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Robert Barrow was a U.S. Marine for 41 years, serving in the Second World War and the Korean and Vietnam wars. While he received awards for heroism in combat, his most significant achievements came later, when he overhauled the service’s often brutal training regimen. Appointed to lead the Marines in 1979, he was an individual with vast experience in not only accomplishing difficult tasks but also teaching others to do the same. Late in his career, Barrow gave an interview on the merits of a pending arms treaty. “Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics,” he observed. “Professionals talk about logistics and sustainability.”

Barrow had led troops into deadly confrontations and reformed a sprawling organization that was resistant to change. Those experiences led to this insight: It’s easy to craft a brilliant-sounding plan. Real leadership is demonstrated through the execution.

Barrow’s observation—often truncated or misattributed—has been reprinted many times on motivational posters and repeated by management consultants. It came to mind recently when, skimming through LinkedIn, I noticed the large number of my connections who describe themselves as a “strategist” of some sort (logisticians were much harder to find). Strategic plans, reviews and pivots are all very beguiling. The tricky task of implementation rarely is.

This was a top consideration in assembling our inaugural list of changemakers, which you’ll find in this issue. Given the unrelenting bad news of the past year, it felt valuable to honour emerging leaders who are working to create an economy that’s more sustainable, inclusive and innovative. Our call for nominations yielded hundreds of names. Each nominee was evaluated on not just their ambitions but also their accomplishments and, perhaps most importantly, their impact within their industries and communities. Our research team interviewed each candidate and contacted mentors, colleagues or other references. The result is a list of 50 individuals who are in the early stages of their careers but already making a real difference in the world.

There is a fable about a group of mice terrorized by a cat. After years of hardship, the rodents gather together to find a solution. Following considerable debate, a young mouse declares: “All we have to do is hang a bell from around the cat’s neck!” The animals erupt in celebration, until an old mouse poses a question: “Who will put the bell on the cat?” The moral of that story, according to a century-old children’s book: “It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.”

Our changemakers haven’t just said something needs to be done about climate change, gender equity or reconciliation. They’re doing it.

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