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Nancy M. Barry, president of Women's World Banking, believes there's 'more power in being able to see people around the world as having more in common than not'

Nancy M. Barry inspires audience at presentation

5/1/2004 - Nancy M. Barry’s acceptance speech as recipient of the 2004 Kellogg School Award for Distinguished Leadership felt more like an uplifting sermon. Her predominantly student audience at the award presentation, held recently at the James L. Allen Center, seemed more like a congregation. They listened with rapt attention as Barry, the president of Women’s World Banking (WWB), fervently imparted her recipe for what makes a successful leader.

The most important ingredient, she said, is “connection with a power greater than ourselves to build a spiritual core in a world of uncertainty.” Next is taking the time to “figure out ‘what is my passion?’ and ‘why were we put on this Earth?’” Last but not least, particularly in Barry’s case, is connecting with one another and realizing there’s “more power in being able to see people around the world as having more in common than not.”

Barry constantly keeps that belief in mind at the not-for-profit Women’s World Banking, where she has been president since 1990 and a member of its board of trustees since 1981.

Having created a global community through Women’s World Banking, Barry “defines the culture of the Kellogg School, its sense of community and its nonprofit endeavors,” Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain told the audience. He added that she is an ideal person to receive the school’s third-annual Award for Distinguished Leadership.

Given by the Kellogg School’s student-run Business Leadership Club (BLC) in honor of Kellogg School Dean Emeritus Donald P. Jacobs, the award reinforces the importance of leadership at Kellogg, honor a person who embodies the spirit and ideals of the school and build relationships between Kellogg and leaders of business and society. Previous award recipients are James V. Kimsey, founding CEO of America Online, and John W. Bachmann, managing partner, Edward Jones.

Barry shares this year’s award, sponsored by McKinsey & Co., with Warren E. Buffett, the renowned CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., who will be honored at a later date.

Describing herself as a “leader of leaders,” Barry expanded the scope of Women’s World Banking so that today it boasts a network of 55 microfinance institutions and banks dedicated to helping low-income women entrepreneurs operate businesses. When women succeed in their own business it improves the well-being of their families as well as that of their community, their country and the world, Barry said. Currently WWB offers financial services to more than 15 million low-income women (and men) in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Before coming to Women’s World Banking, Barry spent 15 years at World Bank, where she pioneered that institution’s involvement in small enterprises in Asia, Latin American and Africa. It taught her what works best for financial institutions who fund micro-entrepreneurs--leadership that empowers locally owned financial institutions to help those in need--and what doesn’t--“command and control centered in one place.” Forthright and savvy, Barry has attracted a respected board of trustees that includes Stanly Fischer, vice chair of Citigroup.

Still as excited about the future of Women’s World Banking as when she first got involved, Barry encouraged students in the audience to “start now in following your passion and using your skills to change the way the world works. Don’t wait until you have a mortgage and three kids.”

To prove her point, Barry recalled that when alumni at her 25th reunion at Harvard Business School were asked what they wanted to do with their next 20 years—the same question she said they were asked when they applied to the school—she heard a “tragic set of answers.” Some said they wanted to play a lot of golf. Others said they wanted to “find meaning and purpose in their life.”

Addressing the Kellogg crowd, Barry said, “I pray you won’t wait 50 years to figure that out.”