Greg Carr’s Big Gamble

In a watershed experiment, the Boston entrepreneur is putting $40 million of his own money into a splendid but ravaged park in Mozambique

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 4)

As the company grew, Carr kept coming up with ideas to capitalize on opportunities, says Paul DeLacey, who was 46 when Carr, then 28, hired him to provide some executive experience. "The term 'consummate optimist' comes to mind," DeLacey says. Carr's rapid-fire ideas were crucial to the company's success, DeLacey says, but they also drove people crazy. Once, he says, "I picked up a voice mail from Greg, and it started with him saying, 'I have an idea.' Now, let's say it's May. I don't know whether it was my mood, or if it was just a hard week, but I just pushed 'Reply' and shouted: 'Greg, I'm still working on February's idea!'"

By the mid-1990s, Carr had moved away from day-to-day involvement with Boston Technology to serve as its chairman; he had also become chairman of Prodigy, an early Internet service provider. By the end of the decade, his personal net worth exceeded $200 million. But Carr says he still saw himself as a student of history and public policy.

He thought about marriage, he says, but figured that was something he could do later—a position he still takes. What he really wanted, he says, were two things: intellectual stimulation and adventure. So in 1998, he resigned from every one of his for-profit positions. He wanted, he says, to turn his attention back to issues that had engaged him before he made his millions—in particular, human rights.

In 1999, he created the Carr Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the environment, the arts and human rights. After an Idaho court awarded the headquarters of the Aryan Nations to a woman and her son attacked by the neo-Nazi organization, Carr bought the property from the woman and donated it to North Idaho College, which turned it into a peace park. He started the Market Theater in Harvard Square, a venture he says was in the Greek tradition of using theater to explore humanity. He helped create the Museum of Idaho, focused on the state's natural and cultural history, and the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise. He started a radio station in Afghanistan. He donated $18 million to Harvard, which used it to establish the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

"He is a very, very passionate man in what he believes in," says Marilyn Shuler, the former director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission. "He believes to his core in justice."

For most of these projects, say people who worked with him, Carr's style was to provide funding, hire people he trusted and step back. But as he grew more interested in Southern Africa, with its high rates of disease and poverty, he wanted to get more personally involved. In 2000, a mutual friend introduced Carr to Carlos dos Santos, the Mozambican ambassador to the United Nations, who was then trying to interest American investors in his country.

Mozambique, which is shaped like a mirror image of California but almost twice as big, is one of the poorest nations on earth. Its per capita income is about $310, according to the World Bank. Its average life expectancy is barely 40. HIV is rampant—in some regions 18 to 27 percent of the population is infected—and the infrastructure is rudimentary.

But Mozambique is also breathtakingly beautiful. There are 1,500 miles of white sand coastline, rain forests dripping with orchids, and vast savannas. Despite its poverty, Mozambique reaps praise—from the U.S. State Department, among others—for its democratic government (the president and the 250-member legislature are chosen by popular vote) and consistent economic growth.

Carr first visited the country in 2002. By late 2003, he was holding intense conversations with Mozambican officials and aid professionals in the United States. "The basic question was, What can Mozambique do to build its economy?" Carr recalls. "What could Mozambique do that would create a multibillion-dollar industry? And how do they compete with the other nations of the world?"

The answer, he came to believe, was tourism.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus