02 Jul

Saved for a Purpose


Last fall the Hart Leadership Program hosted a party to celebrate the work of Ambassador James A. Joseph and the publication of his new book, Saved for a Purpose: A Journey from Private Virtues to Public Values.

Ambassador Joseph is Emeritus Professor of the Practice of Public Policy in Sanford School. He came to Duke in 2000, and for many years has been connected to the Hart Leadership Program as Leader-in-Residence. He founded the United States—Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values as a joint venture between Duke and the University of Cape Town. He has served four U.S. Presidents in executive and senior advisory roles. He served as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa from 1996-2000, and was awarded the highest honor a citizen of another country could receive from the Republic of South Africa, the Order of Good Hope.

Hart Leadership Program Director Alma Blount convened the gathering with the following remarks:

“One of the fascinating things about Ambassador Joseph is the way his career has spanned the public, private and independent sectors. He has received so many awards and honorary degrees for his work—it would take an hour to list and describe them. We are not going to do that, though, because we want to give Jim time to read from his book, dialogue with us a bit, and do a book signing.

Amb Joseph book cover

I want to mention, though, that Jim received a new round of prestigious awards just a few weeks ago at commemoration events in Louisiana for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. These awards were for his role as chair of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.

In preparing for this book party, I realized that Jim’s connection with Sanford School goes way back—even earlier than I thought. He told me that Joel recruited him to be on the advisory board for the Institute for Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, back when our institution was based in Old Chem, in the early 1970s.

Jim and I first met when HLP’s Leader-in-Residence Susan King brought him to Duke in the late 1990s. I was already familiar with his work, because I had been using one of his books, Remaking America, in my leadership courses since its publication in 1995.

I remember very well that Susan went after Jim in a major way and was determined to bring lure him to Duke to teach. As I read Saved for a Purpose this weekend, I was delighted to come across a passage where Jim described Susan’s efforts:

‘I had served on the advisory board for the predecessor institution at Duke University that is now the Sanford School of Public Policy, and I was being strongly urged and recruited by Susan King, a friend and Duke trustee, to consider this highly regarded institution as a potential home for both teaching and a continuing engagement with South Africa. Susan was persistent, even sending Duke T-shirts to my two immediate assistants in Pretoria to ensure that they accepted her calls…’

I found Saved for a Purpose to be distinct from Jim’s other books in that it’s a personal story—a memoir—about Jim’s lifelong journey of connecting his personal convictions and ethical principles to the difficult work of changing public institutions and systems, politics and policies. He calls this book his ethical autobiography. There is a warm, storytelling tone to it from the beginning, and in fact it’s a page turner. It’s a powerful story about leadership and what Jim calls “building community by design.”


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