Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes at RNC In Tampa

       "Man he is cooler than the other side of the pillow” one man swooned to me after meeting the Academy Award winning actor Jeff Bridges at a No Kid Hungry event at the Republican convention in Tampa. Jeff and I and a team from Share Our Strength were there to continue the effort to build bipartisan support for our effort to end childhood hunger.

      At an event a few blocks from the floor of the convention, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell introduced Bridges by saying “I’m proud that I was the first Republican Governor to adopt the No Kid Hungry and that others have followed, and I urge every Governor in this country to get behind the No Kid Hungry campaign.” (Earlier in the day we introduced a special film festival screening of the Food Network’s “Hunger Hits Home” documentary that features both Jeff and Gov. McDonnell.)

     Upon their arrival on Monday the delegates were greeted by a Tampa Bay Times editorial, triggered by our teachers survey of hunger in the classroom, that said: “Leaders of Share Our Strength are wisely building partnerships with local anti-hunger organizations, government agencies, corporations and heads of education and business and political groups. Such partnerships can focus on increasing participation in federal nutrition programs and obtain easier access to federal funds to feed our children. By all indications, this model is succeeding…. A valuable lesson of this collaboration is that earnest people who see themselves as stakeholders can find ways to solve difficult problems for the greater good — perhaps even eliminating childhood hunger.” @

     Political conventions are a bit like foreign countries with their own language, traffic patterns, cultural icons, and visa requirements. My first Republican convention fit that bill, especially as a lifelong Democrat. But there were many friendly faces in the crowd, and as both Gov. McDonnell and the editorial above made clear, a sense that ending childhood hunger may be one of the few issues on which both parties can agree.

     But it was also clear that efforts like these to reach a larger audience, broaden our base, and to intersect with the national conversation are critical to our success and critical to our efforts to be a voice for the voiceless. That’s the principal reason we are creating a pilot for a new public radio show talk show and crowdfunding it through Indiegogo @  For social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and engaged philanthropists it will be a place to share your strength. Check it out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Who will speak out on behalf of the voiceless?

Imagine the 1968 campaign without a mention of Vietnam or civil rights. Or the 1976 post-Watergate election without a discussion of campaign finance reform. Or 1980’s race’s between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan not focusing on the energy crisis of the Iran hostage situation. It’s hard to think of a presidential election in which the great crises of that particular time was met with silence and played no part of the campaign.

That’s what came to mind in listening to Bill Moyers most recent commentary in which he begins “It’s just astonishing how long this campaign has gone on with no discussion of what’s happening to poor people.” Moyers remains one of the few journalists committed to speaking truth to power about the failure to seriously address poverty in the United States. His commentary can be seen @

With 46 million Americans on food stamps for the first time in the history of the country, just a symptom of the crushing poverty that is afflicting so many, not to mention record levels of 22% child poverty, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have shown the slightest inclination to take this issue head-on. Even more remarkably, there has been very little pressure on them to do so.

Why? Because the historic economic inequality that characterizes and divides America in 2012 has been both consequence and cause of increased political inequality. The voiceless are even more so. Extraordinarily wealthy donors have greater influence on the agenda of the campaign. And journalism, under extraordinary financial pressure in a rapidly evolving industry, is more sensitive to ratings and the desires of advertisers than ever before.

What can be done about all this? Not clear. But as Moyers points out, everyone who can speak out should speak out. And if enough of us do maybe politicians will begin to lead instead of follow. Maybe our fellow citizens will see themselves as part of a whole, rather than just a precious, narrow interest. Maybe the body politic will give voice to the children who can’t give to SuperPacs or hire lobbyists, to need as well as to privilege, to the least heard among us who just happen to be our future.

That’s one of the reasons we are launching a new public radio show to shine a spotlight on issues and solutions too often ignored by the mainstream media. Join us today @

Monday, August 6, 2012

Failing to Protect Those Who Need it Most

I wish our political leaders would spend a weekend at Goose Rocks Beach, not for the sun and surf, but for the moral education.

The Maine coastline shows how nature has evolved to protect those least able to protect themselves. The lowly moon snail builds a “sand collar” made of mucus and sand, almost identical to the color of the ocean floor, to cover and camouflage its eggs. When a Piping Plover senses a predator threatening her chicks, she walks away dragging one wing on the ground, feigning it is broken, to divert interest and tempt the predator to follow her instead. A mother and father duck bob watchfully in front of and behind their dozen ducklings learning to swim.

Generational protectiveness is nature’s oldest and most fundamental law. Somehow our political and economic society has evolved to violate it. We aggressively protect the strong, but fail to acknowledge the vulnerable that need protection the most.

