Getting to Yes, And

"Big Bets”


Rajiv Shah

Subscribe on

Kelly connects with Rajiv Shah, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation and a former government official who oversaw USAID from 2010 to 2015. His new book is called "Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens."

You talk about seeing Nelson Mandela speaking at the old Tiger’s stadium in Detroit and that sparked this idea of doing something bigger in your life.

“I just thought: how do you spend 27 years in a jail cell and have that ability to come out and share love and compassion, and it just sparked something. You know I'm not obviously the only person on this planet to be inspired by Nelson Mandela. Let's just be clear about that. But it sparked something, and it was like, ‘Okay, I'll go be a doctor or an engineer, or whatever you know I'm supposed to do. But I also want to do something to make the world a better place beyond that. And you know, thankfully, a few things happened and I had that opportunity.”

And the Big Bet framework and methodology, where did you learn that?

"I learned it from Bill and Melinda Gates when they read an article about 600,000 kids dying of a disease called Rotavirus. And then they learned in that article that a Coronavirus vaccine was coming out, but it was only going to be available in the United States and rich countries, and all the deaths were in lower income countries. And they were like, that just doesn't make sense. How do we actually solve for all this unnecessary child death? And so, the task became, we're not going to do something incremental. The goal here is, it may take decades, but the goal is we want to solve for unnecessary vaccine preventable childhood mortality at scale, and I learned that methodology from there.”

During the early days in the response to the crisis in Haiti, you have this story about the turnstile to get into the USAID building that is just amazing.

“We had this big, messy multi-agency team, and what happened is you couldn't go into the USAID building because of all the Federal security very easily. So, if you had a USAID badge you would just swipe and you'd go right through. But if you were military personnel or you were with FEMA or any of the other agencies, you would kind of stand in line to get a visitor badge. And I basically asked the security team what we could do. And they said, You know, this is a crisis. Let's just keep the turnstiles open; and it just changed the way people felt. It made everybody feel like, 'Hey, we are all part of this team. And oh, by the way, this is an emergency, this is a special moment. This is a moral moment, and we're going to do our best.' And I I've never been more proud than when we had that team, you know, in the middle of the night, just doing extraordinary things for people in Haiti.”

Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang

Related Episodes