Winston Forum on Business Ethics: Former USAID Head Talks Mission and Purpose
Dr. Rajiv Shah, former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), talked about his personal mission and purpose at the Winston Center’s Forum on Business Ethics this past fall. Shah recounted his decision to pursue a career in health policy rather than to practice medicine.
Following his stint as Al Gore’s presidential campaign health policy advisor, Shah joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where he experienced firsthand an organization that has a transformational approach to solving some of the world’s major humanitarian problems. On his sixth day at USAID, the Haiti earthquake hit, and Shah described some of the tough ethical decisions he had to make. After determining that using the resources on hand was the most effective way to serve and make the most impact, USAID decided to focus its efforts on reducing widespread epidemics, like diarrhea, rather than on treating individuals who were injured during the quake. Today, the incidence of these illnesses in Haiti is even lower than it was pre-earthquake.
Shah also spoke about the organization’s global development priorities in countries like Afghanistan, which saw the enrollment of 3 million girls in schools where previously just a few thousand were enrolled, as well as the organization’s coordinated efforts with partners to decrease famine in Somalia. Shah summed up his work as mission driven, serving on behalf of the people who are vulnerable and do not have a voice. He stressed the importance of being passionate about your mission, being able to impart that sense of passion to your team, and connecting that passion to people who need to support you in order to be successful.