Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bonus incentives to states for No Kid Hungry gains?

Yesterday’s NY Times included this story: (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/health/policy/27medicaid.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=medicaid%20bonus&st=cse) which I think both affirms the strategic wisdom of Share Our Strength's approach to ending childhood hunger, and suggests a tactic we may want to adopt as an effective incentive.

“The Obama administration plans to announce Monday that it will make $206 million in bonus Medicaid payments to 15 states — with more than a fourth of the total going to Alabama — for signing up children who are eligible for public health insurance but had previously failed to enroll.”

The article explains that these payments are “aimed at one of the most persistent frustrations in government health care: the inability to enroll an estimated 4.7 million children who would be eligible for subsidized coverage if their families could be found and alerted. Two of every three uninsured children are thought to meet the income criteria for government insurance programs. … Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, has called the matter “a moral obligation” and has challenged health care providers, state and local governments and community groups to seek out eligible children.”

The parallels with the access issues we see around food and nutrition programs are pretty obvious. We will be eager to explore the feasibility of such an approach in addition to our current leguislative initiative proposing challenge grants to states to enroll more kids in exisiting anti-hunger programs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My list of Top Ten Lessons of 2010

It’s been an amazing year for Share Our Strength, and worth reflecting on any learning’s to be taken from our growth and experience. Here’s my list of the top 10 lessons learned in 2010 – based on nothing more than my own personal opinion. There aren’t many “aha” surprises, just some common sense that merits reinforcement. It is by no means all inclusive. But some of what we learned may be applicable to your favorite nonprofit! Feel free to add your own two cents!

1. Talent tops all. Our investment in ensuring that the right people are in the right positions has strengthened every facet of our work from strategy to development to communications, etc.

2. Surpluses are more fun than debt. After years of debilitating and distracting discussions about whether we would be able to make our budget, the discipline to deliver a surplus created a liberating result: our ability to focus on strategy and substance, rather than shifting around small pots of money to cover bets gone bad.

3. Speed makes up for size. Our early and decisive action on matters ranging from Haiti to support for the Child Nutrition Bill when others waivered, enabled us to “punch above our weight” and have disproportionate influence and impact on important issues.

4. Celebrity counts, and if authentic, counts a lot. The fact that Jeff Bridges had a 25 year record of activism on hunger issues, and really does care, made him an asset worth waiting for over all of these years that we have otherwise eschewed celebrity involvement.

5. Simplicity and accountability are an inspiring combination. The No Kid Hungry campaign and the state strategy offer a promise nearly unique in the social change world, which is a commitment to actually measure progress based on increases or decreased in participation among children who are eligible but not yet enrolled in food and nutrition programs.

6. Entrepreneurship and policy are a powerful combination. Most of the organizations started by social entrepreneurs – whether Teach For America, Venture Philanthropy Partners, City Year, College Summit, et al – have innovated in ways government never could, but also embraced a role in advocating for improved public policy to scale their innovations – just as we more recently have done.

7. Blue oceans offer smoother sailing that red oceans. Our state strategy is an affirmation of the business strategy book of 2005 called Blue Ocean Strategy which makes the case for “the high growth and profits an organization can generate by creating new demand in an uncontested marketplace.” We have found ourselves virtually along in focusing on the role of governors and state governments in ending childhood hunger.

8. Most failures are failures of imagination. I’ve beat this one to death – mostly via my new book, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, so enough for now but suffice it to say that I hope our culture remains one in which we always challenge the conventional wisdom, remain undeterred by the difficult and impractical, and committed to achieving the best possible version of ourselves. As Chuck Scofield shared with me over the weekend, from the HBO special on legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi "We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence."

9. Capacity equals impact. Investing in building and strengthening internal capacity, while often mis-interpreted as increasing overhead, and disparaged by formula-based ratings systems, can be the most direct and effective way of increasing impact against mission.

10. Even our best year is not sufficient in an economy that keeps 44 million Americans below the poverty line. 2010 was a great year but we have to make 2011 an even better one. Too many Americans are hurting – especially kids. We probably can’t work much harder but we have to work smarter and continue to bring new allies, new resources, and new partners into the battle.

 I consider myself extremely fortunate to get to do this work, and especially to do it with the amazing team at Share Our Strength. My best for the holidays and for a happy New Year.


Monday, December 20, 2010

The military's green revolution and the imaginations of unreasonable men

Tom Friedman’s recent column in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/opinion/19friedman.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage) about how the U.S. Navy is reducing its dependence on foreign oil by flying jets powered by a blend of conventional jet fuel and camelina aviation biofuel made from pressed mustard seeds is a great current example of “the imaginations of unreasonable men”.

When the Pentagon realized it was losing one of its military personnel for every fuel 24 convoys it runs in Afghanistan, what previously seemed impractical if not impossible, suddenly became imaginable. It’s a fascinating column about how a green revolution in our military can help us save energy, money lives, and possible help us win or avoid the next war. And it is another example of kind of thinking I try to convey in my new book (http://www.amazon.com/Imaginations-Unreasonable-Men-Inspiration-Purpose/dp/1586487647/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292267953&sr=8-1)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Strategic Lessons for Nonprofits from Business Innovators and Entrepreneurs

While THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN will, for obvious reasons, be thought of as a book about malaria, it is also about the lessons the social sector can learn from innovators and business entrepreneurs, like Steve Hoffman who started a Rockville, Maryland biotech company called Sanaria to tackle one of the toughest problems in the world – a problem affecting people so marginalized and voiceless that there are no traditional economic markets or political markets for solving it.

In Washington and the other centers of government that we look to for solutions to social problems, the battle over how to solve our toughest and most controversial problems usually revolves around spending more money or less money, government taking a bigger or smaller role, and the right and left poles of the culture wars. But from today’s unprecedented convergence of science, entrepreneurship and philanthropy there is emerging a set of problem solving strategies that until now have been widely overlooked.

The book, describes six strategic lessons learned, which I summarize below.

First: Invest in bringing existing solutions to scale rather than discovering new ones

Second: Most failures are not failures of planning, strategy, resources, organization or discipline, but failures of imagination.

Third: It is incumbent upon social entrepreneurs to not only develop solutions but to make them affordable, to explore the economic that will enable them to deliver their product or service for “a dollar a dose.”

Fourth: When markets don’t exist they must somehow be created; or at least proxies or substitutes for market forces must be employed as an alternative.

Fifth: Solving problems, not salving them, creates the most compelling return on investment.

Sixth: What is needed in the nonprofit sector even more than collaboration is a commitment to compete at every level and to not expect first rate outcomes with second rate inputs.

The link to THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN at Amazon.com is http://www.amazon.com/Imaginations-Unreasonable-Men-Inspiration-Purpose/dp/1586487647/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286530652&sr=8-1-spell

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Dog that Didn't Bark and the Deficit Hawk That Didn't Swoop

With the newly elected Congress, anti-hunger champions have to take their good news where they can find it, or perhaps where they can imagine it, at least that’s what I did reading yesterday’s New York Times front page story on California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee. It can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/us/politics/28oversight.html?_r=1&hpw

Issa is quoted as saying the government needs “to go on a diet” to erase the annual budget deficit of $1.4 trillion and states his goal of focusing on places where money can be saved. According to the Times he has drawn up this “list of big targets: $40 billion a year in fraud or waste in Medicare, tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to government controlled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; $8.5 billion in losses by the Postal Service in the last fiscal year; tens of millions of dollars spent on redundant programs within federal agencies or squandered through corrupt contracting practices.”

But as was the case with Sherlock Holmes who was struck by the conspicuous silence of the dog that didn’t bark, I was struck by the lack of any reference to anti-hunger or anti-poverty programs, or even SNAP, often a favorite target. Perhaps Issa will prove to be the deficit hawk that does not indiscriminately swoop down on the voiceless and vulnerable, and also prove our thesis that such food and nutrition programs now have a solid track record and bipartisan support.

It was just one article about one member of the new House leadership, but for a moment I was surprised and just slightly, temporarily, encouraged.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In the presidents cabinet - putting the most vulnerable and voiceless first

Last Thursday we hosted a breakfast at NY’s Regency Hotel in which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with about 80 opinion leaders from business and philanthropic circles to share his perspective on the connection between childhood hunger and education, and to help Share Our Strength lay the foundation for bringing our No Kid Hungry campaign to New York City. As has been the case each time I’ve been with him, I came away with even greater respect and admiration.

Vilsack made the economic competitiveness, education, and national security arguments for ensuring that our kids are not hungry, as well as making the moral case. He argued that in today’s interconnected global economy, our kids are no longer competing with classmates in their school or in nearby schools but against all children everywhere.

He also emphasized that of the 42 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits, only 10% were getting cash welfare assistance, meaning that 90% were working Americans. He warned that unless this was better understood, these Americans would be stereotyped and stigmatized, unfairly as they have in the past.

