Imagining the Impossible, One Step at a Time
Imagining the Impossible, One Step at a Time
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Op-Ed / Global

Imagining the Impossible, One Step at a Time

Some may say John Lennon was a dreamer. But he wasn't the only one. Such was the sentiment of Lennon's 1971 hit song, "Imagine", which dreams of a world without hunger and wars. Although the song resonated with millions of people, I doubt there were many people, including myself, that believed such a dream was even remotely possible. Unfortunately, our world is made up of too many people with varying histories and agendas. I think most will agree, that Peace on earth and good will to man, just ain't gonna happen. At least not in absolute terms.

Having said that, history has shown that incremental improvements over time do make a big difference. I have often heard my friend, Bill Clinton suggest that if all we can do is continue to stumble forward, we will solve our problems bit by bit. I believe he has a valid point. If you think about it, today's world is a lot more humane than it was even 100 years ago. Why? I think to a large extent, it was due to the birth of modern philanthropy. Visionary people, like Carnegie and Rockefeller made brave choices to dedicate their fortunes in areas that not only defined the structure of philanthropy, but shaped the future in areas of medicine, scientific research and education. I am sure, given the novelty and boldness of their approach, many people in their day would have thought their efforts a waste of time and money. Clearly, the world has benefited greatly and the doubters were proved wrong.

Makes one wonder why we can't apply that same determination to solving some of today's global issues of war, poverty, disease etc? Well, the fact is that there are people today that are doing just that! It's a difficult job and the results sometimes take years to see. But someday, history looks back at some of today's philanthropic leaders and through the lens of a better world. I am sure today's leaders will be seen in the same light as at Carnegies and Rockefellers of the last century.

On the subject of determination, I am sure many of my business colleagues would tell you that I hate the term, "it can't be done". It makes me crazy when people say that to me in business. Most things can get done if the imagination and determination is there. I would imagine there were lots of people that told Steve Jobs that it couldn't be done. Didn't stop him. Or are telling Elon Musk today that it can't be done. Not stopping him, either. Having said that, I must confess that a number of years ago, even I used the excuse "it can't be done". Not in business, but when approached by groups seeking funding for philanthropic ideas. Why? I guess mostly to not have to write a big check. Sure, I gave to charity, but nothing in proportion to what I was worth. It's easy to pick holes in any plan if you really do feel like doing it and you don't take the time to understand it.

But then, in 2005, I met Bill Clinton and separately the people at International Crisis Group (ICG), and my entire perspective was turned on its head.

You might not have heard of International Crisis Group. It's an organization that was created 20 years ago to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world. As recent as the early 1990's, the world assumed that organizations like the UN and many world powers were equipped to prevent deadly wars and genocide. Then along came the Balkans War and the Rwandan genocide. In hindsight, we know that these tragedies could have been either prevented or at least resulted in considerably less civilian casualties. The Crisis Group was founded in 1995 by a few brave individuals, including Morton Abramowitz (former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Thailand, then President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Mark Malloch-Brown (former head of the UN Development Programme, then UN Deputy Secretary-General and UK Minister), and its first Chairman, Senator George Mitchell. They came up with an idea was to create a new organization that had the real time information and access to the right policy makers to sound the alarm bells early enough such that these tragedies could be prevented or mitigated. They approached Open Society founder, George Soros, who has dedicated his life ensuring that governments are accessible and open to participation of all people, and he agreed to provide funding. George Soros was in it from the beginning, and he truly jump-started the organization with a large grant to monitor the implementation of the Dayton Accords.

Of course, there will always be deadly conflict. In this Father Empowering Daughter's video interview, my 10 year old daughter proudly boasted that ICG does the impossible in stopping wars. I had to remind her that we don't always succeed, but our work does help prevent many conflicts from escalating, and it's just one example of stumbling forward and making the world a safer place than before ICG existed.

I personally have sat on that ICG board for 10 years now and know first-hand the value of their work. This is just one more example of determination. I know for a fact, that when the founders of ICG were raising funds, many dismissed it as an impossible task. But it didn't stop Soros.

My friend, Bill Clinton was most responsible for shaping my views of what can be done with a little imagination and a lot of motivation. From solving the affordability problem of anti-retroviral drugs for HIV AIDS infected people in poor countries to the work we do in poverty alleviation by creation jobs through social enterprises in CGEP, Clinton has tackled what were thought to be impossible issues to fix. But I think his greatest achievement was the creation of Clinton Global Initiative. In just 10 years, I have witnessed a profound change in the mindset of multinational corporations and philanthropists' as they have come together to solve some of the biggest social issues of our time. I believe CGI was a large factor in that change. This achievement may have sounded far-fetched to many in 2005. Didn't stop Clinton.

I believe that 50-100 years from now, when our grandchildren are benefiting from today's philanthropic efforts, history will look back at the Clinton's, Soros' and many others like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and will honour them in the way that they deserve.

Dear rich people: perhaps John Lennon was a bit of a dreamer and we will never live in a perfect world. But consider this. There are 1645 billionaires and 17 million millionaires in the world today, representing almost half of the world's entire wealth. Imagine if they all started saying "it CAN be done" and used just a bit of imagination ...the benefits would be exponential. We have a choice, sit back, lamely saying "it can't be done" or follow the example of some of the people I have just mentioned. Hopefully, more people choose to see things a little more like my daughter and start imagining the impossible, one baby step at a time.

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