Nearly 300 people virtually attended the annual Handleman Lecture Tuesday to hear Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the venture capital fund Acumen, speak about how her company uses business practices to elevate communities out of poverty. Novogratz also discussed her experiences leading Acumen and her journey as a leader in the industry. 

The event, which was titled “Business Leadership in Extraordinary Times,” was held via livestream due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lecture serves as a space for CEOs, policy leaders and business experts to offer insight on their experiences to the greater Ross School of Business community. 

Scott DeRue, dean of the Business School, opened the lecture by thanking the sponsors of the lecture series. DeRue said the funding allowed the school to bring industry pioneers to Ann Arbor, or rather, YouTube livestream, to discuss the impact business can have on society.

“(These people are) thought leaders who are not only on the forefront of business, but society,” DeRue said. “Really addressing the issues that are not only shaping our generation, but the generations to follow.”

Novogratz then spoke about her journey in business, which involved quitting her Wall Street job to explore ways to make a difference in the world and eventually led her to found Acumen in 2001. She stressed the need for society to think differently about the resources available to eradicate poverty by using sustainable business models.

“The opposite of poverty is dignity,” Novogratz said. “And this means (we have) to build systems that enable people choice and opportunity, and neither would markets do that … nor could top-down government or charity alone.” 

This realization, Novogratz said, is what drove her to found Acumen. She said Acumen uses philanthropy to invest in entrepreneurs who are looking to make the world more equitable.

“You have to see the world you want to create, and that’s audacious,” Novogratz said. “But you have to have the humility to recognize the mess that is around you.”

Novogratz said there is no success without failure in the business industry and that it is important to not shy away from this discomfort. 

“Just as I would say that failure allows progress, I would say let discomfort be a proxy for progress,” Novogratz said.

Novogratz then addressed what she said was a need for a “moral revolution” in the business industry that can guide future leaders on how to place humanity and sustainability at the forefront of future business initiatives. 

“We need a whole new operating system for all of us to thrive,” Novogratz said. “(The revolution) requires us to practice a discipline and build a skill set that is full of the competencies that people learn at universities … it requires resilience and grit.”

Business sophomore Alyssa Fletcher attended the lecture and said she found it interesting how Novogratz discussed business leadership in terms of character and purpose instead of focusing on the financial or more technical aspects of her work.

“She was kind of able to step away from the money side of the business and look at someone as, ‘Are they someone who is passionate enough that they can accomplish what they really want?’ and she’s found success through that,” Fletcher said.

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu.

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