Pamela Hartigan: an appreciation

Gayle Peterson and Pegram Harrison

Pamela Hartigan didn’t have current events in mind when she wrote about the power of unreasonable people. Her book The Power of Unreasonable People: How social entrepreneurs create markets that change the world is certainly not on Trump’s bedside table. But Pamela would have been energized by the challenge of dealing with the populist brand of unreasonableness that is currently holding sway in the world. She relished challenges. And she faced them squarely. And she overcame the most enormous obstacles, so that the world is undoubtedly now a better place.

Pam died in August 2016. Of course, she must have been annoyed about leaving with such new challenges arising, and much unfinished business besides. But also, she must have felt enormous satisfaction that the people and networks and ideas she empowered in her eventful and incredibly productive life are up to the challenge. The legions of appropriately unreasonable people she taught and inspired and unleashed on the world are carrying forward her legacy.

Born into a diplomatic family, she was no diplomat – at least not in the traditional sense. But perhaps living as a child in the shadow of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, or cutting her teeth on community health work in Washington DC in the 1970s and 1980s, or combatting AIDS/HIV in Latin America with the World Health Organization in the turbulent 1990s, she learned how to speak truth to power – particularly corrupt power – without compromise. She described herself as a lifelong bridge-builder. That’s different to diplomacy; it’s more immediate, more pragmatic, and sometimes, somehow, more effective.

When approached by Klaus Schwab to work at the World Economic Forum she said: ‘I would not work for this man if he were the last man on the face of the earth.’ Then she went to work for him – and to work with him moving the forum in new directions.

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