“I’d like for the last Guinea worm to die before I do,” Jimmy Carter said in his usual humble way when he announced that his cancer had spread to his brain.
When The Carter Center launched the eradication campaign in 1986, over 3.5 million people in 21 countries had this horrific condition in which Guinea worms grow up to three feet inside of people, erupting through their skin, causing extreme pain. Currently only 11 people in the world are known to have this condition that’s caused by drinking contaminated water. Like love or pure air, clean water is impossible to live without.
Yet inventing improvements takes more than smart individuals who want to help—it requires collective intelligence and effort. And recruiting and harnessing that intelligence requires leaders like Carter who can cultivate complementary, cross-sector relationships, as William Eggers and Paul Macmillan suggest in The Solution Revolution.
Attract an Apt Team to Tackle a Problem
Dr. Kala Fleming is another such leader capable of assembling the right people for a specific task. Serving on the boards of the youth development non-profit HEROS (Higher Education & Responsibility through Overseas Exchange), Net Impact Seattle and Dream Jamaica as well as partnering with government agencies, NGOs and companies has enabled Fleming to bring a wide breadth of experience and recruit apt allies to initiatives to make clean water more widely available.
For example, Fleming found that, “In the 2008-2009 rainy season, a breakdown in Zimbabwe’s piped water system sparked the country’s most deadly cholera outbreak after thousands in Harare turned to contaminated shallow wells for water.”
That horrific incident was emblematic of wider problems: “When Fleming discovered that, in Nairobi alone, there were more than 4,000 boreholes, where clean groundwater can be accessed,” she recognized the vital for sub-Saharan Africa’s water system to keep track of those boreholes, and her lab established a system to do so.
High Touch of In-Person Conversation Leverages Clout of High Tech
Fleming realized that a problem of this scale required an inclusive approach that was both personal and high-tech. For governments and communities to improve how they manage their precious water resource they had to hear, see and believe in the recommendations that she and her peers at the IBM Research Lab in Nairobi wanted to make. Consequently, according to Smarter Planet’s Steve Hamm, they hosted a meeting for over 400 scientists, business leaders, NGOs, government officials and students to literally see the IBM Watson-enabled “Digital Aquifer” solution, based on big data. It is “a system for mapping and analyzing the status of underground water supplies” to create ways communities can anticipate and plan for dry spells and other emergencies.
Attendees’ trust in the team’s commitment to them was further strengthened by IBM’s 10-year, $100M initiative, dubbed Project Lucy, to use Watson to provide deep analysis and solutions for Africa’s other pressing, interrelated problems in healthcare, education, and sanitation.
At the upcoming TED@IBM event, Fleming will share what she’s learned from that transformative experience and how you can apply her approach to your work and life.
Like Dr. Kala Fleming and Jimmy Carter, redefine your life around a mutuality mindset and thus become an Opportunity Maker, who accomplishes more with and for others. That may be our straightest path towards a more accomplished, satisfying and adventuresome life. Ready to hear from other Opportunity Makers?