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« Innovation Keeps a Salad Fresh | Main | Human Creativity and Commitment »

Oct11
Leadership Changes Lives

Leadership is a complex principle and yet its greatest examples are often found in the simplest expression. I often discuss leadership principles and how all of us can adopt practices that enable us to become more effective in leading others. Occasionally, I come across a story where leadership has spilled over the bounds of an organization and is changing the way people every where think. 

Back in the dot com boom of the last century, I built a business that was eventually sold to About.com. My partner in this venture was Tim Stay, who founded the company and asked me to run it. Tim and I recently re-connected and are currently working on a new venture. 

Tim is an interesting guy. He has an MBA and undergraduate degree in civil engineering and somehow picked up a masters degree in International Studies in Third World Economic Development. Imagine a guy walking around with an MBA and a masters degree in International Studies in Third World Economic Development. Talk about eternal conflict. 

Tim happens to be someone who can somehow make the connection between these two diametrically opposed degrees and more importantly has used one to advance the other. You see, with a portion of the proceeds he received in the sale of our dot com business, he got together with like-minded business folks and they created UNITUS. And this is where a great story of leadership unfolds. 

Unitus has a simple plan - alleviate global poverty (and your VC told you your business plan was ambitious!) Like all great leaders, Unitus is looking at the problem through a new lens and is thereby changing the way we not only look at poverty but changing the lives of those debilitated by poverty. Instead of treating symptoms of the poor, Unitus is empowering the human spirit that exists everywhere on this earth, to work, to earn and to live.

We needed a paradigm shift. Since the end of World War II roughly $1 trillion that has been spent on grants and loans to fight poverty around the globe, yet nearly half the world's six billion people still live on less than $2 a day; a fifth get by on less than $1 a day. Tim and Unitus said “we can do better,” and they did. 

How? Why is it different? Unitus utilizes the principle of microfinance, a concept Tim picked up in his other Masters degree. Rather than provide financial assistance to governments that lack either the will or the ability to raise living standards, Unitus invests in people through microcredit - the practice of extending small loans to poor people for income generating self-employment projects, allowing them to improve their standard of living. It flat out works and there are many inspiring stories that stand as a witness to its effectiveness.

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations noted, "microcredit is a critical anti-poverty tool - - a wise investment in human capital. When the poorest, especially women, receive credit, they become economic actors with power. Power to improve not only their own lives but, in a widening circle of impact, the lives of their families, their communities, and their nations."

Tim played a major role in the vision of Unitus. He saw the power of teaching, enabling, leading. And as most great leaders, he took action on his vision. And now it seems, more and more people are starting to catch on. Just today, Robert Scoble, famed blogger (the Scobleizer) and Microsoft's Technical Evangalist, posted a video interview on Channel 9 with Mike Murray, the Chairman of Unitus and ex-Microsoft executive.

Good work Tim. Good work Unitus. Thanks for showing us the way.

Read more about Unitus at Tim’s blog

comments

You have been very kind in your words. It has been a life changing experience to be involved with something that is improving so many lives.

While Unitus has had my passion since it was founded, I want to make sure that it is clear that I was a small part in its creation. Mike Murray has provided substantial funding to keep it alive, and has provided the vision of changing the world and impacting the lives of millions across the globe. Warner Woodworth, as one of the forefront academic and practitioners in the field, was vital to help provide the philosphical foundation. Bob Gay has also been an important financial contributor. Louis Pope, Joseph Grenny, and Todd Manwaring all helped shape the strategy and direction and helped with their donations of time and resources.

Many others help Unitus today and guide it and do the heavy lifting. But, as you state, this work is moving forward because of the vision and leadership of people like Mike Murray and the rest of the team.

You can follow the work of Unitus at their official blog.

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