Leading Across Boundaries

author: Peter Senge, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Ronald O'Connor, Management Sciences for Health, University of Cambridge
author: Frannie Léautier, World Bank Institute
author: Jeremy Hockenstein, Digital Divide Data
published: March 6, 2013,   recorded: October 2005,   views: 2809

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“This is a strange and paradoxical time,” says moderator Peter Senge, in which people live “more and more in each other’s backyard”-- interdependent globally but also fragmented by economics and politics. Senge believes “working across boundaries is the defining challenge” of our era.

Ron O’Connor is a pioneer in the practice of crossing boundaries. While volunteering as a medical student in Nepal 30 years ago, he observed devastating mortality rates that could be eradicated if up-to-date public health measures were implemented. But he also understood that Westerners couldn’t simply go in and impose solutions on a different culture. “We’re seen as a big gorilla knocking over small helpless countries.” The organization he founded assists and trains native communities and leaders to put their own health solutions in place. In a Bangladesh family planning effort, O’Connor was “thrilled to see illiterate village women organize themselves” and halve their fertility rate over two decades.

In Frannie Leautier’s job, she’s forbidden to “influence via money….just through ideas.” “I can’t rely on much more than people talking to each other and making decisions together,” she says. So her clients’ perspective and needs come first. In Sri Lanka, for instance, where Leautier’s group lived for two weeks in a poor village, she learned that providing running water was less essential than creating two ponds: one for people and the other for elephants.

Jeremy Hockenstein says he’s “inspired by people who have overcome much more than me and worked harder than I ever had.” A visit to Cambodia introduced Hockenstein to large numbers of poor people “trying to learn computers, and English” but for whom no jobs existed. He decided to launch a data entry business dedicated to providing some of the neediest Cambodians with decent livelihoods. Digital Divide Data trains and hires disabled people and women rescued from sex trafficking, among others. They work six-hour days and go to school. Says Hockenstein, “We measure ourselves by how many go on to better jobs in the future.” Center Launch]]**

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