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Heifer International is honored to introduce its CEO, Pierre Ferrari. Born in Africa in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ferrari brings to Heifer a lifelong passion and drive for helping others. Ferrari says everything in his life has led up to this moment where he can invest all of his talent and energy to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. He shares some of his thoughts about his new role in this interview with World Ark, the magazine of Heifer International.
Interview by Donna Stokes, Joedy Isert and Bill Fitzgerald, Heifer International
Question: What are three things you want to do or experience as soon as you walk in the door at Heifer?
Answer: One is I would like for people to realize that I completely share their values. I want everyone (staff, partners, participants and donors) to know we are all completely aligned with the values and the vision and the mission of Heifer. And I need to demonstrate that as rapidly as possible. It's not just about words, but about what I'll do.
The second thing is to bring my own personal energy into everything I do to fulfill that mission. It's about being myself and being open for people to know who I am. One of the very first things I'm going to do is talk to our key donors about my vision of the organization and what we can do to have the passionate urgency we need to solve two of the endemic problems of the world—poverty and hunger. I've got to communicate this passionate urgency to our key donors as rapidly as possible.
Then I've got to get myself out to the projects, to understand the brilliance of those programs, so I can be an even better supporter, proposer and fundraiser for the organization.
How did you first hear about Heifer?
I've known about Heifer for a long time; I can't remember the exact date. We've given each other animals many, many times. … Our family has gradually been moving away from stuff, and the ability to be able to provide an animal through the Heifer system is fun; there's a lot of joy in that. People understand it very rapidly, how it helps families and allows them to be entrepreneurial and quickly be self-reliant. And you can have a smile about whether it's a goat, a sheep, a yak, a water buffalo—it's just an interesting piece to talk about. So the animal itself becomes an important, fun component to sharing our blessings. It just creates a moment of joy that very few other gifts do.
Why is Heifer a good fit for you?
Given my background and my birth in Africa, having seen destitution and poverty, not just in Africa, but in South America and Asia, the global human issue of deep poverty and extreme hunger is something that is close to my heart. I'm deeply grateful that I'm here and have this opportunity to serve this organization and serve the communities. The opportunity to do it at a certain scale and a certain speed is what has drawn me here. I've been doing a lot of this work on a smaller scale and in a different kind of way, and when I was approached to do this I could not stop smiling knowing that this was an opportunity for me.
How cool is it to do this kind of work? It's absolutely fabulous. Yes, every day there will be problems and there will be challenges and someone will say something that hurts our feelings. That happens every day, but the fundamental energy with which I see this work is absolute joy. It's pure, and I just feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do this.
What's your strongest leadership quality?
It's the ability to think in systems, the ability to see the whole very rapidly and then organize the right people at the right time in the right place. And also to organize financial resources or partnership resources but to be able to see the structure, the network, the system that is necessary for whatever it is we need to pull off. I think that's the strongest skill I bring.
I've also been lucky in being involved in some very innovative, unique enterprises where the idea of finding a solution to particular barriers or obstacles is important. I'm insatiably curious and just fascinated by the human imagination and the human capability of finding solutions for anything. I am just in awe of that universal capability among humans.
Will you be moving to Little Rock, Ark., where Heifer's headquarters are located?
Yes, absolutely. I will need to shift my allegiance to the Razorbacks from the Bulldogs ... that may take time!
What do you like to do when you're not at work?
I don't really divide up my life between work and not work. So everything I do is integrated in some way. The kinds of projects or activities at Heifer are part of my life; if I'm exercising, it's part of my life. I don't like to divide that up. It creates unnecessary tension between parts of your life. I want everything I do to have meaning, importance, joy and value.
When I'm exercising, I play squash, which I've been playing for a long time. I also play golf; I love golf. I wish I had more time to play golf. I enjoy practicing. When I get on the course I have a good time being in nature. It's my meditation time.
Which of your current board positions will you continue to hold as you take the lead of Heifer?
To create the time necessary for what's going to be a 24/7 job, I'm going to shed many of my board memberships. I plan to stay on at Ben & Jerry's but to resign as chair. The value of that is that I'm connected with a massive agricultural, or food system, called Unilever. I also believe that Ben and Jerry's is at the forefront of corporate social responsibility practices, and the board is engaged very deeply with the company on how to do it. I think not only can I bring value to the board over there from Heifer, and I can also bring back a lot to our practices at Heifer.
The other board I'm going to remain on is Small Enterprise Assistance Fund, which is based in D.C. It's a nonprofit with the mission to invest anywhere between $200,000 and $1.5 million in small- and medium-sized enterprises in developing economies. The perspective there is one of entrepreneurship. … The connections that SEAF has in the world of development are supplementary or complementary to what Heifer does. It is actually moving more into rural and agricultural development, with recognition and support for smallholder farmers. There's a connection here, a systems view from where SEAF can be plugged into the programs relative to smallholder farmers we're working with. I don't know exactly how yet. It is great to teach a woman to fish, but what about the preparation of the fish for market, packaging it, marketing it, shipping it and selling it?
Which of Heifer's 12 Cornerstones do you identify with the most?
I think Sharing and Caring (based on spiritual grounding) by far is sort of the cornerstone of the Cornerstones. We're all doing this work because of that. That being said, the one I look at and has the most energy for me is the one about self-reliance. It goes back to Dan West. They don't need a cup of milk, they need a cow. The whole idea of providing the resources so they can do it themselves is so fundamental to my way of viewing the world. It doesn't in any way trump the others. We shouldn't be needed in those communities forever because once we've ignited this idea of self-reliance, and once we have supported them with the right resources we should be moving on.
Why do you choose to do humanitarian work?
What was missing for me in the corporate world, which I do have now, is that every day, everything I do has meaning. I have found philosophically and emotionally that the only way to have meaning is to be working for others. You have to have the basics, of course. You have to have clothes, food, shelter and good relationships. But fundamentally the more time and energy you spend and more focus you have on helping others the happier you are. It's that simple. It's hard to remember sometimes because we're all ego-driven and a little bit selfish, but fundamentally that's what creates happiness, is to be thoughtful and kind to others.
From what sources do you draw your insight, energy and inspiration?
A couple of things. One, I have an enduring belief in humankind's entrepreneurial energy. I think people searching to be happy are searching to have the right kind of relationships, are searching obviously at some level for safety, clothing, food, etc. But there is this amazingly optimistic energy in humankind. We're always looking for improvement, constantly looking for a better way of doing things. … I think that's true of all 6.4 billion or 6.6 billion people. It's just a wonderful thing to be around situations, projects, whether they be organizing a wedding, or organizing the building of a dam or a village or a dairy project, how creative and enthusiastic people are if they're properly motivated. So that's one of the sources.
The other source personally is that we unfortunately do live in a world with well over a billion people suffering from hunger or lacking access to clean water, and UNICEF tells us that more than 22,000 children under the age of 5 die every day, every day, in unnecessary ways … malnutrition, hunger. That just shocks me. I am just appalled that we have a world that allows that to happen on a daily basis—22,000 children a day under the age of 5 die unnecessarily. So it's important for me to be working on that. I have to make my contribution to bring that number down as fast as possible, as elegantly and wisely as possible and create the conditions where that doesn't recur.
Those two energies are what inspire me to join Heifer and serve this organization. Heifer's vision is to end hunger, end poverty and to take care of the Earth. It's not to alleviate, it's not to reduce, it's to end it. And I think while it's a great, big hairy goal, I think the fact that it's so absolute and so clear is very useful for me. It's not about doing a little bit. It's about doing it all.