Washington DC

An Exclusive Ideagen Live ‘Inside the Boardroom’ Presentation with Desney Tan

Ideagen’s Inside the Boardroom highlights the world’s leading speakers from Fortune 500 Companies, the Public Sector, and NGOs share their journey of success, life lessons, career advice, and answer your questions about how to become a successful leader. 

Desney Tan: Students and young professionals often ask: “What do I have to do to be successful?” “What do I have to do to have a good life?” It’s an amazingly important question. It’s a profound question and one that is presumably top of mind for you guys, hence your presence here. Thank you for being here. Unfortunately, my answer is often, “I don’t know”. I don’t have any answers. We don’t have any answers. No one has any answers. But, I think what we have today is even more valuable than *the* answer. What we’re going to do is share a bunch of stories, not because the stories are particularly interesting, but because the lessons we’ve learned through the course of our lives and our careers may come in handy to you guys as you embark upon your journeys. We’ve got very different stories, but you’ll see some fairly common threads in here.

Before I start I have to say two things. First of all, it’s always tempting to look at someone else’s life and say “how do I get that job?” or “how do I have that life?” My simple answer is “you can’t.” These are our jobs, these are our lives - you can’t have them. The truth of the matter is you should not want them. This is not about having our lives or our jobs. This is about creating *your* lives and *your* jobs.

The second thing I’ll say, as you look at most of our lives, is that it’s very tempting to imagine the journey as a straight line. You plot your goal, and you spend your life going after it. Life is actually a set of winding detours and off-road adventures. And, as buttoned up as many people may seem to have it, look more closely and you’ll find that we’re all winging it as we go. We’re flying by the seats of our pants, and, if you do it right, you probably will be, too.

So, with those two things... The quick background on my life. I grew up in Singapore, the elder of two kids. Dad was an architect, mom was a homemaker. We never had a lot of stuff, but they worked awfully hard to make sure we were never wanting.

I was a pretty precocious kid. Mom and dad spoke English at home and decided I had to learn Chinese. And so they stuck me in Chinese school where everything was taught in Chinese. This was fine, I did plenty well, but it wasn’t really my idea of fun. And so very early in life I became a fairly truant kid. I would sneak out of classes. I would not attend school. And so my parents, getting worried, did what any parent would do, they handed me a tennis racket and stuck me on a tennis court.

In retrospect, this was brilliant. The tennis court is the largest most legal cage you can put a kid in. And so I spent half my life growing up on the tennis court and eventually got quite good at it. By the time I was a tween I was traveling Asia, traveling the region, playing semi-pro tennis beating up on 17 and 18-year-olds. Looking back, this was a pretty key moment in my life because it is the first thing I can remember doing in which I achieved mastery. Mastery turns out to be an amazing concept and an amazing thing to strive for. As Abe Lincoln put it, “Whatever you do, whoever you are, be a good one.” As much as I hate to disagree with Abe, I often augment that with being “the best.” And don’t stop striving until you are the best, and then keep going some more.

Now, there’s a bazillion things you could choose to be a master at. I’ve had a fairly simple formula for myself. Purpose - find value either for yourself or the world around you, dream the dream (nothing is impossible). Muhammad Ali put it really nicely. He said, “Impossible is not a fact, it’s merely an opinion.” Don’t let others ideas of impossible get in the way of your dreams. You’ve got to be courageous, and foolish enough, to go after those and make them reality.”

So, moving along. The not going to school thing ended up catching up with me. By the time I was 13, my parents decided this wasn’t going so well, and they decided to send me to the U.S. to continue my education. I had an aunt and an uncle in Louisiana, and so this is where I ended up.

Stay tuned for Part II of the Exclusive Ideagen Live “Inside the Boardroom” Presentation by Desney Tan...

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Twitter: @desneytan
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/desney
Webpage: http://www.desneytan.com/

10/28/2016 12:31 pm ET

Ideagen Power 100 Exclusive Interview with the UN Foundation’s Kathy Calvin with Ideagen’s George Sifakis - Part II of the Interview Series

George Sifakis:
Welcome to Ideagen Ideas Leader Radio. Today we have an exclusive interview with one of the 2016 Ideagen Power 100, UN Foundation President and CEO, Kathy Calvin.

