Kevin Prine is the president & CEO of Outreach International, a global nonprofit creating self-reliant villages on four continents. He has been entrepreneurially-minded during the entirety of his career that has spanned higher education, finance, and now, international development.
As an academic, he consistently experienced some of the highest student evaluations in the United States and built and led a team that won the country’s largest entrepreneurial competition. He left a named professorship for a growing technology firm that became one of the most successful trading firms in the world.
During his leadership at Outreach, the organization has dramatically expanded in size and scope, in addition to winning awards for employee culture and satisfaction. Today, Outreach International is a recognized leader in sustainable development and answering the question, “how to fight poverty.”
How do you define success?
The full expression of the potential of the self in combination with magnifying the potential of others. A person who has achieved great things, even if highly introverted, will move toward madness if they fail to entwine themselves in the success of others.
What is the key to success?
In the last thirty years, the economically-advantaged part of the world has been blessed and cursed with effortless access to calories and technology. This has made it easy to constantly experience temporary satisfaction, but much more difficult to delay gratification. It is troubling because we can look at virtually any area of life – finance, fitness, relationships, career, etc. – and sacrificing something now for the higher return in the future seems to be the single most important variable in accomplishment.
Did you always know you would be successful?
“Successful” is a dynamic trail – not a static destination. I continue to try to make progress and enjoy my surroundings and companions on that path, but I’ve never thought of myself as having achieved success.
Further, the idea that we can somehow evaluate ourselves or others on an achievement spectrum is misguided. Recognizing effort and achievement is important, but we shouldn’t extend it to a judgment of being a good or bad individual. We all come from such a chaotic number of variables in our history and current situation that accolades for one and chastisement for another makes no sense.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
While there is significant controversy around the efficacy of the 10,000-hour rule popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, I wholeheartedly agree with one of its primary components: people who achieve great things generally experience a multitude of “failures” along that dimly-lit tunnel.
Like everyone, I’ve lived through many disappointments. Experiencing my first (and hopefully only) kidney stone while working in the Himalayas, being unable to help some people find their potential, and sometimes living at a level less than that of which I knew I was capable. However, these have never felt like failures. They have simply been challenges/obstacles/moments of learning. If we want to make progress toward meaningful goals, we must embrace the imperfection in ourselves and in the path.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The illumination from the lanterns held by others.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
A = (B + D + T) L
Individuals can achieve Anything, but achievement is a function of Background, Drive, and Time. Additionally, for reasons we don’t seem to understand or be able to control, a periodic Luck factor intervenes to overcome everything else.
And so, for example, even if I am not blessed with the perfect genetics to be an outstanding athlete, with enough drive and time, I’m still able to become world class. Too often, we forget about this important combination of factors, or, we focus on only one of those elements – including reliance on a miracle because we haven’t studied for life’s examinations.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Making measurable progress in at least a couple of areas (for example, investments or physical challenges), balanced with being mindfully present. There seems to be a very strange Yin-Yang to life in which we must sacrifice satisfaction in the moment to find joy in the next – but still experience it all in the Now.
What makes a great leader?
Traditional intelligence. Emotional intelligence. Strategic intelligence. Moral intelligence. Most importantly, placing oneself in the right place at the right time.
What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Consistently put yourself in situations where you can over-deliver on expectations.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Successfully growing an organization is hard. Increase your odds by finding the intersection of your own passion and true market need. Then, always surround yourself with people who excel in the areas in which you are weak.
Why should more people get involved with Outreach International?
Most of the time, we look at charity as a wealth transfer. At best, this method results in a 1:1 ratio. Unless we make fundamental changes in how we go about eliminating extreme poverty in the world, we’re looking at many coming centuries filled with war, disease, and an extraordinary waste of human potential. This will affect all of us, no matter where we live.
Outreach offers a model that achieves returns that would be enviable to the most successful VC fund. We focus on transformation of the ultimate underdogs and give them the tools and confidence to tackle their own problems. To live in a world free of humankind’s worst nightmares, we must change the way we solve the problem. But, if we do so, it is likely we’ll see this new reality in our lifetimes.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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