Several times Vilsack used the word “outrageous” to describe the failure of communities to ensure that more kids were being enrolled in programs for which they were eligible. In a job that is usually associated with Agri-business, policy pronouncements and regulatory strategies, Secretary Vilsack has never forgotten that there are kids in our country who are left out and left behind and that we must find a way to ensure their well being regardless of current political and economic conditions. Not all of our colleagues in the anti-hunger community stood by this good man when he asked for help supporting the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. Last week made me even more proud that we at Share Our Strength never wavered.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grateful Response to the Wall Street Journal's Review of THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN

This weekend the Wall Street Journal devoted an entire page to malaria, the “Scourge of Humankind”, using my new book THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN and Sonia Shaw’s THE FEVER as the reviewer’s bookends to capture the different points of view about how best to address this terrible disease. The reviewer was W.F. Bynum, professor emeritus of the history of medicine at University College London and his piece can be found at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703326204575616452789851046.html

Though Professor Bynum didn’t quite buy my point of view, or perhaps didn’t fully get it, that seems like a mere quibble. After five years researching and writing IMAGINATIONS in a way designed to reach a more popular audience, it was incredibly fulfilling to see it given the serious consideration one would hope for by a distinguished expert such as Professor Bynum, and to see it trigger greater discussion and awareness of the toll taken by malaria on some of the world’s poorest children.

The review did an especially good job of making the link between malaria and poverty. In the book I write about the challenges of solving problems that impact those so voiceless and marginalized that there are no markets for solving them. I’ve been concerned about the Catch-22 of the same being true regarding a book about such matters – would there be a market among readers who have little connection to such realities? Gratefully, the Wall Street Journal and Professor Bynum suggest that there may be.

The review states that given the history of efforts to fight malaria “it is optimistic to think the disease can easily be stamped out.” Certainly no one I’ve written about, especially malaria vaccine developer Steve Hoffman, would disagree with that. THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN is more about hope than optimism, hope in the sense that Vaclav Havel meant when he said “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” That’s what drives those featured in my book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

With thanks to the Pucker Gallery for my first book party

 What a special treat it was for me to have my first book party for THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN at Boston’s Pucker Gallerty, which played such a critical role in the development of my thinking about the book. A year ago I was invited to speak there about the work of the artist and potter Brother Thomas. It was just at the time I thought I was struggling to finish the book. I was actually struggling to start it. I’d spent five years following a man named Steve Hoffman who was trying to invent a vaccine to eliminate malaria, which kills about one million kids in Africa every year. I wanted to write about how you solve problems that affect people so voiceless and marginalized that there are no markets for solving them. These are the toughest problems of all to solve.

I didn’t quite have a handle on what was so different about Steve, until, thanks to Bernie, I learned about Brother Thomas. And learned that he has broken 1100 of the first 1200 pots he threw. And understood that for Brother Thomas, good was not good enough. And that for Steve when it came to vaccines that protected 50% of the children immunized, but let the other 50% become gravely ill, good was not good enough. In the DNA of every great achievement is a gene encoded with the instruction that good is not good enough. It was in this that I saw such a strong connection to our work at Share Our Strength trying to end childhood hunger.

A gratifying early review for IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN

Any author braces themself for their book's pub date by saying reviews don't matter, but it is actually a huge relief when one of the first is positive!  This just in from Library Journal:

Shore, Bill. The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men: Inspiration, Vision, and Purpose in the Quest To End Malaria. PublicAffairs: Perseus. Nov. 2010. c.320p. index. ISBN 9781586487645. $25.95. MED

Founder of Share Our Strength, a nonprofit devoted to eliminating hunger in children, Shore was deeply moved by the death of a child he encountered in Ethiopia. He resolved to investigate the scientific work conducted to fight malaria and other tropical diseases and to explore the qualities of individuals and organizations that are key to success against varied health and social problems often rejected as unprofitable, quixotic, and, ultimately, hopeless. Shore spotlights Steve Hoffman as the exemplar of the game-changing scientist pursuing development of a malaria vaccine. Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted to humans by the Anopheles mosquito, but vaccines against parasites have long been considered impossible. Shore leads his readers to hope that the synergy of creative researchers like Hoffman and the targeted funding of innovative nonprofits will be victorious in the fight against malaria and result in success against a host of social and health problems plaguing the poor and voiceless. VERDICT This well-written description of the ravages of tropical diseases and current efforts to combat them and the trials and triumphs of one particular scientist will enthrall interested readers.—Kathy Arsenault, St. Petersburg, FL

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Behind the scenes at Larry King Live

Because L.A. traffic is so impossible to judge, everyone arrived early for Larry King Live: me, Jeff Bridges and even Larry. I was in make-up when Larry King walked in and dropped down into the chair beside me. Because he was taping three different shows this day I introduced myself to him as his guest with Jeff Bridges.

“Oh great. Jeff and I were co-stars in a movie once. A great film. Did you see it? The Contender starring Joan Alan. Jeff played the president. Great film. And I knew his dad Lloyd Bridges of course.”

The make-up woman, feeling pressure to turn her attention to Larry, sprayed something on my face and called it a day. I wasn’t sure how Jeff was going to dress so I’d stuck a tie in my pocket just in case. Then Jeff walked in wearing a grey t-shirt and I realized that I was overdressed just by virtue of having buttons on my shirt. Jeff took my chair. Another make-up woman swept in and I went over to the green room where Natalie Cole was waiting to film a segment for Monday about her kidney transplant and the book she wrote about it. We chatted for a bit, I checked e-mails, and about 30 minutes later walked back over to make-up. Jeff was still in the chair. Granted he has more hair than I do, but this still felt slightly out of balance.

I was debating whether to strip down to my Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt, when Jeff’s assisatnt produced a suit bag for him with three dress shirts and a sports jacket and I was spared further agonizing.

I knew Jeff was going to be good but I didn’t know how good. A lot of his acting technique is based on scrupulous and close observation of others, even when he seems sleepy-eyed and laid back. On the few occasions we’ve been together he’s noticed small but telling things about people that I missed. On the phone he’d talked about how as an actor he tried to put himself in the shoes of others and tried to imagine what it would feel like to be hungry or to not be able to feed his kids. He’s at his best, I think, when he talks about his personal motivation for fighting hunger, although this day he’d also mastered our message about innovative state strategies, the role of governors, and getting more kids access to existing programs.

In one of the best parts of the segment, Larry asks him what the No Kid Hungry pledge is all about. Jeff says: “Let me see if I can recite it for you”. Then staring straight at the camera, he recites the pledge word for word and urges viewers to go to NoKidHungry.org to take it. Larry also repeated directions to the NoKidHungry website.

As if we needed more evidence that our message is spreading and catching on, the floor producer of the show ran up to me as soon as the filming has ended and while Larry and Jeff and I were comparing notes. Her name is Rhoda Gilmore. She says: “I’m so excited that you were on as a guest because in my other job, for an on-line magazine out here, I just produced a segment about Cooking Matters. All of my friends our here want to be part of Share Our Strength.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The morning after - what the election means for our No Kid Hungry Campaign

If ever there were an election that affirmed our critical role in filling the gaps that result from the failure of economic and political markets, yesterday’s was it. If ever there were an organization poised, prepared, and committed to succeed at that challenge, it is ours.

There will be a lot of sorting out over the next few days and analysis of what the new make-up of the Congress means. The only thing we can be sure of at this stage is that there will be enormous political pressure to shrink government’s role and to focus on cutting the deficit rather than increasing spending.

Just as the financial markets froze two years ago, the political markets will freeze at least for a time. And there has never been much of an economic market for feeding hungry kids. So we will need to do what we do best: step into the breach, try to bridge it, persuade key stakeholders that ending childhood hunger is not a political issue, but more of an education, health, and even national security issue - and help more Americans see how they can share their strength to ensure no kid hungry.

Our state based strategy has never been centered upon massive new federal spending. Rather the focus has been on ensuring full participation and utilization of programs (that while federally funded) have grown for many years with bipartisan support.

Whatever your reaction to the election results, it is worth noting, and is gratifying, that those who championed our No Kid Hungry campaign – Governor Martin O’Malley in Maryland, Governor Mike Beebe in Arkansas, and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s successor John Hickenlooper – were elected by comfortable margins.

The election is an unmistakable reminder that we live in a nation deeply divided in many ways. We have the privilege of working on an issue that unites more than it divides. All of our experience, events, and partners are a testament to that fact. We will need to be better at that than ever because the children we serve are not only vulnerable but voiceless and when the markets leave them behind, organizations like Share Our Strength must work even harder to keep them front and center.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Ray of Hope for Kids in Results of Election?

It would impossible to overstate how pre-occupied all of Washington will be with the election results. The House will almost certainly be majority Republican and the conventional wisdom will be that there is much about which the country is divided. But one area where elected officials may find common ground is ensuring a healthy start for our kids.

The new political make-up of Congress and huge deficits will make it very difficult to start new programs, But Share Our Strength’s strategy for ending childhood hunger doesn’t depend on proposing new programs. Instead it depends on more effective use of existing programs like school breakfast and summer feeding.

Congress and the President will be forced to work together and fashion bi-partisan solutions. On childhood hunger there is a long track record of doing just that: working together to expand school lunch, school breakfast, summer feeding, and SNAP (food stamps).

