Bob Buford’s Values Project – Part 1
BOB: Talk about stages, Dale. I tell people how my second-half career, or calling, segued from doing to directing, and you see your role in work for Rwanda in transition.
DALE: Bob, over my 12 years in nonprofit, the principles and values that most informed me were about the fruit of my work being on other people’s trees. But these days my job is “to release and direct energy.” Those two principles guide the transformation as I find myself more in the role of mentor or encourager than doer.
Buried in these ideas, of course, is that it starts with “go big or go home.” How do you have a big impact? It has to have a global broad effect; it has to sustain for a long period. As I age, I realize the big impact is through other people over a long period of time, and after I’m gone.
BOB: Give us a for instance – a name or a type of person.
DALE: Blayne Sharpe runs our Bridge2Rwanda program now. When I met him, he was a recent college graduate. He’d worked his way through school in a commercial bank, on a fast track in a traditional business career. Judy and I met him five or six years ago while searching for a local business manager. He turned us down two or three times, but God haunted him. Eventually he left his career in banking and came to work for us in a little nonprofit. Then he went to Africa as our operations manager, a founder of the scholar’s program. He took a year and helped the CEO of Tyson Foods set a commercial feed mill in Rwanda, then he came back as executive director of Bridge2Rwanda, managing the scholar’s program.
While I’m CEO, day-to-day this 31-year-old once headed into a traditional business career now runs the Scholar’s Program in Rwanda. He’s absorbed all these values for launching a generation there. Another five or six young people in their late 20s/early 30s, in the last 10 years, moved to Rwanda and have been involved in Bridge2Rwanda. Now in their 30s, they’re living lives of significance, focused on excellence in business or education or training. They’ve absorbed these values and didn’t want to wait until age 50 to do it.
BOB: As it turns out, you don’t have to be rich and middle aged.
DALE: They don’t understand why someone would wait to 50 to figure out how to do significant things. I hope they’ll pass it on to the generation of young Africans-those values of service, significance, results, professional excellence-to come back and run their country.
BOB: Their results are changed lives. Peter always told me the currency of the social sector is not money but change in people. That’s where you get the equity.
DALE: These 30-something young Americans are transforming the lives of the most talented young Africans-and African’s ultimately will only be changed by Africans.
BOB: How can we help younger generations understand these values and generate their own? That’s our goal with this interview series.
DALE: Drucker’s values, to me, are principles I’ve learned in the marketplace. You show how they also apply to the social sector-for results. In that 40-page book about applying “Good to Great” to the social sector, Jim Collins said the same thing. For a business leader moving into social sector transformation-Halftimer or Millennial-don’t think it isn’t true social work. You get more social transformation when you apply these “business” principles.
BOB: I’d take you back to Bishop John. Something about him that blew you away. I was there when that happened.
DALE: At Stephens, as we were running banking, we met CEOs and spent time with them. You develop a sense of when someone is special, talented, committed, can get things done. I’d never thought about those kind of people outside the business world. When I met Bishop John, taking to him, however, I realized he had all those amazing entrepreneurial leadership talents: smart, passionate, aspiring. When he built a school for genocide orphans, he wanted the best school in the country. He had a vision for high standards, and yet he was clearly full of joy. And the humility about him also is very attractive.
BOB: Which is a Collins point.
DALE: He was a level-five leader. And seeing a player in another context changed my paradigm. I saw myself as an entrepreneur, leader, joyful warrior. I thought if God can use that man in that setting, maybe he can use me. That was the beginning of my Halftime, my believing that the type of person I was could be used for the kingdom.
BOB: So it’s made real via a genuine experience that you run into or seek out. You have not mentioned that you build on people who are receptive to what you’re doing. No having to beat them up. They want to do it.
DALE: When we first started going to Rwanda, President Kagame found out we were in the country. I was with Scott Ford, CEO of Alltel at the time. The President invited us to his home and we talked about what he was trying to do. Four months later he came to Little Rock to speak at the Clinton Library. A few years later he created an advisory council, asking us to meet with him and his leaders every six months. A huge reason we’re in Rwanda is because the President and leadership there invited us, on their initiative, to come alongside. No strings. No asking for money or commitments. Rick Warren is on that council. Business people. Professors. From Canada, UK, Australia. Tony Blair shows up. The Rwandan leaders put a huge value on friendships and inviting people alongside. We would not have had the impact had they not invited us into their inner circle, and they took the initiative. And when they did, when they opened the door, and we jumped in with both feet.
BOB: Praise God.
DALE: I’ve thought a lot about “Go big or go home.” Don’t do drips and drabs. Development in Africa has been so poor; trillions spent with little to show for it. We believe leadership development of indigenous people, a global network of relationships, is a fundamental way the U.S. can help transform the world. We hope Bridge2Rwanda scholars come back to Africa. You develop 100 young people that other countries and places see and say, “Rather than show up with aid, let’s invest in their young and their businesses.” Long term, we’d love to create a model of development . . . a different way of how the U.S. influences the world.
BOB: In this conversation you’ve given almost no criticism. Most things on TV, certainly politics want to catch the opponent and turn the catch into a thousand different sound bites. You’re not doing that.
DALE: The backside of islands of health and strength is not to criticize the others but to invest your energy in results.
Success is a steady stream of innovation. We’ve done hundreds of projects-in business, leadership and education-without knowing what would work, and some were complete failures. The approach always was to triple down on the few things that had big impact and stop doing what gets average results.
Bridge2Rwanda, once dozens of projects, now is one project, which, ultimately, we see has a big, big impact. You observe and discard, but you don’t critique or criticize others.
BOB: That is the most counter-intuitive thing in the way we do politics.
DALE: You wade through the resistance. You persistently drive to improve and get results and change lives and keep doing it better, and God blesses it over time.
BOB: This conversation, as you know, begins a series of interviews about values that guide lives of significance, and I’m looking at one of those lives.
DALE: You’ve had a front row seat for a long time.