The Harvard Business Review recently interviewed former President of Ireland and former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson and she had some interesting things to say about how to have influence without authority. Some excerpts from the transcript of the interview are found below.
MARY ROBINSON: Part of it was to be close to those who were providing good examples of whatever the activity might have been. Local self-development in areas where I would just go and visit and then use that as an example and talk about it. Reach out in friendship to the two communities in Northern Ireland and use visits there– or visits by representatives of those communities to the official residence– to explain the importance of reconciliation.
I wondered when I was elected president, how I’d fulfill the promise I made that I would try to represent an Ireland that cared about human rights. And when the opportunity came to go first of all to Somalia and later to Rwanda, there was an opportunity on behalf of a small country– Ireland– to speak out on the need to address serious conflicts. The need to stop a genocidal killing. The need then afterwards to care enough to support countries coming out of these traumas.
And now I think I’ve learned in a different way how to try to influence, because I’ve had experience since I ended my term as High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2002 of leading two small organizations. First of all, Realizing Rights out of New York. And now the foundation on climate justice, The Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice in Dublin.
In both cases, the organization itself is very small but with global ambition. And to achieve that you just have to partner well. You have to know where the niche issue is that will point to a whole area that needs to be addressed by those who have the power. And you need the entry points. You need to be innovative. I think you need to think out of the box quite a lot. And I enjoy doing that.