There are many issues for which we may not yet have or agree upon solutions: job creation, climate change, threat of terrorism. But childhood hunger is not one of those. We know it is solvable and what works to solve it. This may be a chance to surprise the nation and get some big things done for our children.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creating Community Wealth - The Next Generation

Yesterday I spent an hour via video conference with 25 students from the Honors College at the University of Alabama. Incoming freshman there are assigned The Cathedral Within to read over the summer and they wanted to have a discussion about finding careers in community service that would enable them to have the most powerful impact.

They had a lot of great questions about whether nonprofit work can sustain itself and get to scale, about what kind of investments nonprofits need to make in their own capacity, and about the organizational leadership required to create built-to-last organizations. They were all freshman, from all parts of the country, just beginning their education, and determined to chart a course of service and civic engagement but with real concerns about the sustainability of such a path.

It was a timely reminder that the consequences of Community Wealth Ventures' pioneering work go beyond the impressive results we get for our clients.  A new generation, as represented by the students I met with yesterday, is looking to us to make their hopes real – and to create possibilities that have not yet existed for them to change their communities and the world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The politics of helping hungry kids

You’ve probably noticed that the media these past few days has been reinforcing the conventional wisdom with new polls and projections of Republican gains in both the House and among Governors races. The Cook Political report shows a near record 87 house seats that would be considered competitive or toss-ups.

I think almost any variation of this likely outcome in November means at least three things for our Share Our Strength’s childhood hunger strategy:

 To the extent that we have been political but not partisan, and reasonably moderate in our approach so far, our anti-hunger advocacy may be better positioned to succeed on Capitol Hill.

 In the next Congress when any initiatives that require new spending will face a very steep climb, and many programs will face cuts, our strategy of focusing at the state level and increasing access to existing food and nutrition programs may have more appeal than ever. Particularly as the impact if the recession lingers, Governors of both parties may be attracted to programs that bring badly needed dollars to their states.

 The Obama Administration will be forced to work more closely with the opposition party and because food and nutrition programs have a track record of bipartisan support, they may represent a common ground on which we can achieve surprising progress on behalf of America’s kids.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Child Nutrition Reauthorization: The Perfect and the Good

This morning I re-read the last chapter of Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise, about Obama’s first year in office. It is the story of how health care finally passed, and the struggle the White House had with the deeply disappointed liberal wing of the Democratic Party which wanted to include provisions like the public option and other measures which the White House philosophically supported but believed would have made the bill impossible to pass.

Though the health care battle was bigger in scope in every way, Alter’s account of the negotiations between the various advocacy groups and the White House and Congress reads exactly like what we’ve seen with the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (reflected in today’s New York Times story @http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/24/us/24food.html?_r=1&ref=us.)

The title of Alter’s chapter is The Perfect and The Good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sounds of Silence Greet Shocking New Poverty Statistics

Here's a philosophical variation of the "if a tree falls in a forest" question for you: if 44 million Americans fall below the poverty line, and no one hears it, do they make any sound?

Over the weekend the Washington Post published an article about how little reaction had been expressed over the shocking new statistics showing that 44 million Americans now live in poverty. One in five children are so classified. It is a level of economic suffering unseen in nearly 50 years. Yet it has been greeted mostly with silence from policymakers in both the Administration and Congress. Is anyone calling for bipartisan summit meetings like when the banks were in trouble? Emergency sessions of Congress or the Council of Economic Advisers? Don't hold your breath.

Read entire post on Huffington Post @http://www.huffingtonpost.com/billy-shore/child-nutrition-sounds-of_b_732412.html

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Layer of Vulnerability That is Almost Irrevocable

I had coffee yesterday with George Jones, the executive director of Bread For the City (to which Share Our Strength last year made a grant from the Weight Watchers Lose for Good campaign).

George told me that Bread For the City serves 5000 families a year and that their average income is $7000. 25% are families with children, and in many cases the children are living with a head of household who is elderly or disabled. Of the numerous services Bread provides – food, medical, legal, clothing, and social services – food is by far the largest and is utilized by virtually all 5000 families. Next to Catholic Charities, Bread For the City is the largest such service provider in DC.

“What people don’t get”, George told me, “is that there is a layer of vulnerability in this community that in many ways is almost irrevocable. Many of these families have members who are disabled in dramatic ways. We help them and their kids get benefits – some wouldn’t get benefits at all without our help – but the benefits are not enough. People keep asking how we lift our clients out of poverty. But for many of them that is just not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make their lives better.”

I try to touch base regularly with George, who has led Bread For the City for 15 years, because he works at the community and street level and sees and serves those families and kids who are most vulnerable and who fall between the cracks and don’t fit neatly into most organizations’ strategic plans. I don’t see our grants to Bread For the City as something separate from or in addition to our childhood hunger strategy but rather as an integral part of a balanced and holistic child hunger strategy that goes beyond the easy victories to reach all of the children it would be necessary to reach to actually end childhood hunger.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our fragile and interdependent political ecosystem

One advantage of spending part of the summer in Maine is that you not only learn but actually live the interconnectedness of all parts of the ecosystem. A storm in Cape Cod, more than 100 miles to the south, leaves huge deposits of seaweed in front of our Goose Rocks Beach home and sometimes reshapes the beach entirely. The seaweed attracts flies, shorebirds, and an entire new population of creatures to our doorstep. When one of those species becomes endangered, such as the piping plovers and least terns, the entire ecosystem is put at risk. The menu on the local restaurant chalk board depends on what the fisherman down the street caught that day, and that depends on weather, wind, tides and the health of the marshes.

Accustomed to the notion that our environment is fragile and interconnected this way, we are careful about even the smallest environmental impacts. But we sometimes seem less conscious that our political ecosystem is just as sensitive and interdependent. Though the immediate consequences may not be as readily visible, they are just as real. A change in committee chairs can shift the entire legislative agenda of the House or Senate. One agri-business lobbyist can revise “offsets” in the child nutrition reauthorization and affect future levels of SNAP funding for children across the country, and for some not yet born. Ideas matter. So do elections, even in states far from where we live. So does the ability to organize, advocate and persuade. And to engage average citizens in campaigns like No Kid Hungry.  At Share Our Strength we will need to deploy every asset and skill we have these next few months and in a way that integrates all into one strategic whole.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"It is the Giant Hour"

"When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men and women we are. Cesar Chavez said this and I’ve been thinking about him since hearing the writer Peter Matthiessen speak about him last month at the Buddhist symposium in western Massachusetts where Jeff Bridges and I discussed No Kid Hungry. Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard, and now 83, knew and worked closely with Chavez through his leadership of the United Farm Workers, fasts, and grape boycotts. He spoke eloquently about his leadership qualities and we had a chance to talk after the session.

I’ve also been thinking about the quote above because how each of us use our lives, and more specifically how we use the next 100 days will determine much about Share Our Strength and childhood hunger. We are in for a 100 day sprint: The Great American Dine Out, Conference of Leaders, No Kid Hungry, expansion of Operation Frontline, new corporate partnerships.

Near summer’s end we took a ferry to Monhegan Island, 13 miles off Maine’s mid-coast. A mile long by half a mile wide, Monhegan rises dramatically out of the ocean. It is mostly a quiet artist colony with few shops, and no cars. On our hikes, Nate was obsessed with picking sea glass from the gravel that lines the paths. After every step he would bend over, search and scratch at the soil. Once, when I hurried him along, he looked up and said “Dad, Monhegan is not for rushing. It is for being together. That’s the priority here, that’s the whole reason everyone comes.” (It is not always restful having a five year old who reasons and speaks this way.)

In these next 100 days we will need to rush at times. But Nate’s fundamental point is valid too. Our priority must be to be present for and supportive of each other.

In a recent e-mail my colleague Chuck Scofield shared this excerpt from a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:

"It is the giant-hour.

Nothing less than gianthood will do:

nothing less than mover, prover, shover, cover, lever, diver for giant tacklings, overturnings, new organic staring that will involve, that will involve us all."

Gwendolyn Brooks said in four lines what I tried to say in a page above. It is the giant hour. It will involve us all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Time of Growth for Community Wealth Ventures

 Community Wealth Ventures, a subsidiary of Share Our Strength, devoted to helping nonprofits and businesses create community wealth, is poised for its next phase of growth. Here are a few excerpts from a new prospectus going out to potential investors this week:

“This document presents an opportunity to invest in Community Wealth Ventures’ (CWV)
growth plan. Support of this plan will enable investors to have a transformative impact on a
broad range of the most entrepreneurial organizations leading social change efforts in areas
such as education, health, poverty and the arts. CWV’s sharp focus on scale and
sustainability, two issues at the center of cutting-edge philanthropy today, means a return
on investment that is highly leveraged against organizations with proven track records of
impact and accountability. Investing in CWV’s growth is equivalent to investing in a mutual fund that supports the growth of high-performing ventures characterized by innovation, impact and leadership.”

“Today, CWV is a robust management consulting firm that emboldens and equips leadership
teams to innovate, grow and sustain organizations that build a better world. CWV is based on a
simple premise: Social sector organizations have effective solutions to the problems that
challenge communities, such as those related to education, healthcare and employment. What
they don’t always have are the strategies needed to sustain and increase impact over the long
term, and ultimately, to solve these problems on the scale that they exist.”

