It took Kofi Atta Annan (1938-) almost 40 years to work his way up the United Nations ladder, beginning as an administrative and budget officer in 1962 and rising to the top rung as Secretary-General in 1997, the first black African elected to the position.
"Man doesn't know what he is capable of until he is asked," said Annan who has dedicated his life to the community of nations and is known for his compassion and straightforward honesty.
Born in Kumasi, central Ghana, Annan was the U.N.'s seventh leader. He and the U.N. were recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to achieve peace and security in the world.
"Humanity is indivisible," he said. An innovator known for calm political acumen, he revitalized the U.N. by streamlining bureaucracy and creating better lines of authority with more accountability.
"Never walk into an environment and assume that you understand it better than the natives," he said. "You have to listen and look around. Otherwise you can make some very serious mistakes."
As the world's top diplomat from 1997-2006, he gathered praise for focusing attention on poverty, human rights, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which he called a "personal priority."
His Kofi Annan Foundation, founded in 2007, promotes global sustainable development, peace, and security. He said that through leadership, partnership, and vision, positive change is possible.
"You should never underestimate the power of prayer," he said.
The greatest power is education.