|By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - 1:35 pm: Edit Post|
Carol Bellamy: From 1960s Guatemala volunteer to global director
Carol Bellamy: From 1960s Guatemala volunteer to global director
From 1960s Guatemala volunteer to global director
Encouraging civic-minded professionals
I went to a radio interview today, to the Boston Globe editorial board, spoke at a big-donor luncheon and visited fourth-grade classes. That’s what I do with my life. But actually the clearest group that I met with was the fourth-grade class.
I’m going to sound like a UNICEF director, but listening to young people’s voices is a very important thing to do. They are honest, not sophisticated, and there’s a clarity. When I was an elected official in New York, I used to love speaking with young people because I could learn more about what the adults in my community were thinking than I ever could from the adults! The adults would give you nuances, and the children would just tell you straight out.
About four or five days ago, I was in Kenya and met with a group of young people there. “Do you think you’ve accomplished anything with your job?” “Have you changed your hobbies?” I didn’t have any to start with. “Do you miss your friends when you travel?” I do. Listen to the voices of young people. The clarity in their voices is quite extraordinary, the impressions and the honesty.
The road to UNICEF
I’ve spent half my life in the public sector and half my life in the private sector. I am by training a corporate lawyer. After serving in the Peace Corps in Guatemala from 1963 to 1965, I went to law school at New York University, and then I practiced corporate law for four and a half years in New York City. I learned an enormous amount. I loved every moment I spent there, even though there were some difficult times. Even today, young lawyers, bankers and others are totally abused and misused and made to work ridiculous hours.
Then I spent 13 years in elective office, both as a New York state senator and then as president of the City Council, in the No. 2 position. I was independently elected by 7.5 million New Yorkers. I try to remind my good friend Gro Harlem Brundtland [director-general of the World Health Organization], when she reminds me she was the prime minister of Norway, I say, “That’s really great, Gro, you were elected by 3 million people and I was elected by 7.5 million.” And she says, “Yes, but I was prime minister.” One has to put that in perspective.
If you’ve been No. 2 then of course you want to be No. 1, so I ran for mayor of New York in 1985 and came in No. 2 again. I spent the next seven years as an investment banker, first with Morgan Stanley and then with Bear, Stearns.
I actually turned it down the first time, but thank god they came back and asked me again: I was invited by the Clinton Administration to become the director of the Peace Corps, an extraordinary experience. My one claim to fame was that I actually was the first Peace Corps volunteer to become the director, so I really had a bond with the Peace Corps volunteers. You know, amoebic dysentery is an extraordinary bond in development work!
After Peace Corps I went to law school because I wanted to work for USAID, which in my mind is Peace Corps with flush toilets. But by the time I got out of law school my government was involved in a war that I didn’t agree with. I said, I will show them, so I went to Wall Street. It never quite made sense to me.
So, from 1993 to 1995, I was director of the Peace Corps and that’s where I was when the US government was looking for someone to recommend to be the director of UNICEF. Having been a New York politician, you would think you would not get hung out on a line to dry, but I didn’t even know that much about the UN, even though I come from New York.
Secretary of State [Madeline] Albright came up to me one night and said: “How would you like to be our candidate to be director of UNICEF?” I said great! “But don’t say anything because you’re not really our candidate for UNICEF. We actually have a candidate, but if we need a woman to be our candidate....”
A couple of weeks later, I learned that then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wants a woman. But then the European countries said, hey, this isn’t some monopoly, we want the next director of UNICEF. I got really depressed at this point. And then there was this terrible food fight between Europe and the US. In any case, ultimately, I got appointed.
Public versus private
We live in an extraordinary world today where people have an opportunity to do really serious things in both the private sector and the public sector. Now, I realize there is still suspicion between both. The private sector thinks those of us who have been in the public sector are a little, well, retarded. We’re a little below caliber. They think we’re well meaning. They don’t think we’re bad, just not quite up to really doing a real job.
But there are too many people in the public sector who think everybody in the private sector is some vicious person, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t really want to make a difference, who are only there to make money, who really don’t want to leave the world a better world. It’s changing, but there’s still too much suspicion.
I believe passionately there’s much the two can contribute to each other—and not just a little here and a little there. I’ve met too many people from the private sector who get on a public-sector board and all of a sudden drop their strategic thinking about what to do, and people in the public sector who somehow get involved in the private sector are still a little worried.
There are different motivations, and I do believe there are two different bases from which you come. You have to maintain the principles you subscribe to, in the environment that you are in. Experience in the public sector can contribute to being a better private-sector person.
A really good public-sector manager may be one of the best managers you’ll find. But there are some real skills—in performance and measurement—which you can learn in the private sector that can help you in the public sector. You should follow your dreams and your vision, and I wouldn’t urge you to do anything against what you believe.
The opportunities exist today globally—probably more in the US than in the rest of the world—to spend time in both the public and private sector. Look for opportunities, and think broadly.