Sabrina (Ideagen):
I do really find it interesting that you say Ted Turner’s goal was to be innovative and bold, and so is the UN Foundation. Going off of that what inspired you to join the UN Foundation?

Kathy :
Well, I hadn’t worked in the non-profit sector and when Ted and the former president Tim Wirth invited me to join, I thought, “Wow. What do I know? What could I bring?”

I’m not a foreign policy expert, but in the end what inspired me was that I could see something big was happening in the non-profit sector. It was really becoming the place to be ... lots of innovation, lots of exciting opportunities to engage and make a difference. I thought the UN was the biggest brand around and would be a really interesting place to try to promote the partnership idea which was just becoming an idea at the time, about 15 years ago.

Lastly, I realized that one of my strengths and assets is that I’m pretty good at translating. At AOL I translated the new internet world to non-techies. When I was in politics I translated the candidates views to voters.

I love that I can help translate what the UN does on a daily basis to save lives and keep girls in school and ensure refugees have assistance. Those are very important things to be able to tell people about, so I love that opportunity to help change the world by helping translate what’s going on and coming up with ideas and opportunities for people to be part of it.

Ben (Ideagen): 
Kathy, that’s fantastic. Kind of going off this idea of inspiration and speaking from your experience, you’re not originally a foreign policy expert but you’re able to be part of something interesting or you have a place or partnership coming together.

How does your role within the UN Foundation continue to inspire you as you work towards fostering a more peaceful, prosperous and just world?

I get to work with an incredible range of incredible people from meeting Malala to meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Kofi Annan who was the former Secretary General who is now on our board, to Muhammad Yunus who is the founder of the Grameem Bank, to a 9 year-old girl, Katherine Commale who was one of our champion fundraisers for our Nothing But Nets Campaign to Hollywood stars who have put their energy behind making sure girls stay in school. It’s so exciting to see people take their passion and be able to do something with it, and that we can help connect them to it.

I’ve also been really inspired by some business leaders who broadened their vision of impact to include how they are adding to the development space and they’re not just saying, “Well, we’re doing charity or philanthropy in our communities in a traditional form,” but they’re really leaning in and using their marketing expertise and their market-building expertise and their employees to make a difference in the world, whether it’s through education or water facilities or delivering vaccines. There’s so many interesting ways that the business community has gotten involved. Usually when a business leader makes a case for development, it’s very inspiring.

That’s right, Kathy. I think you hit on something that we’re focused with that idea again which is engaging the business community because they’re playing such an outside role of impact as well, and so they need to be at the table to provide some of the critical solutions to many of the world’s most vexing issues.

On that point, Kathy, what key lessons and vantage points help you to successfully carry out your role?

You called me a tri-sector athlete in the beginning in the intro and I have worked across 3 sectors in government, in business ... well, actually media, and now in the non-profit sector and it’s given me an insight as to how each sector operates and how they can better work together to solve global challenges. Sometimes the sectors don’t even speak the same language, and I think sometimes we just assume the non-profit world has the market cornered on compassion and the business world has the market cornered on efficiency.

In fact, I see those sectors coming much closer together and I think the future will be hybrids ... organizations that we call the fourth sector, but certainly organizations will care about all those issues and the employees that they’ll be attracting, younger people, will certainly hold them accountable for doing that. That’s really exciting and I think is a vantage point that we all have to use as we look forward.

Second, I had a mentor once, a former boss from AOL, Steve Case, who always said, “Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” That’s a really important thing. Over 10 years we have significantly reduced child mortality and changed the future for girls and boys around the world, but it is a marathon and you have to be able to invest and stay with it, bring more people on board and keep working it.

That’s a mantra that I use around here all the time to help people focus on the best way to get things done is, first of all, that old adage from Africa ... “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Obviously we all want to go fast and far, but we’re learning how to do it together in some new and powerful ways.

Third, I think it’s been fascinating to watch the UN change from an institution that only considered it’s genuine partner to be member states of the government. We’re now seeing that the civil society and the private sectors are equally important partners that deserve a place at the table and can be relied on to help really deliver what needs to be done.

10/12/2016 11:09 am ET