Jean Henri Dunant arrived in Solferino, Italy, on a business trip in 1859 and found himself in the middle of hell. About 38,000 soldiers lay dead and dying, casualties of a battle to push Austria out of Italy.
Stunned and horrified that only a handful of doctors were available to treat the wounded, Dunant rounded up local residents to help. He bought bandages and food with his own money, chucked his business plans and and spent eight days organizing volunteers.
That moment inspired Dunant to launch the International Red Cross. The Geneva Conventions—universal rules on how to treat the wounded and prisoners of war—also came out of his work.
Here’s how it happened:
He had a new idea. Organize volunteers to help the wounded in wartime who would remain neutral.
He refused to let it go. Not satisfied with his own small actions in the face of catastrophe, Dunant decided to fix the larger problem.
He went public. Using his social and business network, he launched a 19th century version of a media blitz, writing and publishing a book, then traveling around Europe to salons, parties, courts and booksellers on a self-funded tour.
He remained humble. Dunant founded the International Red Cross in 1863. When his country, Switzerland, sent four delegates to help set it up the next year, he wasn’t included. Instead, Dunant was asked to head the entertainment committee.
In 1901, he became one of the first two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lesson: Ignore petty behavior to accomplish your mission.
— Adapted from “His Compassion Changed Thousands of Lives,” James Detar, Investor’s Business Daily.