I spent 2019 marketing my book about the 1998 al Qaeda terrorist attacks, Terrorism, Betrayal and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings. I also participated in interviews and discussions commemorating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This experience convinced me that we need more innovative approaches to human security and transnational threats, like terrorism, genocide and pandemics.
As a Foreign Service officer I represented and protected our nation through diplomatic means. I found that so-called “soft” power, along with international indifference, did not stop the slaughter of 800,000 people in central Africa. Two decades of “hard” power wars have not deterred terrorists.
Then came COVID-19, a pandemic that bleakly underscores the difference between our security as humans and the security of our nation. I considered the positive results of S.M.A.R.T. thinking in the past and started to collect examples to support a shift in how we evaluate historical events and analyze contemporary challenges. Here are ways a person, a government, and a global community of professionals have acted and are acting S.M.A.R.T.
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott – 1955
Context: Racial segregation policies in the South required African Americans to live as second-class citizens.
STRATEGIC: Change the policy of racial segregation on public transit systems in Montgomery, AL
MORAL: Assertion of political rights through a non-violent act of civil disobedience
ACHIEVABLE: In the wake of Parks’ arrest, members of the Women’s Political Council mimeographed over 35,000 handbills announcing a bus boycott. It rained on the first day. The 40,000 black commuters found other means of transport, some walking as far as 20 miles.
RESILIENT: African American residents of Montgomery continued the boycott for 381 days until the city repealed its law requiring segregation on public buses
TRANSFORMATIVE: The Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses and transportation was against the law in the US. Parks’ actions became a model for future civil rights activists around the world.
The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – 2003
Context: The global spread of HIV/AIDS was on the increase while treatment, and prevention remained sporadic.
STRATEGIC: Reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic in African and other countries through prevention, treatment and care.
MORAL: Aimed at improving the health and well-being of millions of people in over 50 countries
ACHIEVABLE: Through 2017, the United States had spent more than $70 billion in partnership with civil society, other governments, private and faith-based groups to dramatically reduce the spread of HIV and increase the treatment of people with AIDS.
RESILIENT: As of 2017, over 85.5 million people had been tested, 21.7 million people supported, and 13.3 million people treated, including 1 million children. Further support is required.
TRANSFORMATIVE: A whole-of-government initiative in human security saved the lives of millions and could have served as a model for other pandemics.
Women’s Mass Action for Peace in Liberia – 2003
Context: Fourteen years of civil war had destroyed the lives of countless women of all ethnic groups
STRATEGIC: End the second Liberian civil war
MORAL: Non-violent protest to say “no” to violence and “yes” to peace.
ACHIEVABLE: Through a mass action campaign of prayer and song in the fish market, Muslim and Christian women forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor and extracted a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana to negotiate with the rebels.
RESILIENT: Women would not disband when peace talks began in Ghana. Two hundred showed up. As violence again ignited in Liberia, they blocked all the doors and windows to the conference room, preventing anyone from leaving without a resolution. In 2011, Leymah Gbowee, one of the leaders of the movemeent, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemen-native Tawakkol Karman.
TRANSFORMATIVE: The civil war ended. Charles Taylor was convicted of crimes against humanity. The women went on to campaign for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president, who brought peace and a democratic transition.
S.M.A.R.T. innovations, however strategic and moral, ultimately depend on people and commitment, for success.
- What other commonalities do you find among these examples?
- What do these efforts say about leadership?
- If you were to apply a S.M.A.R.T. approach, what would you want to transform? Why?
Submit your example of S.M.A.R.T actions
If you have an example of S.M.A.R.T. actions, please send it to me using the form on this page.