The Five Habits of Effective Global Citizens | Laura Asiala | TEDxTraverseCity

The Five Habits of Effective Global Citizens | Laura Asiala | TEDxTraverseCity

Translator: Nadezhda Hristova
Reviewer: Camille Martínez Please welcome to the stage Laura Asiala. It’s August 2009, and I’m sitting in a conference room
of a global manufacturing company about two-and-a-half hours south of here. I’m talking to my vicepresident
and the CEO for whom we both work. We’re trying to figure out how we can better serve people
in underserved communities. But not through charity. What we’re trying to figure out is how we can make the benefits
of our technology affordable and accessible to the people at the base
of the economic pyramid – those four billion people in the world who live on less than two dollars
and fifty cents per day. But there is a problem. From that conference room
we cannot possibly begin to see the challenges and realities of people
in sub-Saharan Africa, the streets of Southeast Asia,
or rural Latin America. “I wonder if we could gain insight
into those markets through service first,” I said, thinking out loud. “What if we put employees
into those markets, not to sell anything right away per se, but to gain some insight through service
by meeting the people where they are and offering the community
some level of service?” Our CEO whirled in her chair, pointed a sharply polished
index finger at me, and said, “I want that!” Which should be a very good
piece of advice to all of you, never to bounce an idea
off of your boss’s boss without any idea on how
you’re going to deliver on it. Fortunately, we found a way. Working through an organization
now known as PYXERA Global, we launched one of the first
global corporal pro bono programs. We placed employees
into underserved markets around the world to work with nonprofits
and social enterprises. In this first cohort, we sent ten people
to South India for a month at corporate expense to work with social enterprises
and nonprofit organizations in order to improve
manufacturing capacity, expand sales and marketing channels, and develop standards for renewable energy
and low-income housing. In that first cohort, one of the teams worked with Sustaintech, which was a manufacturer
of clean cookstoves that were developed
to be safe and efficient. This work was really, really important, because what most people don’t understand is that one of the leading causes
of premature death and disease in emerging and developing countries is actually caused
by the smoke and emissions that come from traditional cooking fires
or traditional cookstoves. In fact, in these communities, professional cooks rarely live
past the age of 40, because they’re so subjected
to this level of air pollution. So the work that Sustaintech
was doing was very important. Not only were the stoves designed
to burn cleanly and efficiently, which would make them more economical, but because they didn’t give off
the same level of smoke and emissions, they would be much healthier
for the cooks. Unfortunately, they were suffering
from an issue in their manufacturing, that meant the stoves
had issues with durability. And this specific issue
was really preventing sales and widespread adoption for the stoves. So, in that first team
that we put together, we put together people on the team that had experience
in manufacturing, quality control and straight from the factory
room shop floor. If they didn’t know
the solution when they left, they barely understood the problem. They started by listening. And they listened deeply
to the manufacturer and to the organization, as well as to the cooks
and the prospective customers that could use the stoves. Working with and learning from
people on the ground, they ultimately identified that there was a welding issue
in the manufacturing process. Unfortunately, the small team
that we had put together didn’t have the expertise
to solve that welding issue; but what they did have
was vast expertise behind them in the company that had sent them. So they linked in
to their professional network, sending notes and messages back to their friends
and their colleagues at home, looking for ideas and solutions. As the world turned,
and it became night in India, people on the other side of the world
woke up to problems at Sustaintech. Over lunches and breaks,
they brainstormed solutions and sent them back to the people
on the ground in India. Continuing to learn and adjust, they ultimately ended up
with a combination of solutions that solved that problem. And the team left Sustaintech not only with a solution
to that particular quality problem but also with an approach on how they might solve
future quality problems. What was also really
interesting about this is that we never named
a lead on that team, and at every point, someone came forward from a specific talent or area
of experience or expertise to lead at different points
in the project, depending on where the project was
and what the project needed. Today, Sustaintech
is a thriving social enterprise. It has grown by 30% per year, and the stoves have been widely adopted and used in over 400 communities
across the state of Tamil Nadu. This idea of giving back to a community is actually not a new idea
in terms of corporate citizenship. The best companies have been doing that
for a really, really long time. But what was new
was the idea of using service to gain insight into a market that could then be
better shared and better served through the business
through a shared value approach. Immersing yourself
in service to gain insight in a completely foreign environment really sets a new framework for what it means
to be a good global citizen, whether you’re doing that
at your own home, the state and national level, or abroad. And it takes real courage. That’s what we’ve been talking
about all day here today: citizenship, community,
courage, contribution. We’ve gotten some really great ideas
on how we might do that. I think the Sustaintech team also
provides us with some additional clues on some of the habits and practices that make people
most effective global citizens. They are: to listen, learn, link, leave, and lead. Did you get that? Five L’s: listen, learn,