“CWV addresses this gap by partnering with its clients to design and implement market-based approaches to growth and sustainability, with core expertise in community wealth creation. Its market-based methodology emphasizes the use of market data and analysis to inform decision-making. Unlike other consulting firms, its collaborative and practical approach focuses on equipping leadership teams with the skills needed to support the execution of the strategy. Its unique incorporation of these various elements in its work has proven to spark innovation, highlight new opportunities, and create truly transformational change and improvement for its clients.”

“Proven by its success in implementing its new strategy over the last year and a half, CWV is
poised to increase its impact and to achieve the following:

• Dramatically increase the innovation, sustainability and growth in the sector to meet
escalating community needs;

• Double its annual revenues, moving from $1.9M to $3.9M by fiscal year 2014; and

• Realize a 12 percent profit margin by fiscal year 2014, allowing the organization to

internally generate cash to help support sustainable investments in its own future ability

to deliver impact.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bearing witness to children living with an unemployed parent

The National Center for Children in Poverty is a think tank at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.  Earlier this month they released an important new study of food insecurity.  The findings, with which I was mostly familiar, included:
- Concurrently, participation in food assistance programs spiked: The number of food stamps participants increased 31 percent, from 25.7 million in 2005, to 33.7 in 2009. The sharpest uptick occurred between 2007 and 2009, as participation increased by 27 percent.

- Participation in the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Program rose by 18 percent and six percent respectively.

- In the last year alone, Emergency Food Assistance programs, such as food banks and pantries, have seen an 18 percent increase in demand.
 But there was one new stat I had not seen:  Since the late 2007, when the recession began, the number of children living with an unemployed parent nearly doubled from 5.5 million to 10.5 million children by 2009. 
 There is no other commentary. We are left only to imagine the myriad impacts on so many children, of living in a home that a parent one day returns to without his or her job, without the income or structure ot stability it provides.  If our policymakers thought more about that, perhaps there would be finally be more urgency to creating the jobs needed to achieve true economic recovery.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chef Mario Batali’s recipe for good management

We’re more accustomed to seeing chef Mario Batali interviewed in the pages of food magazines than in Harvard Business Review, but that’s where you’ll find him in the May, 2010 issue, in a regular feature called Life’s Work.

Batali has a total of 14 restaurants now, including Babbo, Del Posto, and The Spotted Pig. In the interview he is asked about his strategy for ensuring consistently successful performance. His response would serve as great management advice for any enterprise: “My objective as a manager, of course, is to remove the obstacles that prohibit greatness in the people I’ve hired. So I ask, what is the hardest thing about today? And I say, well, why don’t we get somebody else to do that, or let’s streamline it, make it easier.

We should all strive to “remove the obstacles that prohibit greatness” in the people we’ve hired. Like many a great chef and successful entrepreneur, Batali knows that the best recipes can be those that are simplest.

An excerpt can be found at http://hbr.org/2010/05/lifes-work-mario-batali/ar/1

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gary Hart and the power of ideas

I wanted to share the piece published yesterday by Jim Fallows, who for 25 years has been a national correspondent for the Atlantic, about former Senator Gary Hart for whom I worked for more than a ten years. See link at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/08/gary-hart-on-bombing-iran/61942/.

My sister Debbie who co-founded Share Our Strength worked in his presidential campaigns , as did many of our close friends and current leaders like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, City Year founder Alan Khazei, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, to name just a few.
Gary’s new memoir, The Thunder and the Sunshine is just being published. Share Our Strength board member Kathy Calvin is co-hosting a book party along with Debbie and I for Senator Hart on Thursday, September 16, at the UN Foundation offices in Washington DC. Details are available from Alice Pennington @ apennington@strength.org.  Please feel welcome to join us. Gary Hart has always been a champion of the power of ideas, a strong support of Share Our Strength and so many of his principles of organizing were instrumental to our early successes. Thanks. 

A brief excerpt from Fallows post follows: "I am biased in favor of Gary Hart. I met him when researching my book National Defense back at the dawn of the Reagan Administration. At the time, as a first-term Senator in his early 40s, he was a genuine pioneer in pushing the concept of "defense reform" -- the then-radical idea that we should judge our military policies on grounds more complicated than "spend more" versus "spend less." Defense reform is a radical idea still, but that's another topic. Hart took the crucial step of assembling and supporting a team of people to work on this idea -- starting with his own staff assistant, William S. Lind, who connected him (and me) to the circle of thinkers around the late Air Force Col. John Boyd.

Presidential campaigns have come and gone since then; so have "hot" and stylish ideas in policy; and of course America's military involvement outside its borders has only increased. But through those decades Hart has kept writing books and articles about military strategy and its connection to long-term American interests and values."


Monday, August 2, 2010

Would It Spoil Some Vast Eternal Plan?

Here's an excerpt from the piece I wtote today for Huffington Post about rising above politics to end childhood hunger @http://www.huffingtonpost.com/billy-shore/wuold-it-spoil-some-vast_b_667869.html

If Congress doesn't act, the food and nutrition programs will likely be extended under a continuing resolution, but we will have missed a chance to enact carefully crafted reforms that improve both the quality and nutritional value of school meals, and that improve access to programs for the large number of children who are eligible but not enrolled in programs that work.

The First Lady has spoken out on this, with an op-ed in today's Washington Post, but President Obama should also weigh in. The President did an enormous amount of good when he declared the goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. But good is not good enough for kids in America who continue to go hungry. A word from him to the Speaker and Majority Leader would ensure that years of hard work on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization do not go to waste.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jim and Karen Ansara: Not giving up on Haiti

We had dinner over the weekend with Jim and Karen Ansara, and the talk turned to Haiti, to which he will be returning tomorrow as he has every 7-10 days since the earthquake last January.

Ground has been broken in Mirebelais for the hospital whose construction Jim is overseeing. The cornerstone will be laid on September 10 with completion hoped for in 15 months. Jim has spent almost as much time in the Dominican Republic where he searches for contractors, though most of the labor will be Haitian. The hospital is one of the largest construction projects underway since the quake and may be impressive enough to draw some Haitian away from Port au Prince to the more welcoming Central Plateau. Meanwhile Karen has just announced a first round of grants from the Boston Foundation where she and Jim put up the money but gave Haitians living in Boston the decision making responsibility.

The massive tarp and tent camps of homeless Haitians in Port au Prince have turned dangerous and the expectation is that they will be there for years. The cash for work programs are rumored to be riddled with fraud. Most of the aid workers are gone. There are a thousand reasons for giving up. The Ansara’s haven’t. Their continuing commitment inspires. They are true heroes of Haiti.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Behind Share Our Strength's growth: talent, imagination, stubbornness

Thanks to Paul Shoemaker, the visionary founder and leader of Social Venture Partners whom I greatly admire, for an e-mail yesterday asking if I could pinpoint the 2-3 most vital factors in Share Our Strength’s journey from start-up to more established national organization. He kindly suggested that I spend no more than 10 minutes on what could otherwise have been a months-long task.

In response, I shared the following: First, to state the obvious, we still have a long way to go at Share Our Strength. There is of course no secret sauce, but I would say that for an organization like ours it is all about talent and at several major junctures we very pro-actively set about upgrading our team, acknowledging the difficult truth that good was not good enough, and at least searching for great people with a wide variety of experience, often from the business community, that was different from our own. It made a big difference.

I also think that writing and publishing books about our learnings helped us to reach a larger audience. But probably most important, and this may seem at first like a “softer” answer than is helpful, I’ve really come to believe that most failures are not failures of money or strategy or planning or even of execution, but rather failures of imagination. At every critical turn for Share Our Strength we forced ourselves to imagine something that hadn’t been done before – whether it was a nationwide Taste of the Nation comprised of nearly a hundred events taking place at the same time or building a consensus to not only feed kids but actually end childhood hunger. Notwithstanding how unrealistic it might have seemed, we went for it. Even when we fell short it inspired people to do more than they thought they could.

