Monday, November 05, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 32: Guy Pfeffermann

Guy Pfeffermann
Bill Drayton of Ashoka describes social entrepreneurs as people who "to the core of their being, [are] committed to serving the good of all."

Nothing better describes Guy Pfeffermann, but it took me years to realize it. I first met him at the World Bank in the mid-1990s, and I recall vividly how annoyed I was by his iconoclasm.

The bank, like many organizations, had a strong culture that dictated how we wrote, how we talked, and how we acted.  This culture guided and constrained the narratives we constructed in our work.  But in meetings Guy was constantly straying from these narratives, flouting the well-trodden and predictable analytical grooves (ruts) that scripted our discussions.  He insisted on using plain words instead of our jargon, he told seemingly pointless stories, and he had no reservations about laughing out loud at some absurdity.

From my point of view, this was annoying, because it impeded the flow and predictable outcome of the meetings, hence delaying our work.  It was all the more strange since Guy was the Chief Economist of the bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.

Over time, Guy's determination to always look at the world with fresh eyes started to grow on me, but I was not totally won over. When Mari suggested that we ask Guy to be on our board at GlobalGiving in 2003, I was polite but skeptical.  Yet doing a start-up like GlobalGiving requires nothing more than a fresh set of eyes, and Guy's perspective became a strong guiding force for us in the following years.  When we struggled with business challenges, Guy was always the first to remind us why we had left the bank to start GlobalGiving in the first place.  I credit him with keeping us focused on our mission through rocky times.

Guy is proof that entrepreneurial ventures can come late in life.  In 2003, after he retired from the World Bank - where he had worked for nearly forty years! - he was not content to go quietly into a comfortable retirement.  During his career, he had noticed that students in the developing world had very poor access to good business training, so he decided to address this by creating and launching the Global Business School Network.  GBSN matches top-tier business schools in richer countries with ambitious business schools in poorer countries.

The other day, about fifteen years after we first me, Guy took me to lunch to discuss some of his own challenges with getting GBSN to the next level. I tried to help him in the same way he had helped me nearly a decade before. As we settled the bill and left the restaurant, I realized that there are few people in the world with whom I would rather have spent the last hour.  Guy has shown me what it's like to being committed, really committed, to serving the good of all.  And for that, I am very grateful.

Share on Facebook