link, leave, and lead. Listen first. The great philosopher Epictetus observed that we have two ears and one mouth, that we might, “… listen
twice as much as we speak.” He’s still right. So was Stephen Covey, when he observed that one of the habits
of highly effective people is to seek first to understand and then be understood. This requires that you
be present, get local, and go with a curious, open mind. Ask questions, listen deeply, and understand that your way
might not be the only way, and probably isn’t the right way. By all means, action will be required. And that’s why you have to listen first. Bring something to the party – enthusiasm, energy, expertise,
resources, advocacy. But don’t bring your answers
until you understand the questions. Secondly, learn and adjust. My friend Richard Crispin
states this beautifully, when he says, “Don’t fall in love with your solution, until you’ve fallen in love
with your problem.” When you listen, you’re going to gain some insight
and then use action to continue to learn; try some things, keep
what works, change the rest. Remember what Clayton Christensen pointed out in his brilliant book,
“The Innovator’s Dilemma” – when you start something new, you can rest assured
it will be at least 50% wrong. So don’t be surprised
or stopped by the surprises. Listen, learn, adjust, repeat. Link together. The word “citizen” comes from
the same word as the word for cities – people working together
in the system of a city. One of the most important things
to understand as a global citizen is that you operate within a system, whether that system
is clear to you or not. Once you understand that every interaction takes place
within a complex ecosystem, you know that solving problems
can never be as simple as an if-then. It’s always going to be more like multivariable calculus
than simple arithmetic. Which why it’s all the more important to nurture a diverse network
of family, friends, and allies. Mutually meaningful partnership
is also absolutely crucial. There is no single individual,
no single organization, not even a single sector, that can solve our most
difficult problems alone. We all need allies. The hierarchical nature
that emerges from relationships that are characterized
by donor-beneficiary or expert-novices, can really throw a partnership off kilter. As adults, we all have something to learn, and we all have something to teach. Partnerships work best
when everyone recognizes that each party brings something of value, and people are not only
allowed and encouraged but held responsible to deliver
from their set of expertise and gifts. Leave. Get better. Were you surprised that leaving
is one of the critical success factors? Not to be confused
with “leave because it got too difficult,” or otherwise giving up. But there will always be endings. The trick is to get them right. How will you ensure that a positive
net impact will be left behind you? This is the essence of sustainability: to build competence,
and capability, and confidence that will outlast far beyond
what you can drive personally. Finally, lead. And be lead. The worst leaders
always have to be in charge. That’s not leadership. That’s narcissism. (Laughter) The best leaders create an environment in which everyone can lead
from their area of strength. Leadership is exhausting. It’s so much better to take turns, which is exactly what Arrien pointed out in his beautiful essay,
“Lessons from Geese,” “When the lead goose gets tired,
it falls back in formation and another goose flies
to the lead point position.” The lesson here is that it pays to share
the difficult tasks of leadership. Because just like with geese, we are interdependent on each other
for our skills and our capabilities, and our unique arrangements
of gifts, talents, and resources. Back in that conference room
in Midland, Michigan, we started with the idea
that by being good citizens, we could gain insight through service. Today, dozens of multinational companies
now have global pro bono programs, placing employees
into underserved communities and using their services to build that kind of competence
and capability in communities. Next month, I am very excited that the next generation of that kind
of corporate service will be launched, when the Dow Chemical Company, PIMCO, and PricewaterhouseCoopers
actually join forces together to provide pro bono services in Ghana to address specific
public health challenges in association with USAID’s
Global Health Fellows Program II. They’ll be working on the United Nations Sustainable
Development Goals and specifically, those goals
around food and nutrition security, clean water and sanitation,
and health system strengthening. As they lead, we’ll encourage them to listen, learn, link, prepare to leave, all while being good leaders
and followers. But as I reflect on this, I’m thinking, those goals aren’t only
appropriate for overseas. We are all too familiar
in the state of Michigan that we also have challenges
with water in Flint, with food and nutrition security
in the inner-city food deserts in Detroit, and with accessible,
affordable health care in the most rural areas of our state. These are opportunities
for global citizens and courageous citizens everywhere. There are borders of all kinds to cross, and ample opportunities for us
to listen, learn, link, lead, and leave the world a bit better
than when we found it. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. Post
    Weird Dear

    MBA's really seem to have no clue what it means to be human……everything for them is money, commodity, consumer, market, capitalism. Letting corporations do the work that governments are supposed to do scares the shit out of me. Corporations are led and run by sociopaths. They are not interested in educating and empowering the poor and most vulnerable…..they're interested in how to sell them products, how to feed the nasty drive of desire and envy in communities through manipulative advertising. The poor can only be lifted out of poverty through better access to education, counselling, health care and resources.

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