Big Bets/

Big Bets Book

How Large Scale Change Really Happens
book by Dr. Rajiv J. Shah

About the Book

On October 10th 2023, Rajiv Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, published a new book with stories—from his own career, the 110-year history of the Foundation, and leaders as well as unsung heroes around the world—that reveal it is realistic to be optimistic about our capacity to make large-scale change.

Such a bold assertion might surprise people. In the face of climate change and other crises, distrust and cynicism are leading too many to aim too low. Our institutions, including governments and businesses, are also scrambling to keep up with today’s challenges, which feel so big and complicated.

Shah wrote Big Bets: How Large-Scale Change Really Happens to share stories that can help leaders everywhere, and at every level, reimagine what’s possible.

Working with a broad coalitions and dedicated teams at The Rockefeller Foundation and elsewhere, Shah has helped vaccinate nearly a billion children, lead high-pressure responses to the Haiti earthquake and against Ebola, dramatically expanded American Covid-19 testing at the height of the pandemic, and began connecting a billion people to electricity for the first time.

A playbook for transformational change

group of young girls playing soccer in front of a solar grid

With these stories and more, the book reveals the power of the big bet mindset: a belief that seeking to solve problems boldly, rather than settle for incremental improvements, will attract partners with the capacity to achieve transformational change. And Big Bets shares lessons learned in success and failure for those seeking to change their community or the wider world, including:

  • Be an optimist. Don’t get caught up in today’s cynicism.
  • Think bigger. Focus on what it takes to boldly solve problems.
  • Find fresh, innovative solutions, even ones that are risky.
  • Recruit and retain unlikely partners.
  • Fiercely measure results, learn, and persist.

Published by Simon Element, the book will be available everywhere on October 10, 2023. The proceeds from Big Bets will go to The Rockefeller Foundation and contribute to its ongoing work to support big bets for humanity—and those who will lead them.

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Book Tour Events

Join the author of the book Big Bets: How Large Scale Change Really Happens Dr. Rajiv J. Shah at an event near you or select virtual events.


Big Bet Community

Are you passionate about combating climate change and eager to be a part of a dynamic community of emerging leaders working on bold solutions? We are building a Big Bets community tailored just for you. Join our community today and get access to resources and support to develop your big bet. You will also have a chance to receive a copy of the Big Bets book.

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Praise for Big Bets

“I have seen Raj lead big change firsthand—in Haiti, on hunger, and much more—with a unique combination of positivity and perseverance. Big Bets reminds us of the most difficult challenges we’ve overcome in the twenty-first century and gives us new inspiration for what lies ahead.”

—Hillary Rodham Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator

“Raj Shah has written a practical guide to making the world a better place. He knows what he’s talking about because he’s done it himself. Anyone who wants to make a change in the world, or their own lives, will benefit from this book.”

—Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“Dr. Raj Shah draws on a lifetime spent pushing boundaries in global development to deliver a captivating reflection on the power of ingenuity, innovation, and collaboration. This must-read book breaks down large-scale problems into actionable steps that we must all take to heart—because if we truly seek to make an impact in our communities, it will be one small but bold action at a time…adding up to form the big bets that will change the world.”

—José Andrés, chef and founder of World Central Kitchen

“Raj Shah is a remarkable and visionary leader who relentlessly drives change with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. Optimistic and ambitious, Big Bets shows us the heart of his unique philosophy and provides real proof that the big problems facing us today can be solved—if we’re willing to charge fearlessly forward.”

—Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), author of To Risk It All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision and Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans

“I wish Big Bets had existed when I was a young entrepreneur. It shows what’s possible when people come together for the good of humanity and have the courage to take concrete steps, together making ‘big bets’ on solutions that lead toward a more equitably prosperous, peaceful, and healthy world. An awesome, inspiring read.”

—Strive Masiyiwa, African technology entrepreneur and philanthropist

“For more than a decade, I’ve worked with Rajiv Shah to help the Congolese people recover from the ravages of war. Simply put, Raj is one of the smartest, most optimistic people I’ve ever met. In Big Bets, you’ll find the tools you need to take on some of our biggest, most difficult challenges.”

—Ben Affleck, director, actor, and cofounder of the Eastern Congo Initiative

Big Bets provides fascinating insight into Raj’s visionary style of leadership and decision-making and should be mandatory reading for change makers. Big Bets is refreshing at a time when positive change too often feels held back by cautious improvements or acceptance of the status quo. Leaders and decision-makers—whether of a country or a community—should take inspiration to make the big bets today to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.”

—Tony Blair, former U.K. Prime Minister

“By extension, Raj Shah’s Big Bets can be instructive far beyond its headline aspiration. It can be read by a father aiming to give shape to his son’s changing world or an aid worker looking to break from the repeatedly failed patterns and short-term impacts so often attempted only to be abandoned. Big Bets offers the ubiquitous resets our modern world demands. From climate to conflict, poverty and politics, it’s Shah’s unique experience, and his organically clear-minded will to conceive lasting change, that makes Big Bets one helluva timely gift.”

—Sean Penn, actor, director, and CORE cofounder and chairperson of the board

“Through powerful stories culled from his all-star career in public service, Raj Shah provides a road map for people who care about the biggest problems of our day but don’t know where to begin to solve them. His book will inspire you to think big and take action.”

—Adam Silver, NBA commissioner

“Raj Shah has seen a better future—one in which we all come together to solve our toughest challenges—and written in Big Bets a playbook for everyone who’s eager to work together across divisions to make it a reality.”

—Larry Hogan, former governor of Maryland

“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing firsthand the impact that Raj Shah has had over the course of his remarkable career. His willingness to take ‘big bets,’ coupled with his unique blend of optimism, curiosity, vision, and belief in humanity has produced large-scale change time and time again. His Big Bets is a must-read, candid handbook for the next generation of change makers, giving them the lessons and examples they need to take on the twenty-first century’s biggest challenges.”

—Helene Gayle, eleventh president of Spelman College

“Encouraging….Uplifting….Meeting apparently insurmountable goals requires thinking big…this will inspire.”

— Publishers Weekly

“It is profoundly satisfying to see [Rajiv Shah] help make the world a better place.”

—Fareed Zakaria, bestselling author, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, and columnist for The Washington Post

“This is a book that will move mindsets and inspire readers to have higher hopes not only for what we can accomplish together but also for what they can aspire to achieve themselves.”

— Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and Co-author of Net Positive

“Looking out at a world of crises, it is all too easy to be cynical about changing the world for the better—to throw up one’s hands as if nothing can be done. Mr. Shah admirably argues against such cynicism.”

—Wall Street Journal

“Part memoir and part clarion call for all of us to think more ambitiously–and optimistically–about tackling the planet’s challenges.”


“[A] leadership guide for people trying to drive large-scale change…relevant for folks in charge of cobbling together some sort of fix.”


“[Dr. Rajiv Shah] tackles some of the toughest and most persistent issues of our time… [This book] is for everyone. You don’t have to be a billionaire to start making big bets and changing the world.”

— Amanpour & Co

“By drawing on his experiences, [Shah] shares how to solve problems, not just improve situations…Readers who are curious about how to make big impacts will find this book inspiring.”


“A dynamic new model for creating large scale change.”

— The Next Big Idea Club

“Dr. Shah sheds light on how listening, learning, and building partnerships has helped him play a role in creating meaningful solutions to address poverty, disease, and hunger.”

—McKinsey & Company’s Author Talks