It breaks my heart to share the sad, sad news that Bob Collymore—partner in all things social change, Acumen board member and incredible supporter of our leadership work, teacher, friend—died today in Nairobi, Kenya after a two-year fight with cancer.
Bob was a giant of a man, an energetic force of nature who struck all he met with a sense of the possible. I could see the rarity of his intellect and generous heart the minute I met him while speaking together on a panel at the UN. We started a conversation about the purpose of business, of our responsibility to one another, of the need for moral leadership that continued until this day, and, in fact, will never end.
Bob served the world well. As CEO of Safaricom, Kenya’s most important company, he not only created a formidable economic engine, standing for ethics, and a stakeholder approach to business, one that considered employees, customers and the earth along with shareholders. He believed that Africa’s biggest challenge was a leadership challenge, and via Safaricom Foundation, was one of the greatest supporters of Acumen’s East Africa Fellows program. As in all aspects of his life, when Bob cared about something, he showed up for it. During our 2017 Global Gathering in Naivasha, Kenya, Bob shared deeply personal stories about the costs of corruption and why each of us has a responsibility to root it out of our lives, the cost of rejecting the status quo, the importance of real friends to individuals willing to embrace what Chinua Achebe termed “the sacred trust of leadership.” Though he lived in Nairobi, Bob was fully present at Acumen board meetings, remaining on the phone for hours, listening and contributing, speaking when it mattered most.
When we were first establishing KawiSafi, Acumen’s off-grid energy fund, Bob arranged key stakeholder meetings, including with President Kenyatta, hosted an unforgettable evening with energy leaders and deepened our understanding of the entire energy ecosystem. He believed powerfully in the potential of off-grid energy to serve the poor and, again, put his money where his mouth was, partnering with MKopa and building the first pay-as-you-go model for change.
Bob was a partner, a friend, a true inspiration. He lived life out loud, his feet firmly planted in the rich earth, his head and heart forever expanding. He was constantly reading, learning, and fearlessly innovating. He used all parts of himself as an instrument, for leadership for Bob was never about himself. He came to earth to be of use and, in so many ways, gave a roadmap to the rest of us. In a season when terror attacks in Kenya sowed fears about Muslims, Bob fasted during Ramadan and made a point to speak with young men in communities most affected. He shared his love of music by bringing the Jazz Festival to Kenya; and his love of art by being a great promoter. Though he could have met with anyone on the planet, he maintained a small group of close friends, diverse in race, religion, ethnicity, nationality and class. He deeply loved his wife (the rock of his life) Wambui and all of his children.
Indeed, Bob shared himself in ways we too rarely see in our leaders. In his humanness and beautiful humanity, his life was a testament to the beautiful potential that lies in each of us, and the responsibility we each have to give more to the world than we take from it. Now, it is to all of us who were touched by Bob in ways big and small, to carry forward his ideals, his work, his love for the world. He left us too early and we have big shoes to fill. But maybe if all of us stand in those footprints together, we’ll do justice to a man who tried and who gave with everything he had to give. Rest in peace, friend.