The Country School welcomed Ted London '77, a renowned expert in poverty alleviation and business development, back to campus last week to deliver an Elmore Leadership Talk. Ted, a senior research fellow at the William Davidson Institute and a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, planned to be in town to speak at Yale's Global Health and Innovation Conference, so he reached out to see if he could stop by campus to show his 7-year-old son, Zach, where he spent his formative years. Fortunately for us, he also agreed to talk to students about his journey and how students might begin to plan their own.
This marked Ted's second visit to The Country School in recent years. He was on campus seven years ago, in 2011, to receive The Country School's Distinguished Alumni Award for his work with individuals at the Base of the Pyramid.
Speaking with 4th-8th Graders on Friday, Ted took students through a journey around the world, introducing them to some of the communities where he has worked and asking students to think about their own place in the world. Pointing to a visual of the world as a pyramid, Ted asked students to consider which of the three tiers they inhabit: the broad base toward the bottom where the world's poorest 4 billion people live, the middle, or the narrow top, representing the world's wealthiest individuals. Students shared their answers (many thought the second tier), and then Ted explained that we all pretty much live at the top.
"You're all part of the global one percent," he said. "Sometimes what we forget is how privileged we are. That's not a good or bad thing, that's just a thing. What you have to realize is that most people in this world don't get to go to schools like this, they don't have good health care, they don't get to see a doctor regularly, they don't have power, clean water. .... You're part of the vast, vast, vast minority of the world."
Ted spoke about his own journey, how he grew up in Madison, Connecticut, and was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend The Country School. "I loved The Country School," he said. "It made a huge difference in my life and shaped to some degree the path I wanted to take and the path I did take." Ted explained that he we went on to Daniel Hand High School and then to Lehigh University, where he majored in Engineering and began working as a design engineer. After receiving his MBA, he worked as a consultant in business valuation. But he found he wanted to make more of a direct impact on people's lived, so he quit his job and joined the Peace Corps, moving to Malawi, where he hoped to find ways to use the power of business to help address social issues.
What he found was that the most productive outcomes occurred not when ideas were coming from the top down (the teachers and outside "experts") or even the bottom up (the locals), but when the focus was on co-creation and innovation – that is, when people from different backgrounds collaboratively came together to share ideas and expertise to build something new.
Ted talked about some of the communities where he has worked, from Mongolia to Kenya, Jordan to India, sharing photos to show "what the world really looks like, at least from my perspective." Although the photos depicted different people, settings, and situations, Ted said one thing was constant: "Everywhere you go there are amazing people just like you – smart, hardworking, honest, trying to do the right thing for themselves and their family."
He also shared some statistics: Nearly half the children in the world live in poverty and nearly 2 million children die each year from waterborne diseases; 1.2 billion people don't have adequate housing, and 1.6 billion people on the planet lack access to electricity. And then there's the issue of population growth. In 1963, the year Ted was born, the world population was 3.2 billion. When he turned 50, in 2013, the global population was 7.1 billion. In 2050, the estimated population is expected to be 9.2 billion.
How should we respond to those challenges? he asked, pointing out that typically people respond one of three ways. Some choose to ignore and hope, saying the problems are someone else's to solve. Others argue that we should stay the course, that the current approach is the right one. And still others seek to understand and engage, saying I can make a difference.
"What are you guys going to do?" Ted asked students. "Where's your passion going to be? Where are you going to make a difference? Where are you going to engage?
"I'm a firm believer in the power of one," he said. "Even though the problems are big it all starts with one person. ... I know you guys are talented and the question is where are you going to put your talents?"
Ted also called on students to view the world differently. "Sometimes we need to look at an old problem in a new way," he said. "What we're seeing more and more is the power of new ideas and new voices." As a professor at the University of Michigan, Ted said he meets with many undergraduates. "A lot of students I work with want to do work that has an impact on global society. It's not about how much money I make, it's how much impact I have. And it's not mutually exclusive.
"And you know how it started for me?" he continued. "I was lucky enough to be able to come here, I got a scholarship, and it exposed me to these ideas. This is a great place."
After engaging in a Q & A session, Ted signed a copy of his most recent book, The Base of the Pyramid Promise, which will be available in our new Alumni/Country School community section of Elmore Library. Thank you, Ted and Zach, for visiting The Country School, sharing your experiences, and giving us a copy of your book. The Country School mission calls on students to "serve the common good"; Ted's work to bring poverty alleviation and business together is a perfect example of someone doing exactly that.
The Elmore Leadership program and the Elmore Library are named for Robert W. Elmore, a long-time Country School trustee, educator, lawyer, and organizational development consultant who modeled a form of leadership based on listening, teamwork, and appreciative inquiry. When Mr. Elmore passed away in 2009, a committee was formed to honor his legacy and create a framework for teaching students the leadership skills he embraced and exhibited in his daily life. The Elmore Leadership Program grew from those discussions. For more about other Elmore Leadership activities and speakers, go to https://www.thecountryschool.org/signature-programs/elmore-leadership.
Below, Ted's inscription in his book.
A few more photos:
Head of School John Fixx gave Zach a copy of his book, The Curious Guide to Things that Aren't (Ted and his family also went home with a bag filled with specially designed Country School socks and Country School/Gifft Hill tee shirts, part of an effort earlier this year to "serving the common good.")
Ted and Zach take a tour of campus (during which Zach finally got to play some soccer)
Joining Ted and Zach for the tour were Katherine Connolly and Liz Lightfoot, also both members of the class of 1977.
Huge thanks to Ted and Zach for making the trip from Michigan to Connecticut and to Katherine for joining us as well. A special thank you to Diana Staley Lynch '77 and Paul Staley '79, owners of and chefs at Reverie Kitchen in Branford, for donating the delicious pastries for our 1977 gathering.