Finally we are just plain stubborn. We keep at it. There are always some points to be had for that I guess.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Battles big enough to matter, small enough to win" - hunger and malaria in Maryland and Moheli

Moheli is a small east African island thousands of miles from Maryland and as different as can be politically, economically and culturally. But Moheli and Maryland have something in common that is critically important to children, and also to Share Our Strength. Both have been chosen to demonstrate proof of concept for bold strategies once thought so ambitious as to be unrealistic: Maryland for eradicating childhood hunger, Moheli for eradicating malaria.
Both were chosen for the three same interrelated reasons: (a) they meet author Jonathan Kozol’s criteria of being battles big enough to matter but small enough to win; (b) each has sufficient political will to get the job done; and (c) the caseload and outcomes are manageable enough to actually measure.
Over the weekend MSNBC and other news services carried a Reuters report about malaria being eradicated on the small East African island of Moheli (population 36,000). Moheli is one of the Comoros group of islands at the northern mouth of the Mozambique channel in East Africa. In 2007 a Chinese professor working with a company called Artepharm Global, launched a mass drug administration in which the entire population of 36,000 had to take two courses of anti-malarial drugs to flush the parasites from their bodies. The malaria infection rate dropped from 22% to 2% before disappearing entirely. Now Comoros bars anyone from entering Moheli unless they take a course of the anti- malarial drug, called Artequick.
In 2008 there were more than 243 million cases of malaria worldwide and 863,000 deaths from the disease. So Moheli’s case load or lack thereof is too small to even register as a blip on the global totals. And the procedures used there – such as compulsory administration of the drug, could not be used in many societies. But it did serve as a proving ground for scientists desperate to prove that eradication is a possibility. The Comoros government now hopes to work with China to roll out the program to two of its larger islands with a combined population of 760,000.
Maryland is our Moheli. As became clear when Governor Martin O’Malley spoke about increased summer feeding enrollment at the National Governors Conference in Boston earlier this month, other states will be looking to Maryland’s results to decide how much political capital and financial support to put behind a campaign to end childhood hunger in their states.
Ending childhood hunger in Maryland, like ending malaria in Moheli, is just small first step. But it will send a very large message that the only failure that can stand in our way is failure of imagination.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Major Milestone Toward Ending Childhood Hunger

Yesterday the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Child Nutrition Reauthorization and sent it to the full House where it will await action. (http://edlabor.house.gov/newsroom/2010/07/bipartisan-child-nutrition-leg.shtml) Many organizations like the Food Research and Action Committee, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Feeding America, and Bread For the World deserve credit for helping to create the political will that made this possible. A big focus of the legislation is increasing access to existing programs – like school breakfast and summer feeding - which has been particular area of importance to Share Our Strength.

The legislation represents a critical milestone in our nation’s commitment to ending childhood hunger. It also represents a major evolution in Share Our Strength’s role from grant maker to other local, state, and national anti-hunger organizations – a role we continue to play – to one of policy advocate as well. The two are mutually reinforcing because it was in the course of making grants to hundreds of other hunger fighting champions that we began to see the gaps in program participation and the challenges of affording full access that are addressed in the House bill.
The legislation still needs to get to both the House and Senate floor and with the Congressional session nearing an end before the November elections, and much unfinished business remaining, there are no guarantees. But if Congress and the President want to ensure that those suffering the most unnecessarily from the recession and unemployment, they will move swiftly to take the final steps needed to ensure that programs proven to work are accessible to all of our children who are eligible.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Partners in Health provides transparency and health care

One of Share Our Strength's major grant recipients since the earthquake in Haiti has been Partners In Health. Yesterday, on the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake they released a report detailing their impact so far, as well as the $26.6 million in expenditures made in 2010 and projected spending through FY 2012. A summary can be found at http://www.standwithhaiti.org/page/content/overview. Partners in Health has always set the standard when it comes to health care in Haiti and the other developing countries where they work. Now it is setting an impressive standard for financial transparency as well.
As you’ve seen from news accounts, conditions in Haiti remain desperate. The media has temporarily brought Haiti back onto the front page and into national awareness. Unfortunately it now only does so to mark major anniversaries of the earthquake, though the suffering of course is year round.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Last week the Gates Foundation announced a $10 million grant to the Institute for One World Health (IOWH) to increase the supply of semisynthetic artemisinin that can be used in the treatment of malaria. (Puget Sound Business Journal @ http://seattle.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2010/07/05/daily22.html) The grant furthers the work of synthetic biologist Jay Keasling and advances the efforts of the Institute of One World Health and sanofi-aventis to begin commercializing production in about two years.
The grant is also a reminder of one of the great triumphs of imagination that has transformed global health. The IOWH was the brainchild of Victoria Hale who believed that a pharmaceutical firm could exist as a nonprofit and thereby address the needs and diseases of those so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them. 

 We tend to think of science and medicine as being advanced by breakthrough discoveries from experts in the field. But sometimes it is the breakthrough thinking of social entrepreneurs, like Victoria Hale, that really changes everything.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE FEVER, a courageous book bears witness to the drama of man's struggle to end malaria

Yesterday the Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2010/07/07/in_fever_examining_malarias_ruthless_history/) reviewed a new book called The Fever, by Sonia Shaw, about the impact malaria has had on the world over the last half a million years. I went out and bought the book and was glad I did. Shaw frames the drama in the books first pages:
“We’ve had plenty of time – our entire evolutionary history, in fact – to adapt to malaria, and it to us. Or, at least, to devise tools and strategies to blunt its appetite. And yet, despite the millennia-long battles between us, malaria still manages to infect at least 300 million of us – that is one out of twenty-one human beings on the planet – and kills nearly one million, year after year. As an extinguisher of human lives, write the malariologists Richard Carter and Kamini Mendis, malaria historically and to this day ‘has few rivals’. It remains essentially wild and untamed, despite its great antiquity.”

The book is a well researched and well written account of the ferocity of the disease and our long struggle to conquer it. But Shaw’s most important attributes are the courage and commitment it took to personally bear witness to the impact of malaria in Africa, India and elsewhere around the world, and to write about something to which most people are otherwise content to remain oblivious.
It’s tempting to describe malaria’s toll as senseless, but in the most tragic of ways it makes perfect sense because malaria affects people so vulnerable and voiceless that there have been no markets – economic or political – for solving this problem. Shaw gives a sense of how that is beginning to change as well. Having read her book from the perspective of having just finished writing an account of the race to develop the world’s first malaria vaccine – my new book, THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN to be published in November by PublicAffairs (http://www.amazon.com/Imaginations-Unreasonable-Men-Inspiration-Purpose/dp/1586487647/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278587701&sr=8-1) – I had a renewed appreciation for just how formidable is the challenge ahead.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Imagining a National School of Tropical Medicine and Neglected Infections of Poverty for North America

Thanks to the Gates Foundation and others there has been a surge of interest in global health issues like malaria as well as what have come to be known as neglected tropical diseases. These include parasitic infections like schistosomiasis or leishmaniasis. Peter Hotez, who is president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and editor-in-chief of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, has been making the case that while we may not have neglected tropical diseases here in North America, we do have neglected infections of poverty that disproportionately impact African American and Hispanic minority populations.

A few days ago ,using the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines as models, Hotez published an editorial (http://www.plosntds.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pntd.0000735) calling for a National School of Tropical Medicine and Neglected Infections of Poverty in North America.

Based on the conviction that training is not keeping up with advances in technology, Hotez makes the case for a new national school to train the next generation of global public health experts. It is an innovative and inspiring idea, characteristic of the ingenuity of Hotez who I write about in my new book The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men (to be published in November by PublicAffairs)

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Kids in poverty need escape velocity"

I had the opportunity last night to listen to my old friend Eric Schwarz, the founder of Citizen Schools, share his vision for the future of education in America with the Reynolds Fellows at Harvard.

Based on his frustration that we have a lower graduation rate today than a generation ago, and that we are not giving kids enough time to learn or enough talented adults in their lives, Eric founded Citizen Schools in 1995. It embodies the principles of sharing strength by creating opportunities for citizen teachers who want to give back and who in effect constitute a second shift of educators who create expanded learning time.

Understanding that “kids in poverty need escape velocity” Citizen Schools is committed to surrounding middle school students with all of the resources they need to have a truly transformational experience. They are hopeful that the Department of Education’s Invest in Innovation Fund will help fuel Citizen Schools next phase of growth. If you are trying to bear witness to what is needed in education today, check them out at http://www.citizenschools.org/

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Polio, malaria, hunger and expensive failures of imagination

Last Sunday’s celebration of the third annual World Malaria Day was met with great optimism about the progress made in reducing deaths from malaria through insecticide treated bed nets and other measures. The number of African households with least one bed net increased from 17% to 31% between 2006 and 2008, and 9 of 45 malaria endemic countries have seen a 50% drop in cases.
But on Friday the Wall Street Journal led into the weekend with a cautionary tale in the form of a lengthy front page story, not about the newly energized global effort to eradicate malaria, but instead about the decades long struggle to conquer polio and the setbacks that world health organizations and Bill Gates have encountered in their strategy of massive vaccination campaigns.
The lessons they’ve learned, described below, may be invaluable to how we think about not only eradicating polio and malaria, but of ending hunger too.

The Journal article documented new polio outbreaks in a number of African countries – Uganda, Mali, Ghana, Kenya - that had been believed to have stopped the disease. Over the past two decades $8.2 billion has been spent to kill off polio, just as smallpox was eradicated in 1979. Bill Gates spent $700 million of his own on this over the past few years. Success seemed close. 350,000 cases of polio in 1988 decreased to under a thousand by the year 2000. But last year, new outbreaks brought the total back to 1600 cases. It was found that once polio was ended in some countries, weak health care systems, bad sanitation, and malnutrition, let it return.
The Journal framed the issue this way: “one of the most controversial debates in global health: is humanity better served by waging wars on individual disease like polio? Or is it better to pursue a broader set of health goals simultaneously – improving hygiene, expanding immunizations, providing clean drinking water – that don’t eliminate any one disease, but might improve the overall health of people in developing countries?”

