Binta Brown (Young Leader 2012)
Senior Fellow at Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School of Government
What do you like most about Switzerland?
Do you mean "Sweden"? Just kidding. Where to begin. My favorite thing about Switzerland would have to be the people and the extraordinary friends I've made upon each visit to the country. I'm impressed by the precision, committment to excellence, and hard work, but also that the Swiss appear to be quite good at moving past an issue once there has been resolution. I also enjoy the orderliness of Swiss life and culture.
What do you like most about the USA?
It is home! Notwithstanding the inability of our current leadership to die to self and focus on solving our pressing problems, even when things are as troublesome and complicated as they most recently have been, I'm impressed by the constant drumbeat in pursuit of progress, to fulfill the aspiration of the American dream and promise.....that there is a staunch refusal to give up. I also love living in a culture that for the most part still fosters and supports innovation, creativity, and enables out of the box thinking (even if it is rarely employed in Washington these days). And it is laudable, that though we make many mistakes, we continue to try, to improve....I hope we don't lose what defines us fundamentally as Americans, and that as we confront current challenges, we can remember who we are.
What defines your leadership style?
I don't know, really. It really depends on the circumstance and what is needed (though honestly, I'm not really sure I have any style). So I guess I would say flexible and adaptable. I am a great believer in working collaboratively, digging in with the team, and finding common ground. And I hope that I am a good listener, and inspiring, particularly to those who for whatever reason choose to look up to me.
Who inspires you?
So many people. I'm inspired by my parents and grandparents, first and foremost. Then by my mentor Ann Fudge, by Steve Jobs, Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the Freedom Fighters. I also draw great inspiration from great legal minds such as the late Robert Joffe, Samuel Butler, as well as contemporary women like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and others. If you ask me tomorrow, I'm likely to give you a different list. Oh, I cannot forget Oprah. How can I forget Oprah?
What is your greatest achievement?
I do not know--I hope it is coming. But I'm reluctant to count anything in my life so far as a "greatest achievement" since (a) I still think of myself as relatively young and with plenty ahead of me and (b) if I start counting past successes, as temporary and fleeting as some of them have been as "great achievements", then why keep working if I've already done my greatest work? No, from my perspective there is still so much work to do, so many lives to positively affect....I'm very far from having achieved my greatest achievement.
Do you have any weaknesses?
I am fairly certain that we all have weaknesses. I have many. I'll note, you only asked whether I have any, so I'll refrain, for now, from sharing what they might be.
Where do you live?
These days it seems in an airport lounge. But my apartment is in New York.
What is your favorite place in the world?
My favorite place in the world is where ever I am with my family and dearest friends. Or was I supposed to say "Switzerland"?
What is the best book you ever read?
The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami and Roots by Alex Haley remain two of my favorite books.
What is your goal in life?
To do great work. To help others to unlock and fulfill their potential. To help the world to prosper. To be happy.
About Binta Brown
Binta Niambi Brown is a corporate lawyer, startup advisor, human rights advocate and bass player. A lifelong student of the Internet, Binta began basic computer programming courses when she was ten years old (in the 80s, before it was cool for girls OR boys), had her computers talking to other computers outside her home by the time she was twelve, and still infatuated, Binta wrote her senior thesis at Barnard College about the Internet in 1995, relying extensively on data and analysis derived from the World Wide Web and other Internet sources. She wrote specifically about the impact the Internet would have prospectively on commerce, communications, business, and policy making. Binta was right.
After working for a technology start-up, Binta headed to Columbia Law School and then as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore worked exclusively on technology and internet IPOs and telecom transactions through 2002, when the first dot com bubble burst wide open.
Subsequent to that, Binta began advising senior management and corporate boards of media, technology, telecom and entertainment companies on corporate governance matters, and was a partner in Kirkland & Ellis LLP, before deciding to take a break this past summer to focus on a human rights project overseas and research at Harvard. She is researching the intersection between business and human rights as a Mossavar-Rahmani Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School (Harvard University), continuing to advise about 12 different early stage technology companies, and continuing to advocate on behalf of women and girls at the bottom, and the top of the proverbial pyramid.
A Truman National Security Fellow, Binta sits on a handful of boards including: Barnard College, Columbia University; Human Rights First, the American Theatre Wing (founder of the Tony Awards (c)) (where she is also a certified Tony voter), the New York City Parks Foundation, and the Harvard Women's Leadership Board. Binta sits on advisory boards to National Public Radio (Generation Listen) and the Somaly Mam Foundation, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Binta has been recognized as one of the Root's 100 Most Influential African-Americans, Fortune Magazine's 40 under 40 business leaders, JET Magazine's 40 under 40, Crain's New York 40 under 40, by the National Organization for Women as a Woman of Power and Influence, and by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. She is a 2013 winner of the CUP Catalyst Change Agent award, and has been featured in Real Simple magazine on mentorship, and on CNN.