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How Jimmy Carter Can Inspire the Nonprofit Sector

Russell Family Foundation Russell Family Foundation

Former president Jimmy Carter gives inspiration to an aging executive like me. After a tumultuous four years as president of the United States, from 1977-1981, he survived a difficult primary battle and was defeated for re-election. It must have been a bitter disappointment for him personally. But he didn’t slink back to Plains, Georgia. Instead, he decided to follow his interests in human rights and with his wife Rosalynn created the Carter Center in Atlanta and transformed himself into an influential international ambassador at large.

The author Bob Buford, associated with the Drucker Institute, would call this a prime example of going from “success to significance” in one’s career. Today the Center is 30

years old, has a budget over $95 million, and employees about 175 people.

I had the privilege of hearing President Carter speak the other day while attending meetings at the Russell Family Foundation, located in a beautiful setting in Gig Harbor, Washington, at the invitation of Henry Izumizaki, the CEO of One Nation The Russell Family Foundation is itself a remarkable story.

President Carter was introduced by the Foundation’s executive director, Richard Woo, who said he called a former employee from the White House for background and was told there were three words to describe Carter: integrity, humaneness, and loving. Today the Carter Center focuses on three activities: peace negotiations, election monitoring, and disease prevention and eradication in developing nations. Carter personally still remains active in Habitat for Humanity.

After Carter told us about his work at the Center, we had a chance for questions. Knowing of his extensive work in Israeli-Palestinian relations, I asked him his thoughts about prospects for the eventual outcome of theArab Spring. He was surprisingly upbeat, given the current unrest, and observed that people everywhere have a right to self rule.

Another wanted to know what lessons Carter has learned in his work. He said he has come to realize that poor people are just as intelligent, just as hard-working, and have the same family values and ambitions as he has. What they lacked was opportunity. One person I spoke to later thought this sounded condescending. I suspect Carter had U.S. politics on his mind when he said that and was responding the talk of ending bailouts, cutting entitlements, and standing on your own two feet.

Finally, an attendee asked if he had advice for young children interested in entering politics. He said the principles guiding the life of a politician are no different than the principles for you and me:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Work for peace
  3. Promote justice and equity
  4. Be modest about yourself
  5. Work for the benefit of others

Good words to live by for anyone in the nonprofit sector and a good reminder about what really matters in life.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice