Putting Knowledge into Action: Rajiv Shah

Rajiv-Shah-521x480It was a whirlwind few months. Dr. Rajiv Shah, M’02, GrW’05, was confirmed as Under Secretary of Agriculture in May 12, 2009, only to be then confirmed as head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Dec. 24. Days later, he was managing the American response to the Haiti earthquake. Since then, he has managed the response to one global crisis after another, while transforming the $22 billion, 10,000-employee global development arm of the U.S. government. Applying his Wharton knowledge, medical background and experience at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he has leveraged public-private partnerships with aims of improving diplomacy, reforming global agriculture and ending hunger, among other “modest” goals.

WHARTON MAGAZINE: You’ve been called a “wunderkind with dizzying brainpower.” How do you view yourself?

RAJ SHAH: Well, thank you. And that’s very nice, but maybe a little bit much. I believe that for America to be the world’s greatest superpower 20, 30 years from now, we need to help big parts of the world in Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere to fully realize their potential. In order to achieve that vision at a time when fiscal constraints are very challenging, and at a time when Americans sometimes have less faith in our government to deliver that kind of a vision, we’ve had to be bold and aggressive in putting in place a set of business-like reforms that just change the way we work.

WM: Which personal qualities have made this success possible?

SHAH: I have some unique experiences from working at the Gates Foundation and from being a Wharton grad, and from focusing on the interface between the public and private sector to try to build those kinds of partnerships. But the reality is that’s not enough, that what we’re trying to do here, or are in the process of doing, is transforming the culture and operations of a major $22 billion-a-year federal agency.

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