INPUT TO IMPACT Ashley Metz
jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, tells this same time, it intended to reap hefty returns for its investors.
fantastic story about how she donated a sweater to charity as a Another company empowered farmers with information on
teenager. Years later, on the dusty streets of Rwanda, she saw a crop prices and weather. In both of these, the technology nec-
child walking toward her wearing an eerily similar sweater. She essary to run the companies were originally created for purely
pounced on the child, checked the tag, saw her very own name commercial objectives in the first world. I saw that inputs had
on it and thought, "Wow, the world is one crazy inter-con- their way of becoming impact and it was unpredictable, circui-
nected place!" Novogratz uses this beautifully direct anecdote tous and evolutionary.
ro get her point across, though she knows very well that third
world development is itself extremely complicated. For her The stories of development-economic, technological, biologi-
sweater to reach that child, it required numerous donations cal-are slow burns. They are dorsal fins ; they are the human
and international aid. Her presence alone was due to a long eye, the cell phone. They are only possible because of count-
history of development in the United States making her rich less fortuitous conditions that all happen to be balanced in
enough to travel. For the child to get an education and food, just the right way at just the right time, and they continue to
he needs more than a sweater and for that education to do any change. Thomas Saint is the first person known to have filed
good, the region he lives in needs a better market system and a patent for the sewing machine in 1790. If he was still alive
less corruption. today, it'd be unlikely to hear him open a conference by saying
"I intended to make sewing more efficient. Eventually, labour-
Even as a neat conference-opener and now book (titled, "The ers in other countries offered to use my machines for lower
Blue Sweater"), it's apparent that the world is a messy, messy wages than those who originally used it. Thanks to world
place. Messy as it is, we all contribute little pieces: a sweater, trade, my sewing machine, and the demand for textiles and
a bit of code, whatever our professions demand of us, and the production of goods lead to the eventual development of
somehow, something comes out of it. Jacqueline's sweater countries like Thailand and Vietnam." It's even less likely the
was a single input into the system. A new interface, a spark to first person to mould metal, as it was used in the first sewing
another idea, or, if we're lucky, a widely-used platform, are all machine, would claim credit for as much. Gutenberg didn't
just inputs that we as start-ups inject into the system. claim Lutheranism or the Protestant Reformation. Twitter isn't
claiming the Arab Spring.
It took me years to understand this basic tenant of economics.
Somehow, I had been gripped by an interest and a fear about What I love about start-ups and technology is that they are at
how my work would (or wouldn't) affect the world. That's one the front of the input cycle. Inventors and entrepreneurs set
of the reasons why, between working at start-ups in program off to solve problems. They input into the system. They can
management and marketing roles, I spent time trying to dream, and imagine how input could become impact. Now,
solve some bigger, more obvious problems in the world. I was in the tech world, we are close to seeing impacts very directly.
working on projects related to technology for development At our particular spot along the graph of overall development,
and venture capital practices, primarily for social or environ- technology is a core facilitator in the age of the consumer,
mental goals. One was about a company that created finan cial and what may become an age of enlightened democracy. It's
infrastructure in rural areas through a cell phone, a finge rprint a particularly interesting time to be creating in this marvel-
scanner and a mini printer. This project had the potential to lous mess. We may or may not see kids wearing our sweaters,
change the lives of millions of Indians and garnered some but we'll have helped make the knitting needles or design the
significant interest from development agencies, while at the pattern.