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What Business Leaders Bring to Tough Social Challenges

How to translate private-sector experience to social impact

After five years running everything from procurement to distribution to licensing in the UK arm of Nando’s, a South African fast-food chain with more than 1,200 locations in 30 countries, South Africa-born Gary Campbell thought he knew the business of large-scale food delivery inside and out. But in 2007, when he and former Nando’s colleague Charles Luyckx launched a nonprofit called FUEL Trust to help fix South Africa’s failing school feeding program (in one province, 5,000 schools had received no food for three months), the pair quickly became, as he puts it, “quite unstuck.”

They soon realized that FUEL’s top-down plan—to work with a handful of people to influence providers and procurement systems—would not succeed in a system of 20,000 schools in nine provinces. Instead, the colleagues turned their plan on its head: they implemented a change management strategy by working with the 500 government employees tasked with holding schools accountable for serving nutritious on-time meals every day. The approach paid off: In 2009, just 55 percent of primary schools in South Africa’s North West Province were serving a nutritious meal before the 10 a.m. target. By 2016, that figure had risen to 82 percent.

"As with many leaders with a business background, they learned that social sector work calls for agility and willingness to adapt,” said Aprile Age, executive director of the McNulty Foundation, which recognizes and supports breakthrough leaders who have turned private sector talents and resources toward tackling tough global problems.

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