Shared Vision, Systems Thinking and Value

(Originally posted in

I recently watched Bill Clinton's 2007 acceptance speech for the TED Prize on the rebuilding of Rwanda. In it, he set the stage for his vision byarticulating three brutal facts: the world we live is unequal, unstable and unsustainable. These facts come into sharp focus when viewed through the lens of the profound interdependence we have with our fellow citizens. Whatever one may think (or not think) about Clinton, his speech to create a shared vision of a world where there are accessible opportunities, and a common sense of humanity, was stirring and compelling. He also discussed some of the enablers of this vision, namely non-government organizations and the internet. He brilliantly and succinctly set forth his hopes for the “world as it is and the world as I hope to leave to the next generation."

Dealing with conflict and competing factions requires vision and systems thinking. Clinton leveraged both in his talk. As he laid out his vision and his strategy for achieving it, e.g., changing
the way some public good function is performed and then multiplying it around the world, he zeroed in on the key to achieving this change--systems thinking. Offering the audience a terrific example in the form of AIDs and children’s medicines in the Caribbean, Clinton demonstrated that the value is there (AIDs drugs being slashed by 700% and Children’s medicines by 600%) just by negotiating, but also by leveraging systems thinking to attack the problem. His Foundation
employed the same type of supply chain innovation that WalMart uses to move its product cost effectively around (and this is the same innovation that WalMart is now using for local organic produce).

Clinton also underscored that this “value” was repeatable, and scalable, which can help to engage others by showing how they can benefit from a solution that is both value creating and frequent through multiplication. He challenged the NGOs to organize public goods markets so this multiplication can happen.

What the Clinton Foundation is trying to do is to develop a model for rural health care in the developing world, which can be a model for country and world. In order to bring value, it needs to
be quality health care that has build systems to make the health care self sustaining (needing little outside aid) after 5-10 years.

“In a world with no systems, everything becomes a guerrilla struggle” says Clinton. He points to Paul Farmer’s model as the best group in implementing these systems in health care, e.g.,
Partner’s in Health clinic in Haiti.

Rwanda adopted the model quickly, within 18 months, and the country decided to put its money behind it. There were quick wins, as before the program, 45% of children under 5 had stunted growth due to malnutrition and 23% died before 5. All of this was preventable and treatable. Now the clinics are treating 325 people a month (excluding the 2000 AIDs patients who are treated at home) This system could be implemented throughout Rwanda for 5% of GDP and be self-sustaining in 5-6 years.

Clinton points out that there is a chance to show that a country that was on the verge of
destroying itself can turn itself around with minimal help from the outside.

I think that Clinton tended more towards humanizing the people his Foundation served, which really is inclusive of humankind. He started with the statistics of the inequality of those in the world. He made the contrast to those at the TED conference by speaking of their poverty, lack of water and lack of sanitation and food. The pros are he invoked our sense of humanity, he
caused us to see the world through a different lens, he helped invoke a broader world view.

Nevertheless, he also spoke of economics, of systems, of logical approaches to getting things done. I admire that he did this--it is pragmatic and efficient. The downside is that it might be that NGOs and other AID organizations might view this as limiting to the boundaries of the problems to be solved, that is, Clinton requires that certain criteria be met in order achieve the solutions and some might believe you help others no matter the cost. Others suggest we need to create a vision that looks through walls, eliminates boundaries and takes a helicopter view of things. I perceive that Clinton’s interventions are targeted where he believes that he can make a difference, he has a willing audience, and where there is some stability. I surmise that he has also used guiding coalitions effectively to leverage both the objective and humanizing views of these problems. Some food for thought.

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