Jane Wales – CEO, Global Philanthropy Forum

Jane Wales is CEO of the Global Philanthropy Forum and the World Affairs Council, vice president of the Aspen Institute, and host of the nationally-syndicated National Public Radio interview show, It’s Your World.

Previously, Jane served in the Clinton administration as special assistant to the president and senior director of the National Security Council. She simultaneously served as associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where her office was responsible both for advancing sustainable economic development through science and technology cooperation and for developing policies for securing advanced weapons materials in the former Soviet Union. During the Carter Administration, Jane served as deputy assistant secretary of state.

In the philanthropic sector, Jane chaired the international security programs at the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, and she directed the Project on World Security at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. From 2007 to 2008, she served as acting CEO of The Elders, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and founded by Nelson Mandela. In 2008, Jane also chaired the Poverty Alleviation Track for the Clinton Global Initiative.

1. How do you define success?
When opportunity is not only seized but shared, individuals are empowered and their lives are improved. Enabling others to excel is not only a privilege, but also a joy.

2. What is the key to success?
Collaborative leadership. We never really walk alone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
My parents taught my brothers and me that not only can you make a difference, you must. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I heard a problem described as “too large to think about.” Large problems are the ones that require us all. And, even if our individual contributions are so small as to be imperceptible, they are needed nonetheless.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The very fact that there is adversity and there are needs to be met. A powerful motivator is the sense that the solutions require us all.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
There are two. The first lesson is that opportunities arise from unexpected places in unanticipated ways. When we launched the Global Philanthropy Forum in 2001, the word “global” in the title referred solely to the issues that GPF members sought to tackle. Most were American. Many were the beneficiaries of globalization. All wanted to see its benefits more evenly shared, and its dangers addressed throughout the Global South. Fast forward to today, when the GPF’s newest members are path-breaking philanthropists who have emerged in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as economies are opened and enterprise is privatized. Several of them have helped to form GPF’s newest affiliate, the African Philanthropy Forum, with the bold goal of Africa meeting its own development needs. Like their American counterparts, these philanthropists will not settle for economic growth that is robust; they want it to be broad-based. And they will use their giving, their investing, and their policy access to assure that outcome. Because of change agents like them and those they support, the next great wave of philanthropic innovation will likely stem from emerging economies. And the transfer of knowledge will not only flow from north to south, or west to east, but rather the other way around, creating an unprecedented opportunity for us all to learn.

This opportunity to learn, improve, and enjoy will be seized if we act on a second lesson—taught to me by a Ghanaian woman, whose name I have never known—and it is that, “the ground is never insulted by poor dancing.” So, give it a try whether you believe you will succeed or fail.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Lots of laughter. A seven-year-old named Luke. A five-year-old named Aliya—and three rescue dogs named Pogo, Wags, and Blue.

7. What makes a great leader?
In a world characterized by fast-paced change, leadership requires the combination of collaboration and determination, agility and strategy, empathy and audacity—and a listening ear. These are the qualities that allow individuals and groups to adapt and inspire. Today’s philanthropists have the opportunity to support extraordinary innovators who have these leadership qualities. And the philanthropists themselves, while bold in their objectives, are increasingly collaborative as leaders. They form networks to learn from one another. They partner with governments and harness capital markets to their social goals. When faced with complex, difficult problems, they make big bets on local and global leaders who change lives.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Welcome change. Take pleasure in the success of others. Excel by helping others to do the same, and enjoy it every step of the way.


This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

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