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.

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