Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You can't change poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C.

Greg Mortenson is large in stature, an imposing figure, but he is more like a teddy bear, a man of peace and hope. He is unassuming and not likely to be viewed as a great leader by the highly educated or the "movers and shakers" in business, academia, or politics. And yet he is a leader. He is the central figure in the book Three Cups of Tea.

His qualifications to be a leader come from being in the trenches and experiencing first hand what makes a difference and then putting those principles into action. His influence is felt most strongly in the least likely of places for an American: Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's not a general in the U.S. military, he doesn't not order people around. In those countries people love him and support him because they know he genuinely cares about them, he wants to do something that will help them, and he lets them help themselves.

He has been building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1993. More accurately he has been helping people in those countries build their own schools. Now, as a result of the success of the book Three Cups of Tea, he is also becoming a leader in the developed world.

Greg Mortenson spoke at Brigham Young University today about his experiences and his goals. I learned from him leadership principles or in some cases had reconfirmed principles that I firmly believe.

  • "You can't change poverty from a think tank in Washington D.C."
  • To change poverty you have to feel it, see it, touch it, smell it.
  • People want to be able to do things for themselves.
  • If you educate a boy, you educate a person; if you educate a girl you begin the education of a community.
  • People don't have to be highly educated to be able to fill positions in their community and make a difference.
  • People and communities are capable of making choices and decisions that will be to their best benefit if they are allowed government to do so.
  • Communities are better off when young people have more opportunities to interact with the elders in their families and communities.
One point that he did not state that I believe goes with these statements: People give up hope when they feel there is no way to change bureaucracy and do things for themselves. This one applies more to developed countries.

Greg is not a great orator. People follow him and help him because he leads from the position of a doer and he leads from his heart.

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