Big donors usually prefer the “vertical” strategy of fighting individual diseases. The broader “horizontal” strategy is less specifically defined and might take many years longer with no fixed deadline. This week the Gates Foundation and allied organizations will announce a revamped plan that represents a major rethinking of strategy, “acknowledging that disease specific wars can succeed only if they also strengthen the overall health systems in poor countries.”

Bill Gates has an impressive track record of matching his big bank account with big ideas. But even he suffered a failure of imagination when it came to fighting polio. The enormous financial commitment made to the disease specific approach must have seemed like a leap of imagination in and of itself, perhaps the bolder course in the either/or choice described above. But bolder still is the now apparent need to do both, notwithstanding the pressure it creates on resources, focus, and ability to measure and celebrate results.

Our efforts to end childhood hunger will eventually face the same challenge. In the short-term there are many achievable victories to be had in closing the gap between those eligible but not enrolled in food and nutrition programs. But in the long term the best way to ensure that families have reliable access to nutritious food is to also tackle the related issues of education, economic opportunity, health care, etc.

Hunger no more exists in a silo of its own than does polio. Eventually the entire socio-economic ecosystem that causes it must also be addressed.

No one organization will ever be well enough resourced, or wise enough, to do all of that on its own. And so humility paves the path to collaboration. It’s another lesson worth remembering by the Gates Foundation, and all of us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Adam Nadel's photographs bear witness to malaria's toll

Yesterday in New York I stopped by the United Nations to see a special photographic exhibit running through May 15 called Malaria: Blood, Sweat and Tears. The nearly 40 pictures were taken by 43 year old photo-journalist Adam Nadel. Fifteen of them can be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/02/21/weekinreview/20100221-malaria-ss_2.htmlare

The photos taken in Uganda, Nigeria and Cambodia are of those who either have the malaria or are engaged in fighting the disease in a variety of ways including as community health workers, a guard at a bed net warehouse, or an African pharmacist. Each picture is compelling on its own but when you consider them as a whole, and examine common features, you better understand what makes this photographer’s effort to bear witness so powerful.

Many of those photographed are outdoors, even when a house or building is in the background. That is probably for practical reasons having to do with sufficient light. But it also underscores the degree to which they live exposed and vulnerable, not episodically, but routinely, in an almost permanent state of jeopardy. Everything about their lives seems foreign and far away, distant and difficult. Children are barefoot on mostly dirt roads. Rooms are dark and all but empty.

The exhibition reveals the many connections between malaria, hunger and poverty. The disease is especially hazardous for those suffering from malnutrition which compromises one’s immune system by retarding the production of antibodies needed to fight the parasite. Also, a low fat diet inhibits the body from absorbing anti-malarial medications. As a result patients often spend what little money they have on an insufficient dosage.

I recognized one of the women in the photos. She is in her late twenties, with jet black hair and high cheek bones shining in the sun like polished apples. She is wearing a colorful flowered blouse and carrying her feverish son, with a green towel draped around his shoulders. They are outside, with a lush green hillside behind them, just slightly blurred.

From the way her body is angled it looks as though she may be balancing in the back of a truck. Her son’s chin is tucked between her left arm and breast and her strong left hand pressing against his back steadies him as they race toward their destination. His lower jaw is pulled slightly to the left, as if his teeth are chattering from severe chills. His eyelids are heavy, almost closed. But not her eyes. In fact they burn fiercely, not with fever but with frightened determination.

I recognize her even though we’ve never met. I recognize her because I can see from her urgency and selflessness that she is every mother I’ve ever known, acting on instincts encoded in genes millennia ago. She is the Philadelphia mother who shared her Witnesses to Hunger story at our Conference of Leaders, she is my wife Rosemary and sister Debbie, she is every mom who has worked at Share Our Strength,

The website says her name is Pheap Sung. She told the photographer that “He was sick for three days, had a very high fever. I would have sought help at a private clinic, but I did not have the money. The free clinic is a long way, but I decided I had to take him. I thought he might have malaria.”

If the clinic had been five times as far it would have made no difference. There is no such thing as too far, too much, too expensive or too complicated. There is no such thing as unreasonable when it comes to a mother doing what is necessary for her child.

The exhibition brings us images from thousands of miles away but if we look carefully enough it reveals not the distant and foreign but the intimate and familiar. The photos are a way of holding up a mirror that challenges our perceptions and call on our imagination.

In that way the photos succeed, at what Ophelia Dahl described in her Wellesley commencement address as “linking our own lives and fates with those we can’t see” affirming that “imagination will allow you to make the link between the near of your lives with the distant others”

We can’t all go to Uganda, Cambodia, or Haiti to witness suffering or to fully understand the need, opportunity and possibility. But if we are purposeful about using our moral imagination we shouldn’t have to.

In today’s world more than at any time in human history, we have access to all of the information needed for bridging that chasm between distant and near. The question is what we do with it, whether we not only analyze and categorize and think about it, but also let ourselves feel something about it and act on those feelings.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Overcoming Failures of Imagination

This weekend’s Global Health and Innovation Conference sponsored by Unite For Sight brought 2200 participants together from the fields of international development, public health, social entrepreneurship, medicine, microfinance and human rights, just to name a few. Speakers included Jeff Sachs, Seth Godin, Jacqueline Novogratz.

Much of the discussion centered on building sustainability and getting ideas that work to scale. As is often the case at such gatherings there was a focus on sharing best practices, measuring impact, and obtaining the necessary resources for success.

I took my opportunity to speak on Saturday morning to challenge the attendees to also look inward. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the greatest cause of failure is usually not a failure of finances or strategy or execution, but rather failure of imagination.

Many of the most successful social entrepreneurs today represent triumphs of imagination more than anything else:

 Wendy Kopp’s idea that college graduates could be trained in a brief time and placed into some of the nation’s toughest schools was a triumph of imagination that led to Teach For America.

 Victoria Hale’s belief that there could be a nonprofit pharmaceutical when none had ever existed, was a triumph of imagination led to drug and vaccine development for neglected diseases through the Institute for One World Health.

 Steve Hoffman’s embrace of a malaria vaccine candidate that others had rejected as too difficult was a triumph of imagination that led to the creation of his biotech company Sanaria, in which the Gates Foundation invested nearly $30 million to produce what may be the world’s most effective malaria vaccine.

Imagination is not the same as creativity. It is more than an effort to improve on how things have been done in the past. Rather it is an effort to envision what has never before been done. It is an openness to not just the reasonable ideas but the unreasonable.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”

There is much to be learned from the imaginations of unreasonable men and women.

Friday, April 16, 2010

bearing witness in a quiet workshop in Haiti

We returned to Haiti this week, on the three month anniversary of the earthquake, to try to keep some of the promises implicit in our first visit. Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz enabled us to bring a delegation that met with everyone from the Minister of Health to the World Food Programme. There’s more to tell than will fit here. Not all of it hopeful. But one moment was and because of your amazing friendship and support I wish you’d have been there to see it.
At a crowded intersection in downtown Port au Prince stands a building not damaged by the earthquake that is being used by Handicap International. In front, the chaos of Haiti’s capital plays out as cars race by and people swarm through the streets while others stand waiting for the packed, colorful minivans known as tap-taps. Inside the building it is also crowded but very, very quiet.

The first two rooms on the ground floor are unlit and dusty, with work tables and machines and electric cords snaking across the floor. A few lanterns hang from the ceiling. This is one of only two workshops in Port au Prince able to make prosthetic limbs for the several thousand new amputees recovering from the trauma sustained when crushed by falling buildings. A dozen artificial limbs in various states of construction are leaning against a wall, as if dancers on prom night taking a rest. Technicians at lathes stare at blueprints and specifications to ensure the next limb will fit the next body.

In the back is a sunlit open courtyard. Benches line the perimeter. There sit at least a dozen Haitians: men, women, boys and girls who have lost one or both legs in the earthquake. Some have family members with them who seem to hang back as if realizing that they will never truly understand what their loved one is going through.

An elderly woman in a green dress is being coaxed forward to take her first steps on her temporary prosthetic device. A somewhat angry young man in his early thirties is sitting and waiting for a technician. A beautiful dark haired girl of thirteen or fourteen sits in a clean red dress with her eyes cast down toward the ground as she gently rubs the jagged scar at the stump of her right leg. A young boy of about eight is in a chair and is having the below-the-knee stump of his leg eased into the soft socket of the artificial limb. He wears a Star Wars t-shirt whose bold logo suggests anything is possible though it is far from clear that he can share in such optimism. I don’t know his name but let’s call him Skywalker. More amputees sit in chairs waiting and staring into the distance.

Even before the earthquake Haiti had almost no capacity to handle rehabilitation after amputation. The technicians and therapists working with the patients are volunteers brought in from El Salvador, which is home to a prominent prosthetic training school. They speak neither the French nor the Creole spoken throughout Haiti. Their patients are having the most important conversations of their lives through pantomime and hand signals. But what they lack in language they make up in tenderness. One young therapist whispers something soothing to the girl whose face seems more stricken than her injured body. A volunteer from Australia gently taps Skywalker’s stump to probe for and be able to protect areas where he will feel the most discomfort.

I’ve come to visit with former Senator Bob Kerrey who lost a leg in Vietnam and has been active ever since in helping build prosthetic clinics in places that have none, and Winfried Danke, the executive director of the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation. Senator Kerrey is talking to the young man in his thirties and it is not clear that he is getting through to him. I see Bob do something I’ve only seen him do once in the 26 years we’ve been friends. He pulls up the cuff of his pant leg and shows the man that he too has a prosthetic limb. It’s not clear whether the gesture has its intended impact but across the room, the young girl who has been sitting sadly sees this out of the corner of her eye and becomes suddenly animated. Her hand shoots out, flutters and grasps to grab the attention of the therapist with whom she cannot speak. She points toward Bob, insists that the therapist look too, and for the first time that day her face breaks into a huge grin.

Meanwhile eight-year old Skywalker is being lifted up to take his first step since he was injured months ago. He is trying to be brave but he winces a bit with the pain of using new muscles. No less than four technicians are kneeling around him, one helping him balance, another assessing his step, another whispering encouragement. He tries again and his eyes fill with tears. There is bravery and determination in this once routine action that most of us take for granted. My memory flashes back to Neil Armstrong taking that first tentative step on the moon. I think about what a powerful a moment that was, and how it was nothing compared to this.

I’ll write again soon to tell you more about the conditions here and the progress we are making. Some problems, like those here in Haiti, are so complex that they almost defy response. They leave us feeling almost helpless and resorting to options that are not governmental but personal, not strategic but instinctual. They reinforce the often underestimated value of just a little tenderness. Mostly they remind us that of the numerous challenges that lie ahead, sometimes the greatest courage of all lies in taking that one first step.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Urgency of Bearing Witness

Because of the many ways in which we think about bearing witness, this article in the New York Times over the weekend caught my eye and I thought you might appreciate reading it as well. It is a poignant description of an 86 year old Holocaust survivor struggling to bear witness even as his memory fades.

One passage that especially resonated with our work at Share Our Strength, and that brought to mind the powerful Witnesses to Hunger project we supported and featured at our most recent Conference of Leaders, was this statement by Elie Wiesel: “I believe fervently that to listen to a witness is to become a witness.” Our opportunity and responsibility, through Hinges of Hope, our numerous events, travel to Haiti, our No Kid Hungry blog, etc. is to not only bear witness ourselves, but to create ways in which others become witnesses to.


The Urgency of Bearing Witness

Ernest W. Michel’s calligraphy skills helped save him from the gas chamber when he volunteered for a job requiring good penmanship. He ended up inscribing the death certificates of fellow inmates at Auschwitz.


Published: April 9, 2010

He has been telling the story for more than 60 years: expelled from school at 13 for being Jewish; arrested at 16; sentenced to labor in the service of Nazi Germany until an SS guard’s blow landed him, at 20, on the doorstep of death — an infirmary at Auschwitz.

Mr. Michel revisited Auschwitz when he turned 60.

Stefan Heyman, the prisoner-worker who helped save Mr. Michel by asking for a volunteer with good handwriting.

Good handwriting saved his life.

READ STORY @ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/10/nyregion/10calligrapher.html

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Update From ConAgra Foods Foundation on Ending Hunger

"ConAgra Foods Foundation Nancy Pope wrote the 2010 New Mexico Plan to End Hunger to improve the state’s rating as the most food insecure in the nation. She succeeded by improving the rating from most food insecure to fifth and she’s still working. She’s also one of five Champions Against Child Hunger we’ll be featuring this week. Read Nancy’s ...full story and vote for a champion – we’re donating $1 to Share Our Strength for each vote.See MoreVote for a Champion Against Child Hunger - ConAgra Foods Foundation


Haiti Update from Partners in Health

Partners in Health announces Call to Action, Stand With Haiti Fund to media

On Friday, PIH held a conference call for national media outlets. PIH co-founder Ophelia Dahl and Chief Program Officer, Ted Constan, both of whom recently returned from a several days in Haiti led the well attended session, and took the opportunity to announce a call to action, hoping that other organizations will step forward and join us in our ongoing efforts to build Haiti back better. They also announced the Stand With Haiti Fund, which will support rebuilding efforts over the next three years. The Fund’s initial budget has been set at $125 million.

Starting on a positive note, Ophelia remarked that one of the highlights of trip was the graduation ceremony for the first class of Global Health Fellows, a cadre of Haitian physicians who have completed several clinical, managerial, and academic requirements over the last several years. Ophelia explained that this celebration of their achievements was planned long before the earthquake struck 7 weeks ago, and PIH leadership convened the ceremony despite the tragedy in part because it provided a much needed “pocket of hope.”

Ophelia and Ted both underlined the need for action by calling our attention to this “urgent humanitarian crisis that is getting worse by the day.” They were encouraged by partnerships with places such as the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti which is doing prosthetic and rehabilitative work, and Ted emphasized the need for partners who can implement “specialized interventions.” By way of example, he explained that while PIH doesn’t have the expertise and/or resources to provide appropriate shelter and clean water to all the people who need it, we are eager to partner with those who do.

Answering a question about living conditions later in the call, Ophelia explained that one settlement of 7,000 people was laid out across an old playing field made of astro turf. The synthetic material was unable to absorb the torrential rains that fell last week, destroying many shelters constructed of only sheets and cardboard, making already dangerously poor sanitary conditions even worse. Ted also discussed the dangers of water borne disease in the settlements, citing a potential onslaught of such preventable illnesses such as typhoid and amoebic dysentery, and declaring that people would most likely still be living in these settlements for at least the next twelve months. He assured callers that PIH will continue to provide medical services and emergency referrals to the hospital in these camps.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A "race to the top" to end childhood hunger

On February 23 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented key elements of the Administration’s strategy to end childhood hunger in a speech at the National Press Club. The centerpiece is a “race to the top” competition to create incentives for states and governors to implement creative plans for community collaboration to eliminate the barriers that prevent children from participating in food and nutrition programs for which they are eligible. More than a year ago Share Our Strength proposed just such a State Incentive Fund. We are delighted to see this type of partnership between the federal government and the states moving one step closer to becoming reality. We believe it is essential to our shared goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. 

See entire post at Share Our Strength's No Kid HUngry blog @http://strength.org/blog/billy_shore/race_to_the_top/

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Looking For the Light - The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Walcott

In 1992, while browsing a bookstore in Washington, D.C., I picked up Looking for the Light. On the back cover was a black-and-white photograph, taken in 1933, of a beautiful 23-year-old woman with mesmerizing eyes and a tomboy style of dress. I developed an immediate crush on her, a photographer named Marion Post Wolcott and the subject of the book.

Wolcott was a photographer for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930s, one of several photographers employed by the New Deal agency to document the impact of the Great Depression on the lives of Americans. Wolcott, along with Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and others, created some of our nation’s most iconic images. But Wolcott never became as famous as some of her contemporaries. That’s because, after taking several hundred thousand photographs over three years, she met a man, put her camera down to start a family, and did not pick that camera up again for almost 50 years.

Paul Hendrickson, the author of Looking for the Light, summarizes Wolcott’s life as “a story about an artist who stopped, who let go of that gifted magical thing inside her until it was too late and the gift was lost. And yet in spite of this fact she was able to make her survival a grace, not just a dour necessity.”

My work, as the founder of Share Our Strength, has focused on hunger and poverty, which is why I’ve always been interested in the era of documentary photography that did so much to bring those issues to public attention. The human drama that Hendrickson conveys about the choices and trade-offs that Wolcott made has universal relevance and was riveting, but what I really took away from the book was a new way to see.

 See my review of the book in Stanford Social Innovation Review @http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/bearing_witness/

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sharing our Strategy With the Nation's Governors

We had a great opportunity this morning to advance our strategy to end childhood hunger by presenting to a private session of Governors from about a dozen states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado and Maryland. They were in town for the annual meetings of the National Governors Association (and the Democratic Governors Association) and were headed over to the White House to see President Obama just after the session in which I presented. So the timing was good – especially because our message was that while the President has set a bold goal for ending childhood hunger by 2015, it will require bold action on the part of Governors, working with partners like Share Our Strength, to achieve it.

Governor Martin O’Malley told his colleagues about the progress that has been made in Maryland and Governor Bill Ritter described what a great deal our new partnership has been for Colorado. Following his comments the chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Delaware’s Jack Markell said “I think we can all agree that this is a no brainer.” The aides to several Governors came up after and asked if we can bring our strategy to their state.

A brief summary of my comments to the governors follows below:

Thank all of you for this opportunity here this morning. I have enormous admiration for your leadership at a time when our nation needs its governors to lead as never before. I don’t have to tell you that that these are extraordinarily difficult times politically, times that require courage and risk and fortitude

Though we may face many challenges that we are not easy to solve , such as unemployment, health care, climate change, etc, there is an important issue that is solvable and it is particularly dependent on you. That is ending childhood hunger in the United States.

As you know, one in four children in the U.S. are now on food stamps, for the first time in our history. A survey that Share Our Strength commissioned from Celinda Lake shows that 62 % of public school teachers identify hunger as a problem in the classroom and are using their own money on a regular basis to buy food for those kids.

