A conversation with Team Generosity founders, Jeff Walker and Jennifer McCrea.
Karl: Was Millennium Promise when the two of you really began to feel as if you had a band?
Jeff: Yeah, probably so. It grew out of the Millennium Development Goals, which were established by the United Nations around 2001, setting targets for human and economic development to benefit hundreds of millions of people in the global South. And the Millennium Promise response to that challenge originated when Ray Chambers got together with Jeff Sachs, the famous expert on poverty and economic development at Columbia University to talk about the key issues—health care, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and so on.
Once the two of them were excited, Ray started rallying people he knew to the cause, saying, “Hey, why don’t we come together around these goals? Let’s talk about what we can do to make this dream a reality.”
Ray’s first step was to host a dinner party. He called and invited me and a group of other friends to come and meet Jeff Sachs to learn about this big new project that the two of them were cooking up. I was skeptical at first, because the track of record of economic development projects in regions of the world like sub-Saharan Africa had been pretty discouraging. But I have a lot of faith in Ray, so I attended the dinner. And when I heard about the depth of thinking that Jeff Sachs and others were applying to these challenges, I gradually became convinced that meaningful progress was possible, even in Africa.
Of course, one of Ray’s special gifts is his genius for rallying people together. He creates unique mixes of people, whether by collecting a group of experts in a conference room for two hours or by hosting a dinner where a group of people who never met one another can swap ideas and discover they have a shared passion for some cause. That dinner party was the first of many gatherings that brought together people with a shared interest in improving the lot of people in the developing world. And those gatherings formed the nucleus of what gradually grew into Millennium Promise. Soon Jennifer got involved, working on development strategies and offering advice. And over time, more and more people joined the band.
Karl: So, clearly the two of you have great networks of interesting and impressive people, and you’re also very skilled at connecting them with one another and with causes that really matter. Is this relevant to nonprofit managers, leaders, or partners who may not have the same kind of great network?
Jennifer: That’s a question some of my students ask. They’ll say, “It’s great that you know people like Jeff Walker and Ray Chambers and Deepak Chopra and Quincy Jones. It’s like you have a lineup of all-star players to call on. But by comparison, my friends and I are more like the Bad News Bears. How can we hope to copy what you do?”
That’s an understandable feeling. But of course our “all-star team” didn’t spring into being overnight. I wasn’t born knowing people like Jeff and Deepak and Quincy. I got started by getting to know the people around me, working with them to create some interesting and enriching experiences, and then using their contacts to make other contacts, and so on and so on. This has really been a long journey for me, and it’s one that I’m still in the midst of.
Jeff: That’s true for me as well. We continue to evolve, and so does our team. And as we evolve, we discover more and more all-stars, and more and more supposedly ordinary people we know start to emerge as potential all-stars in their own right.
And that’s the most important lesson. The world is filled with potential all-stars—people with ideas and energy and idealism and resources they’d like to devote to a worthy cause. They might be young entrepreneurs, homemakers looking for ways to contribute to their community, students with great imagination and drive, retired CEOs who want to create a legacy, mid-career professionals in search of greater meaning in their lives. These are people who can become your board members, your volunteers, your fundraisers, and the core of your expanding network of partners.
Jennifer: That’s exactly what I say to people. Of course those potential all-stars are out there. Go find them! Some of them are diamonds in the rough. It’s your job to recognize what they have to offer and help them develop it. Invite them to join you on the journey.
There are lots of Jeff Walkers out there who don’t even know it yet!