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Looking Ahead

December 07, 2015 by Alex Counts

Alex Counts (orange shirt) with Grameen Foundation staff and clients in Uganda in 2012

This is my final full month as an employee of Grameen Foundation, and this will be my last blog post in that capacity. I look forward to serving as the organization’s founder in an active and contributing volunteer capacity, supporting Steve Hollingworth, the newly appointed president and CEO, as well as our remarkable staff team, board and volunteer corps.  

When I announced my transition publicly in May, I did not know who would succeed me but I had full confidence in the process and people that would make that critical decision.  I am pleased to say that my confidence was well-founded. A few days before Steve’s appointment was publicly announced, the chairs of our board and our CEO Search Committee (Bob Eichfeld and Peter Cowhey, respectively) told me who they had tapped. Their notification was one of many thoughtful and respectful gestures extended towards me during this nearly eight month transition.

I was very pleased with their choice. I have known Steve for 20 years, dating from my years living in Bangladesh prior to the establishment of Grameen Foundation. At the time Steve was the Co-Chief Operating Officer of CARE-Bangladesh, at the time the largest mission in the world of one of the largest and most respected humanitarian organizations anywhere. He was in charge of programs, and immediately won the respect of his colleagues with his low-key, cerebral and very practical approach. His gravitas as well as his intuitive feel for what really works at the field level for poor families was recognized and appreciated by everyone.

I remember my first meeting with him. It was first thing in the morning and he was just finishing up a session with his Bengali language tutor. Most expatriates coming through Bangladesh only stay a few years and rarely make an effort to learn this beautiful language. In part this is because many educated Bangladeshis speak English reasonably well (and are always eager to practice so they can improve!). But Steve was the exception, in that and many other ways.

After I left Bangladesh to start Grameen Foundation, we remained in touch and tracked each other’s careers. I was pleased but not surprised when he was appointed Chief Operating Officer of CARE-International. During his tenure he spent extended periods as the acting CEO of an organization more than ten times Grameen Foundation’s size, measured by budget.  

More recently, Steve became the CEO of Freedom from Hunger, an outstanding humanitarian organization working at the intersection of microfinance and health care for the poor, whose work revolves around increasing food security. He and I served as members of the Microfinance CEO Working Group and Steve was one of my peers who elected me Co-Chair of the coalition in early 2014. We worked on many industry-wide issues collaboratively and often saw things the same way, as our two organizations’ philosophies are similar.

Steve brings a wealth of experience in financial services, agriculture and health care for the poor, which are core focus areas of Grameen Foundation. His fluency in Spanish will help open doors and build bridges with our Latin America team and programs. His longstanding relationship with Professor Yunus, dating to his years in Bangladesh, is also an important asset. He called on Dr. Yunus for advice at a critical moment in CARE’s work in South America, demonstrating his consultative leadership style and desire to hear 
diverse voices before making decisions.  

At the same time, the team Steve is inheriting is as strong as it has ever been. The recent awarding of a $1 million grant to our agriculture work in the Philippines through a highly competitive process during a period of leadership uncertainty (as Steve was not yet named) speaks to the strength and reputation of program leaders such as David Edelstein (who has done an outstanding job as Acting CEO since mid-May), Camilla Nestor, Gigi Gatti, Lisa Kienzle, and others.  

I hope that all of you who have supported Grameen Foundation through the years will continue if not increase your involvement in the weeks, months and years ahead. The organization has made an impressive start these past 18 years, but I believe its best days as a poverty-fighting force are in front of it. Our recent commitment to impact the lives of 25 million poor families by 2025 is one dramatic indication of our ambitions and capabilities. Get your seat-belts on for what promises to be an exciting ride down the path to our ultimate destination: a zero-poverty world.