover of Forbes magazine as part of a feature on social innovation. Foreign Policy magazine also listed her as one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers and the Daily Beast identified her as one of the 25 Smartest People of the Decade.

Prior to starting the Acumen Fund, Novogratz founded and directed the Philanthropy Workshop and the Next Generation Leadership programs at the Rockefeller Foundation. As a UNICEF consultant in the late 1980s, she also founded Duterimbere, a micro-finance institution in Rwanda. She began her career in international banking with Chase Manhattan Bank.

The Distinguished Alumna Award, which the Women’s Center began in 1991, has honored such accomplished U.Va. alumnae as news anchor Katie Couric; war correspondent Kimberly Dozier; former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, now head of Homeland Security; and astronaut Kathryn Thornton.

Cathy Campbell, an associate professor of nursing at U.Va. who chaired the Distinguished Alumna Award committee, reflected on choosing the next awardee after visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where she saw a picture of Dawn Staley, the 2006 Distinguished Alumna Award recipient and one of the most decorated players in women’s basketball history. Staley’s portrait was in an exhibit on “who’s who” of African-American men and women whose intelligence, talent and determination have propelled them to prominence in disciplines as diverse as religion, performing arts, medicine, sports, art, literature and politics.

“In that moment, I really understood the committee’s charge to nominate a candidate who has or is currently making an impact at the national or the international level in her chosen field of endeavor,” Campbell wrote in an email. “Through Jacqueline’s vision and hard work as founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, many lives have been changed forever. In addition, the Acumen Fund’s Fellows Program is building the next generation of business leaders in the U.S., Pakistan, India and Kenya. 

“She has definitely made an impact at national and global levels and her contribution will be felt for generations to come.”

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