In middle of doing that, I realized I needed a networks-based approach. To get access to the really top-level folks, you need somebody to say, "Hey, this guy is okay." Early on, I set up appointments with 100 individuals who then recommended individuals of a much higher stature. For instance, Richard Mouw, who was president of Fuller Seminary at the time, told me I should go see Ralph Winter, who's a very successful Hollywood producer. I never would have gotten to Ralph without first having talked with Rich.
So, the leapfrog method allowed me to jump over a number of different hurdles. But then I modified it slightly once I started having some success reaching people. I no longer needed somebody to help recommend someone. I needed a council of advisors who could help me say, "There are all these CEOs you could go interview, but you really need to go and figure out who's most strategic." So I built a board of advisors to give me some help.
Networks. This is obviously a big reason why people got to the top. But I could see people misconstruing this and thinking, "The way I get to the top is by knowing the right people." It feels like people, then, become instruments of our own ambitions. They have value only because we can use them. How do we avoid this temptation as people of Christian faith?
I'm absolutely persuaded that for evangelicals to have influence, they must be in the room when decisions are made. And I can point to countless examples of how individuals at a particular moment are in the room and are able to change history.
One example is Condoleezza Rice's story. She was in the room when the decision about PEPFAR [President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] was made. Condoleezza Rice was serving as National Security Advisor to George W. Bush. There were two big camps. There was the "compassionate conservative" crowd, which included many evangelicals. Then there was the "neo-conservative" crowd: people like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Condoleezza Rice was one of the few individuals who straddled both of those worlds.
A conversation had been going for about a year that was putting the President's compassionate conservative agenda to the test: What if the US government committed to addressing the AIDS pandemic is sub-Saharan Africa by contributing $15 billion to extend the life of AIDS patients?
The final meeting in the Oval Office involved about 15 core advisers. They turn to Condoleezza Rice. Basically they're asking, "Is this a good use of money?" She tells the story of how her mother, who battled cancer, was able to have her life extended for about 15 years. During that time, Condoleezza Rice went to high school, went to the University of Denver, decided to change her passion from being a concert pianist to being an expert in the Soviet Union, earned a degree from Notre Dame, got a teaching job, and was well on her way at Stanford University. And Rice said, "It changed my life that my mother was able to be involved in those 15 years. If we can do that for an entire continent, and don't do it, it's a moral failure." That one moment swayed human history in a significant way.