WHO IS DEIRDRE WHITE?
“We don’t talk about development within the organization. We want to avoid the idea that development is about doing something to someone, whereas we talk about ‘purposeful engagement,‘ which is about doing something with someone, about equal and mutual benefit.“
How do you define “international development?” CEO of Pyxera Global, Deirdre White, and her team try to avoid the term. According to Deirdre, “purposeful global engagement” is a more accurate description of their work.
She continues, “development is about doing something to someone. We talk about purposeful global engagement. It’s about doing something with someone… We prefer terms that are based on an equal relationship with players at the table.”
For close to a quarter century, Pyxera Gobal has been working to enrich lives and build capacities of small and medium enterprises around the world. In conjunction with this mission, Deirdre emphasizes the importance of public, private, social sector partnerships. “Everything that we do is through public, private, social sector partnerships. And we really believe that to effect real change throughout the world, that the only way we are going to be able to do this is through cross sector partnerships.”
Deirdre remarked that it was her degrees in Russian language and Soviet studies that helped her acquire early career roles. “I loved languages… My only skill at the time to contribute to the field was language. I did not have the development background, the enterprise background, or any of the things I ended up working on.”
Similar to Linda Raftree’s sentiments about growing the size of Kurante, Deirdre and her team are comfortable with the existing size of Pyxera Global. Instead of focusing on this aspect, they are beginning to narrow down the types of partnerships they seek, and focus on specific areas where they can contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Deirdre White is a globally recognized leader in building tri-sector partnerships to address the world’s most pressing challenges. As CEO of PYXERA Global she has led the transformation of the organization to one that maximizes impact through strong and strategic partnerships through cutting edge programming like Global Pro Bono, Local Content Development, and Integrated Community Development.
Deirdre’s expertise spans private, public and social sector experiences. Her social sector tenure at PYXERA Global is complemented by early career roles at the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and American Councils. She has also served on the Boards of Directors of the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) and the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy (now a signature initiative of PYXERA Global.) Prior to joining PYXERA Global in 2002, Deirdre was a Senior Manager in the Public Sector Practice at Arthur D. Little, Inc., leading projects focused on strategy and organization for the US Agency for International Development, the US Trade and Development Agency, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, along with numerous government agencies across Eurasia.
Deirdre began her career in the private sector, working with Welt International, a niche consulting firm engaged in non-conventional means (barter and countertrade) of financing international trade ventures. She later expanded her private sector experience as a Senior Manager in Arthur D. Little’s Moscow office, leading post-privatization restructuring efforts for large manufacturing enterprises in Russia and Ukraine. She also served as an organizational development advisor to several of the Eurasian oil and gas sector’s largest firms.
You can connect with Deirdre here:
IN TOR 075 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What it’s like to head one of the largest public-private sector partnership organizations, and the unique opportunities and resources corporations can bring to the development field.
- The challenges of coordinating development action, and why not everything is better with powerful partners.
- Why Deirdre is optimistic about the future of partnerships with private organizations in the development field.
- The importance of language according to Deirdre, why and how it is important to deal with some of the unfortunate connotations of the word ‘development.’
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Pyxera (formerly Citizens Democracy Corps)
- John Deere & Co.
- Fortune, The 500 list
- Public-private sector partnerships
- Capacity building
- Cross-cultural relationships
- Leadership development
- Performance of the international development sector
- UN Sustainable development goals
- Washington, DC
- Moscow, Russia (former Soviet Union)
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Deirdre, Pyxera CEO 5 years
30 years along, previous role: VP of new business development.
’90 originally Citizens Democracy Corps. Several name changes.
All about enriching lives. Capacity building, through public-private sector partnerships.
In India, John Deere Co.: integrated development community program around agricultural livelihood, an academy, infrastructure consulting, government interactions.
Tries to touch field whenever she can.
Goal: revolutionize cross-sector partnerships.
Whenever there is an audience open to participate, Deirdre will speak there.
Partnerships have been the key to Pyxera’s 5-fold growth. Private mindset has evolved rapidly as of late, met with Pyxera’s track record.
Focus on having people who bridge both sectors, another key to success.
“I stumbled my way into it.” Majored in Russian and soviet studies.
Native to DC, worked in Moscow, soviet time. No development background.
Over 15 Fortune 500s participate in global pro bono programs for their top talent.
IBM sends their people to work on NGO business challenges.
Merck, Pepsico, Fedex, Pfizer. For them it’s about leadership development of their staff and the markets of tomorrow.
It brings resources that otherwise would never reach places.
Behavioral change. She sees small success, but a lot of investment is done to tracking 25 years of recording work.
5 years explosive growth. “How much bigger do we want to be?” Answer: not that much bigger. The future depends on narrowing down.
Sustainable development goals are troubling, as they are too vague, hard to align around them. Upcoming debate at UN.
Funding went from 100% USAID to 90% private.
People who stayed approach work differently. International development has not been a successful sector.
Whether Pyxera is an outcast in DC
It is controversial. People want to know how they did it, which they are happy to talk about. But some have issues about the closeness to the private sector. “To take a paycheck from the private sector, to walk down the street together and co-create something in a very public way, is not necessarily comfortable in this world yet. We’re working to make it more comfortable.“
The private sector moves much faster, but they should not be deciding alone about how development should be made. NGOs must match them.
Infrastructure work. A well had been built with oversight of local women, the private partner felt it was not up to their standards, even though it was safely built. They wanted to destroy and rebuild with their own people, Deirdre had to put her feet down. Besides the waste, it would send the wrong message about capacity building.
NGOs must be ready to walk away from a partnership if it compromises their vision, despite the usual financial strains. “We need to be emphatic on what is needed over what the partner wants.“
Meet everyone you can, what they do, find what excites you the most.
If you are in this career path you must not view it as just a job.
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