Dr. Rajiv ShahThe president of the Rockefeller Foundation, who previously served as administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), visited SIPA on October 10 to speak about his recently published book, Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Actually Happens. The book draws on Shah’s extensive experience in international development and philanthropy, offering meaningful and impactful strategies to address global challenges and make a positive difference.
Shah, who is also a doctor, speaks from experience: During his career, he helped orchestrate humanitarian missions in Haiti and Afghanistan, and played a central role in containing the Ebola epidemic in Africa of the West, in response to an earthquake in Haiti, and more.
The event was sponsored by SIPA Institute of Global Politics (IGP), and featured the author in conversation with Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo. But it all started with an introduction from the secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as secretary of state worked closely with Shah when he led USAID. Clinton spoke of Shah’s unwavering faith that the realm of possibilities is limitless and suggested that approaching challenges with the right mindset helped him translate his aspirations into tangible achievements.
“Big bets are exactly what you think. These are efforts to actually solve (problems) and not just make piecemeal improvements.
— Dr. Rajiv Shah
In his discussion with Yarhi-Milo, Shah said that “big bets are exactly what you think they are. These are efforts to actually solve (problems) and not just make piecemeal improvements…. When this country has been at its best and when this community, and those of you who study in this field, have been at our best, that’s when you’ve really tried to solve problems on a large scale.
To underscore this major point about solving problems on a large scale, Shah described how, during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, President Obama made a “big gamble” by deploying military personnel to South Africa. West to create a safe environment for humanitarian assistance. The move distinguished his administration from other organizations facing significant challenges in combating the outbreak. He also discussed the delicate balance in this case between honoring cultural traditions of respecting the deceased while simultaneously providing appropriate protections and support to responders and affected communities.
In his analysis of policy challenges, Shah emphasized the importance of in-person diplomacy, whether interactions with members of Congress, foreign ministries or local groups. “Thinking about and addressing the political aspects of who you’re dealing with is really important,” he said.
As an example, Shah cited the case of Power Africa, which was launched during President Obama’s second term with the aim of providing low-cost, primarily renewable electrification. The underlying concept was to demonstrate that emerging powers could collaborate for global development. The project faced political obstacles at home and opposition from the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the time. Although progress was made with the DRC Prime Minister seen as transparent and trustworthy, the country’s president later demanded sole control over the project, leading to its abandonment.
Shah also spoke about his current position leading the Rockefeller Foundation and the organization’s role in tackling global challenges in health, poverty and climate change. “Always be optimistic,” he said. “You must be the ones who dream big and maintain those bold aspirations for change, even in everyday life. »
During the question-and-answer session that followed, Shah described how he handles opposition on various issues. He stressed that it is not necessary to convince everyone, especially on complex and diverse subjects like climate change. Instead, he emphasized the importance of recognizing differences while actively seeking common ground to move forward.
Shah also provided examples of working with people dedicated to positive change and emphasized the importance of maintaining effective communication, even in the face of criticism. As an example, Shah cited examples of roundtable discussions with local women’s groups that Secretary of State Clinton participated in during her numerous travels. He says it’s a way to inspire positive change and generate enthusiasm.
Watch the full event: