A new global challenge for Xerox’s Mulcahy

You wouldn’t think that Anne Mulcahy has time to trek to Central America–yes, Haiti is on her calendar, but this year she has already flown south to help children in poverty. Having served as chairman and CEO of Xerox for most of the past decade–and turning the company around from near-bankruptcy–Mulcahy, 57, is now Xerox’s chairman (with Ursula Burns, her former president, as CEO). Obviously more energetic than most retiring CEOs, Mulcahy is serving on the boards of four corporate giants–Citigroup , Target , Johnson & Johnson and the Washington Post Company –plus Xerox. I ran into Mulcahy in December at the Yale CEO Summit, and she mentioned that she was heading to Latin America for Save the Children–another new board gig. I asked her if she would write about her trip. She agreed, readily. As soon as she returned in early January, she hand-wrote this Guest Post.

by Anne M. Mulcahy, Chairman, Xerox

Transitioning from CEO to chairman of Xerox has been full of challenges.  One of the more exciting has been taking on my new role as board chair for Save the Children.

I don’t start officially until March 1, but I’m already committed. And fully engaged. How could I not be after a trip I took in early January? The place I visited was a just a four-hour plane ride away. Yet I witnessed conditions that I would have associated with the most devastated and remote areas of Africa and Asia.

I went to Guatemala. Visiting Save the Children’s operations there turned commitment into passion.

Bear in mind, as CEO of Xerox, I traveled extensively throughout the world. But I have never had this type of experience in my 34 years of corporate life.  Corporate air travel, recommended hotels, business dinners–not!

The field trip included two days of visits to the highlands of Guatemala. The journey itself is challenging: six to eight hours to travel 130 miles. These mountain Mayan communities are incredibly diverse–different languages and traditions by region–making the job of serving the disenfranchised population in this impoverished Central American country incredibly challenging.

Food security, as I learned, is a critical focus. A recent drought has exacerbated an economy already challenged with chronic malnutrition. In one location we visited, Save the Children supports a farm system that’s providing nutritional food that alters the future for these families. I literally could see the difference in the health of these children, thanks to Save the Children’s work there. It really was an emotional visit.

Basic aid doesn’t work. It’s all about sustainable change. Save the Children has a network of people who provide life-saving food supplements–and more importantly, nutritional education and alternate farming methods to create a sustainable solution to chronic malnutrition.

Meanwhile, Save the Children trains local health workers to provide antibiotics and treatments for pneumonia and diarrhea–which account for most deaths of children under five.

In one remote area that we visited, we met a mother who was being trained on newborn health and nutrition. The community volunteer who does the training has to slide down mud trails to reach the mother and her infant. We slid down too, holding onto a barbed-wire fence. Needless to say, it was physically challenging.

My first-hand experience left an impression that I could never get through research and reading. My goal was to “feel” the work of Save the Children. Mission Accomplished!

But not complete. I now see, more clearly than ever, that Save the Children has such talented and committed people. What they need are resources. If you’d like to help, visit savethechildren.org, and please give. By the way, I’ll be going to Haiti for Save the Children. Everything else pales in comparison.

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