December 1, 2005

Review of Chapter Nineteen: Morality Must March with Capacity

James Grant, the head of United Nations’ children’s organization UNICEF from 1980 to 1995, may not be a social entrepreneur in the typical sense. But his energy and optimism, his ability to draw together stakeholders and work with limited resources, his ambition to take on previously unthinkable goals, and his knowledge of his organization, its purpose, and its reputation, all suggest that Grant was an extraordinary social entrepreneur, at minimum, in character.

David Bornstein cites a number of examples to explain the terrific managerial and visionary capacity of the UNICEF leader:

In 1982, the organization launched a groundbreaking initiative that sought to eliminate treatable childhood diseases in the third world. In developing his strategy, Grant identified UNICEF’s competitive advantages and played on those to gain the endorsement of a number of international pediatric organizations. He built up momentum for commonly accepted and achievable causes, Bornstein suggests, before he used his “political? capital to attack larger problems.

Grant looked for support from the true players in third-world nations, not merely figureheads or imposed regimes. Often this meant using unconventional tactics that required quite a bit of gall. Seeking to gain the support of an archbishop in Bogota, for example, Grant “called the Pope and asked him to send a message.?

Grant was always searching for ways to maximize the efficiency, growth, and performance of his staff. Looking for true intrapreneurs, he was the first to assign important tasks not according to seniority, but according to ability. He always focused on the positives in people, examining ways to build up employees and provide encouragement and gain trust. Building human capital, after all, is a key task for any manager.

Perhaps most revealing of Grant was his insistence on simplifying the challenges in his job. He would meet with heads of state and explain to them that inexpensive packets of sugar-salt mixtures could save thousands, even millions of lives. And not only would he play down the scope of his challenges, he would make his mission personal for the leaders he was speaking to. According to Bornstein, he would also build a sense of competition between nations and leaders for who was most responsive to and active in meeting children’s needs.

If there is one person in How to Change the World with whom I am most impressed, it is James Grant. It’s just tragic that I haven’t heard of him until now.

at December 1, 2005 7:41 PM