Fearless Leaders and inspiration

GlobalGiving just passed the $50 million dollar mark, in terms of passing money along to 1500 community organizations in over 120 countries. This was possible because Dennis and Mari left a comfortable job at the world bank in 1999 and pursued a dream, despite the obstacles. Donna Callejon’s recent post tells more of their story, copied here:

Why did they persevere?  Ten days ago Dennis wrote a very poignant blog post, made moreso by his mom’s passing just a day later.  The post gives some insight into what motivates him.  Mari  has different, but equally inspiring, motivations as described in this Wharton Blog from earlier this year.

Donna continues:

One of the first things they suggested I do was to read their business plan.  So I did.  It had, like legions of business plans before it, the classic hockey stick growth curve.  In our case, the unit being donation volume.  According to this plan, we would be at $40 million in annual donation volume, and “pay our own freight” by about 2005.  Um, we didn’t quite make that.  Many slightly less sloped hockey sticks followed.  When things didn’t take off like a rocket ship we tried new things, always led by our two fearless (and in this case that word really applies) leaders.  We tried plan b, plan c, and plan d, always with our eyes on the prize of working to make it possible for great organizations around the world to access funds and for donors of all shapes and sizes to support the causes that inspired them.

Dennis (just a tiny excerpt):

Someone asked me the other day if I believed in aid.  “You have been so critical of the aid system,” he said. “Why don’t you just do something else?” I replied:

In the 1970s, a combination of factors left a ten year-old boy living on and off below the poverty line, with four siblings at home and a single mother.  His mother stayed at home to take care of his pre-school age sister, because child care would have cost more than any salary she could make; she did not have a college degree and had few marketable skills.  The small city he lived in had few economic opportunities; it once had been prosperous, but its main industry (textiles)  had moved away, and the city was down at the heels and felt grim.  The boy delivered newspapers and scooped ice cream to make a little money, but it was not enough to make a fundamental difference to his circumstances.

Fortunately, there was a school lunch program… When the boy’s youngest sister was able to go to school, the boy’s mother enrolled in a government-funded job training program…. A private school thirty miles away offered him a full scholarship, including room and board…. When he decided to go to graduate school, that school offered him a generous scholarship funded by a private donor…. He spent the next 25 years in international development, (hopefully) doing some good in the world.

That boy received a lot of aid along the way.  Some of it was public aid, and some of it was private aid, some in the form of loans, but most in the way of grants. That boy was me.  And that success story is why I remain optimistic about aid, despite its many failures and disappointments.  I think that if we try hard, think critically, and work together, we can make aid as effective for millions of others as it was for me.

He tells the full story in a TEDxYSE video:


Kuraishi’s career trajectory started with a trip to the Berlin wall she took as a high school senior. The visit fascinated Kuraishi in part because while tourists on the western side of the wall gawked at those on the eastern side, the East Berliners themselves never seemed to even look over the wall to the west. “People in East Berlin had trained themselves not to look over the wall,” Kuraishi said. “When I saw that I was like, ‘Wow, I have to get to the bottom of this.'”

… One of her dreams is that technology will eventually enable real-time requests for aid and equally speedy assists from donors — for example, near instantaneous help for a child in India needing $5 to cover the cost of his school lunch for a week. “I think that could transform the way you think about philanthropy. You could think ‘Oh I could give up my latte for three days and fund this kid’s school lunch….’ We will find ways to make philanthropy and other social engagement much more … satisfying than we have before.”

Jennifer Lentfer of How-matters.org recently interviewed me about why I do what I do.

Jennifer: Like me, you also interact with many grassroots organizations who have to exhibit a “funders be damned” attitude and carry on without external funding. In your opinion, why do local leaders do this?

Marc: These people are invested in the project. It isn’t a job; it is a cause. And often they believe that their project will have a greater impact than whatever some funder wants done. It happens at the local level, with VAP in Kenya when a head teacher writes her cell phone number on the board for girls to call 24-7, or with More Than Me in Sierra Leone, whose founder travels the world from couch to couch like a vagabond raising money to keep girls in school. It also happened at my organization, when Mari and Dennis had the vision to start up GlobalGiving.

And many other people like Mari and Dennis continue to inspire me. Like Fatuma of HODI – who because of her own struggle to wait beyond adolescence to get married, is striving to help 12 year old girls grow up unmarried in northern Kenya, Marsabit.

The only way you could illustrate them all would be a mosaic of fearless leaders and their causes:

One thought on “Fearless Leaders and inspiration

  1. What awesome stories about GG and Mari and Dennis – thanks for sharing their journey and success!

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