Top American leaders…

In a discussion on the role of leadership in the US, hosted by Washington Post yesterday; Nick Kristoff, NY Times columnist and Dr  Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Laureate in physics discuss leadership and how they got to be leaders themselves . Here are some key points : 

Nick Kristoff : 

_ How did the inner fire awaken ? – I grew up in Oregon is true God’s country, on sheep and cherry farm. My parents were academics and modeled behavior. Then I went to Harvard to study; where my curiosity was piqued and I got onto the fast-track of becoming a Journalist.

–          I think I developed my passion in high school, where the teachers really genuinely cared about the kids

–          It was exciting to be writing for the local newspaper. It was hugely exciting for me to feel empowered. I already had that sense of making change. The sense came to me in high school.

–          First Pulitzer prize from the work for Tiananmen square spurred me to greater visibility and fame

–          Trip to Cambodia, where girls who had been kidnapped, where their virginity was being auctioned changed my perspective of life and how we could intervene to save those poor kids. When you see that, its hard to just walk away from it, and do your work.

–          My work is about making people spill their coffee. We project issues that project on an agenda. It would make a difference that people will hold political leaders feet to fire. I look for those kinds of issues and since I tend to be fairly liberal. Where I take a more conservative view, liberals take notice.

–          On issues like trafficking, only when secular and far-right should work together, can there be real change. Usually, they don’t cooperate as much. President Bush did great work on his work on AIDS and global health. We should salute that.

–          On leadership: Education. We pioneered mass education. We were one fo the first countries to have tertiary education. One of the reasons we are economically prominent. Since 1970s we have stalled, on college attendance etc. Asian countries have surpassed us. I see that passion as a lever for change in Asia and other countries. Our escalators are broken

–          On Arab spring :  Iam troubled by the Salafi’s win. I am less worried about the brotherhood. End of the day, the present system was not sustainable. There are issues like female genital mutilation. The Mubrak regime discouraged it. So, I prefer to be cautious and see how things develop on ground in Egypt.


Dr  Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Laureate in Physics

–          As a boy, we were dreaming, and I had a good scholarship, and was paid a stipend at university; since I was among the top 5 % in  my class.

–          My ambition was to be a university professor at the university in Alexandria. I had the passion for knowledge and this spurred me on.

–          To be honest, I think it is something we are born with. It gets shaped by teachers, parents and environment. But I think most people I know who reach somewhere have something innate in them, to dream a bit more than others, and to have a passion

–          My passion was limited to getting the best knowledge

–          After 1967 war, relation with the US was not good, I received a fellowship at Uni of Pennsylvania. I wanted to go back, but as I said; the American magnet turned on. Then I went to Berkeley, then to Harvard.

–          Caltech gave me a great opportunity, that I couldn’t turn down and I stayed here since then

–          We are beginning to see that the bright sparks are going elsewhere. My students from Taiwan are returning back. I don’t want to mix the two. It is important for the US to have good security, but at the same time, we can’t close the door on best people who are coming here

–          I wanted to impact areas more than just science, hence my efforts

–          If you keep thinking about the Nobel prize, you will not get it. If you just go with it, and develop your own passion and remain focused, you may get it

–          Leadership: People think the US hallmarks are coke, Hollywood; but the real thing that others admire in the US is education. President Obama has sought to use science in diplomacy and in foreign policy

–          On Arab spring  : I have an op-ed in LA times today about this issue, and I am optimistic. The media is not seeing it this way. Since Pharaoh’s time, Egypt has had an autocratic leader. It is only now that the president’s time is  limited to 4 yrs . This in itself is a big change. I am not as concerned about the Islamists. We have extreme right groups here in the US too. If you can have a truly democratic system, you cant change the country.  With more than 60% of the country have gone to vote, then they have made their voices heard. Majority of them are clean. If they don’t perform, people will get them out.