(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK Feb 7 Think of successful people, and
the mind usually defaults to areas of personal achievement. A
Wall Street CEO, maybe, or a hotshot lawyer, or a billionaire
founder of a tech startup.
But what if we defined success in different terms -- say,
having touched the most people's lives in their time of greatest
need? By that standard, the people below might be some of the
most successful people in the history of the planet.
Since last August, Reuters has been talking to prominent
Americans about the first jobs they ever had, and how those
experiences shaped the men and women they are today.
Today we chat with the folks heading up a few of the world's
leading nonprofit organizations -- and find that their
humanitarian impulses often took root at a very early age.
Name: Sophie Delaunay
Title: Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders
First Volunteer Job: Playground building in Egypt
"I was 15 at the time, living in a city called Limoges in
the south of France, and with a group of friends decided to
travel to Egypt and do some volunteer work at the same time. So
we ended up building a playground at a school in Cairo, and also
worked in the slums outside the city.
"Egypt was a place I'd always dreamed of, and read about in
history books. But we went in August, maybe the worst time
possible to go for this kind of assignment. I remember we
started collapsing one after another, because everyone was so
completely dehydrated. Physically it was extremely difficult, so
we weren't very productive.
"Through hardships like that you learn a lot about yourself
and others. It was my first humanitarian experience, and it
taught me that you really have to have the skills and the means
and the capacity to provide meaningful help. It's not enough to
just be charitable."
Name: Dr. Helene Gayle
Title: President and CEO, CARE USA
First Volunteer Job: Helping out at Dad's store
"I worked at my father's store in Buffalo, and I guess you
could call it a volunteer job, because when I started at age 13
I was too young to be paid. He had a barbershop and
beauty-supply store, and after school my siblings and I would
come and work the register and stock the shelves.
"Although it was a business, it was also kind of a community
service, because it was really in the heart of the
African-American community in Buffalo. It was a true meeting
place for people; everybody came in and out of that store.
"That job made me comfortable dealing with a wide range of
people, understanding their motivations and learning to judge
character. It also taught me about honesty and integrity,
because my father trusted us to do everything, including
counting the money.
"He died before I finished medical school, but I think he'd
be proud of where I am now. Not because of position or status,
but because I chose a life that gives back to society. In his
own way and with his own business, he was doing the same thing."
Name: Gail McGovern
Title: President and CEO, American Red Cross
First Volunteer Job: Candy striper
"I was a candy striper at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New
Jersey. when I was 15. They gave us these cute little striped
uniforms, and we would do little errands like deliver flowers or
wheel carts of books around.
"Once they asked me to bring a patient from one location to
another, about the length of five city blocks. He looked about
90, and could only take baby steps, but refused to use a walker
or get in a wheelchair. He was so frail, and could barely talk,
but was so happy to be moving. It took us all morning.
"I remember getting home that day, and literally crawling
into bed and crying. He seemed so alone, and yet comforted me
more than I comforted him. That job lit something up in me: A
desire to help.
"I still get that feeling at the Red Cross, whenever I look
into the eyes of someone who needs help. And after every
disaster, it's the same routine. You have to be resilient and
strong during the day - and then you come home at night and just
Name: Brian Gallagher
Title: CEO, United Way Worldwide
First Volunteer Job: Basketball coach
"When I graduated from college, I was placed as a management
trainee for United Way in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I had
grown up in northwest Indiana, and had never even been to the
South before. But I packed up my '73 Nova and drove to my new
"I knew nobody there, but I joined a church and went to
Sunday mass. In the pews they had put a note about a volunteer
opportunity, asking if anyone wanted to coach a 5th and 6th
grade basketball team at a local Catholic school called St.
Leo's. I signed up and coached that team for three years.
"We ended up winning a number of regional championships.
What I learned from those kids is that fundamentals matter. Be
really good at three or four things, practice them over and over
again, and you're going to win a lot.
"What I remember most about arriving in Winston-Salem is
that I was scared to death, and I was lonely. But that simple
act of saying 'Yes, I will coach this team,' connected me to a
community forever. We shouldn't take stuff like that for
granted. People volunteering to help others is what builds
communities, and makes a great society."
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here
Editing by Lauren Young and Andrew Hay)