Last week the Children’s Defense Fund released their State of America’s Children report. It explains “there are 16.4 million poor children in rich America, 7.4 million living in extreme poverty. Children under five are the poorest age group in America and one in four infants, toddlers and preschoolers are poor during the years of greatest brain development.” The report’s sobering statistics include: more than 1 in 4 children in the U.S. are on SNAP; 39.1 percent of black children were born poor in 2010. Only 3% of eligible infants and toddlers secure spots in Head Start due to funding constraints.

What’s more shocking than the statistics (the full report is @ is how little attention the report received. Scanning the web for reaction or response, what I found instead were examples of how protective society can be, just not of vulnerable kids:

 Financial regulators in Washington responded immediately when errors at Knight Capital undermined confidence in the stock market.

 Apple spent $647 million in advertising to protect its investment in the iPhone.

 The Obama campaign has spent more cash more quickly - $400 million so far – than any incumbent in recent history to protect his lead, and SuperPacs for both parties will spend hundreds of millions of dollars more.

There is of course a rational for each of these actions. But what’s the rationale for only acting on behalf of the strong but not the weak?
In the forward to the Children’s Defense Fund report Marian Wright Edelman wrote:

“Millions of children are living hopeless, poverty and violence stricken lives in the war zones of our cities; in the educational deserts of our rural areas; in the moral deserts of our corrosive culture that saturates them with violent, materialistic, and individualistic messages; and in the leadership deserts of our political and economic life where greed and self interest trump the common good over and over. … child hunger and child suffering have become normalized in the richest nation on earth. It’s time to reset our moral compass and redefine how we measure success.” ….
Her prescription for change pointed to the kind of work we do at Share Our Strength: “A transforming nonviolent movement is needed to create a just America. It must start in our homes, communities, parent and civic associations, and faith congregations across the nation. It will not come from Washington or state capitols or with politicians. Every single person can and must make a difference if our voiceless, voteless children are to be prepared to lead America forward. Now is the time to close our action and courage gaps, reclaim our nation’s ideals of freedom and justice, and ensure every child the chance to survive and thrive.”
At Goose Rocks Beach one can bear witness to nature’s extraordinary efforts to protect those who need protection the most. In doing so you realize it is not just tragic that we allow 20% of America’s children to struggle with poverty and hunger, it’s unnatural. Moral leadership might be enhanced if our nation’s leaders spent a day at the beach.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Using Entrepreneurship to Address Extreme Poverty

Our quiet little corner of Maine seems an unlikely place to be learning about one of the most inspiring and revolutionary ideas to tackle extreme poverty around the world, but that was the opportunity it afforded recently when Bob and Dottie King spoke at the small Methodist Church in Cape Porpoise, built in 1857 by and for local fisherman, and known as “the church on the Cape”. Bob and Dottie, who have been married 54 years and spend their summers at Goose Rocks Beach, recently donated $150 million to Stanford, one of the largest gifts in Stanford University history, to establish the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, nicknamed SEED. You can read more about it @

The goal of the Institute, whose work will begin in Ghana and Kenya, is to provide management, entrepreneurial and educational support to advance that kind of economic growth that can alleviate poverty. As a Silicon Valley investor who had been involved in the growth of start-ups ranging from Intel to Oracle, Bob had for more than 50 years been hosting international students in their home, at the urging of Dottie. They developed a passion for the developing world, but especially for people, seeing each and every one as good, talented, and worthy, though perhaps not as lucky as they themselves had been. And as a businessman, Bob has a passion for results, strategy, and return on investment. “To be a good steward, you’ve got to have results.”

What I found most inspirational and hopeful was not the amount of the gift, or the scale of Bob and Dottie’s expansive vision of reaching 200 million people, but something even more rare and precious: the humility they bring to it. Both are people of deep faith. Bob made a point of saying that they didn’t need to be thanked for their gift because it was the NGO’s that “do what we can’t do, so we should be the ones thanking them.” And while Bob and Dottie host CEO’s, prime ministers, university presidents, and other world leaders when in Palo Alto, they were happy to give up an evening to speak to a small group of about 70 of us in Maine because they really believe that every person counts.

Given the entrepreneurial spirit and philosophy that has always been core to Share Our Strength, and our focus on partnerships with business to create new kinds of “community wealth” I’m sure there will be much we can learn from the new Institute’s work, and perhaps some learnings of our own that we can share as well. In any case, keep your eye on it and on Bob and Dottie. There aren’t many like ‘em in Goose Rocks, or anywhere for that matter.