But kids in the U.S. aren’t hungry because we lack food, we know that is not the case, and they are not hungry because of a lack of food and nutrition programs. That is not the case either. They are hungry because they lack access to those programs. And every time we increase access- to school breakfast, to summer feeding, to SNAP / food stamps, we increase the flow of already authorized and appropriated federal dollars into your state. Even increasing school breakfast participation from the 45% rate it is at today to 60% would bring $561 million into the states. More than a billion dollars are at stake when you consider all of the food and nutrition programs for which kids are eligible but not enrolled.

We have been working closely with Governor O’Malley and more recently with Governor Ritter to increase the participation in school breakfast, summer feeding, and the SNAP / food stamp program. When I told Governor O’Malley that we had an excellent meeting with Governor Ritter and that Colorado should be able to draw down another $70 million he e-mailed and asked “doesn’t this beg the intellectual question as to why we are not already doing this?”
It is exactly the right question. And the answer is that these kids don’t have representation, lobbyists or associations. They need our leadership. And this is not only right for our kids, it is also a way of showing those skeptical of government, often for good reason, that there are programs that work.

President Obama has advanced this cause by setting the bold goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015, but his Administration’s strategy for achieving that is not as bold as the goal itself. That frankly will depend on you. If you are tired of cutting programs you ran for office to support, if you are tired of budget realities that have forced you to make the most vulnerable and voiceless in your state even more vulnerable and marginalized, then we at Share Our Strength, along with many partners including Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center, are eager to help.

The poet Nordahl Grieg once said: Rich is the earth, noble is man, where there is hunger or need there is betrayal. We know in our hearts and our bones that there is no excuse for hunger in America. Rich is the earth and there is nobility in those of you who have chosen to serve your state and country. We don’t need to betray children by leaving them hungry. That’s why we look forward to partnering in your state to increase participation in programs that have bipartisan support and that we know will work.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Moral Imagination - a post Haiti work in progress

I’ve been giving more thought to Bill Gate’s announcement, which I read about a few days after I returned from Haiti, of the largest philanthropic commitment in history: $10 billion over 10 years to develop and distribute vaccines for diseases like malaria, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. The burden of those infectious diseases on the poorest people in the world is every bit as crushing as the concrete rubble that buried so many in Port au Prince. Gates’ effort will catalyze a greater mobilization of talented medical professionals than anything we saw with Partners in Health. The lives of 8 million children will be saved by 2020 as a result. The $10 billion was a one day story.

The crisis in Haiti naturally trumped Gates as it did so much other news. For the media, nothing held a candle to the horrors being reported from Port au Prince, some so graphically that they became known as “disaster porn.”

Unlike in Haiti, the 3000 African kids who die every day from malaria die quietly and invisibly. That’s because they die routinely, year in and year out, in numbers too large to fathom. They die in the pages of medical journals, not in our living rooms on high definition TV. They don’t reach the threshold for Anderson Cooper. Or the 82nd Airborne. No rock concerts on MTV.

In reality there is nothing quiet about their deaths at all. They are painful, protracted, often horrendous. Perhaps worst of all, they are preventable.

This tension between the immediate and the long-term, between the personal and the abstract exists in every effort to create meaningful change. You and I have come up against it in virtually everything we do. It is human nature to be deeply moved by the drama in front of us, rather than what might be imagined for another time and place. You may have seen the Washington Post magazine story on new research that tries to explain it. Shankar Vedantam, a Washington Post reporter, wrote a book called "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.” In it he says “The reason human beings seem to care so little about mass suffering and death is precisely because the suffering is happening on a mass scale. The brain is simply not very good at grasping the implications of mass suffering. Americans would be far more likely to step forward if only a few people were suffering or a single person were in pain…. Our hidden brain -- my term for a host of unconscious mental processes that subtly biases our judgment, perceptions and actions -- shapes our compassion into a telescope. We are best able to respond when we are focused on a single victim.”

Vedanta reviews the experiments of University of Oregon psychologist Paul SLovic who told volunteers given a certain amount of money, about a starving 7-year-old girl in Mali. On average, people gave half their money to help the girl. Slovic told another group of volunteers with the same amount of money about the problem of famine in Africa, and the millions of people in need. The volunteers gave half as much money as volunteers in the first group.

As with the model trains of our youth, only engines of a certain scale fit our mental tracks. They are very narrow gauge.

The consequence, while explainable as above, perhaps even understandable, is a spectacular failure of imagination. When we focus on the one rather than the many, on the symptom rather than cause, on what oneself can accomplish rather than on what needs to be accomplished by the broader community, we neglect our greatest opportunities to do the greatest good. It’s equivalent to suffering a massive stroke that leaves one seeing only what is in direct line of sight, with no peripheral vision or sense of relationship to the larger, surrounding world.

There is no recourse to such failure of imagination but to recognize it, confront it, and struggle to overcome it as one might a crippling stutter.

It would be nice if there were a more concrete and guaranteed prescription, perhaps a handy checklist to tick through like those Dr. Atul Gawande describes for hospitals, pilots and engineers. But overcoming failures of imagination has less to do with following procedure, or tapping external resources, and more with looking deeply and expansively within. It requires intentionally challenging one’s imagination, questioning whether we have engaged it to the fullest, and especially pushing to contemplate and react not only to what we see but also to what we don’t see.

A few years ago the commencement speaker at Wellesley College made exactly this point, telling the women in the class of 2006 about the ingredient essential to fighting for whatever may be their cause:
“Adam Hochschild writes beautifully about one such cause: the abolitionist movement, in his book, Bury the Chains. He states compellingly that ‘the abolitionists succeeded where others failed because they mastered one challenge that faces anyone who cares about social and economic justice: drawing connections between the near and the distant.’ Linking our own lives and fates with those we can’t see will, I believe, be the key to a decent and shared future….
“Imagination will allow you to make the link between the near of your lives with the distant others and will lead us to realize the plethora of connections between us and the rest of the world, between our lives and that of a Haitian peasant, between us and that of a homeless drug addict, between us and those living without access to clean water or vaccinations or education and this will surely lead to ways in which you can influence others and perhaps improve the world along the way.”

The commencement speaker was Ophelia Dahl. She explained how being the daughter of writer Roald Dahl meant learning a lot about imagination at an early age. She implied that it served her well in helping to envision and create Partners in Health. After all, PIH has succeeded where so many others have failed precisely because of a leap of imagination. The leap was not that highly educated docs in Boston would volunteer to provide health care to Haitians in Haiti – though it would be fair to call that a stretch in its own right - but rather that with the support of partners from Boston, Haitians could create and deliver their own health care. That is where imagination really triumphed.

The enormity of Gate’s $10 billion risks eclipsing the impressive feats of imagination that were its catalyst. Gates was able to see both sides of a distant coin: the needs of African children outside the small circumference of the telescope, and the transformative impact of vaccines notwithstanding a long roller-coaster history that has repeatedly dashed hopes and in the case of malaria for example has yet to produce a single licensed vaccine.

It’s the same imagination the cathedral builders had in persuading their community to invest fortunes and centuries in something that on paper had to look like the most improbable of visions.

It’s the imagination of Timberland’s Jeff Swartz who says a successful business can mean commerce and justice, the imagination that says childhood hunger can be eradicated, that says a malaria vaccine is not a matter of scientific discovery but biotech engineering.

Since returning from Haiti I’ve been determined, as many of us have, to try to make a difference there in the limited ways possible from here: tracking down needed supplies, working to find and connect resources, and engaging others to help. The trip did not fail to reignite and refuel commitment, as I knew it would.

But ironically, for me at least, having witnessed the suffering in Haiti makes it more important to look beyond Haiti, not through it or past it, but beyond it, to find and fulfill one’s purpose. Anything less would feel like some tragic Greek myth in which we’d been warned that gazing too deeply into the eyes of Cite de Soleil’s children surging toward the back of the Yele food truck could permanently constrict our vision.

Compassion is both blessing and balm. But unless hitched to the power of imagination it can leave us one step behind the next tragedy, and the next, always a day late and dollar short. We’ll likely end up doing a lot of good, but not nearly good enough.

Moral imagination is supposed to be what differentiates us from the other species. But our boast is bigger than our bite. We remain only partially evolved, a work in progress to be admired and resisted both at once, or as Bruce Springsteen sings, we are “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell.”

If we hope to truly change the world rather than just the bits and pieces of it that drift in front of us, we must reach for more than the traditional tools stored in those drawers we glibly label “social entrepreneur”, “business leader” or “policy maker.” Indeed we must reach inside, not out, must shape our own evolution, with faith that the greatest value we can deliver may lie not in what we know but in what we seek to know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jim Ansara returns to Haiti with Partners in Health

Our friend and supporter Jim Ansara just returned to Haiti to help renovate hospitals.  The link to his blog is http://jiminhaiti.org/ and the following post from Jim can be found there:

Monday – Port Au Prince

February 15, 2010 by Jim

David Walton and I are heading to the PIH in St. Marc shortly with Patrice Nevil who is the Zanmi Lasante head of infrastructure and engineering. Patrice has been renovating the public hospital in St Marc for the last year working with the Haitian Ministry of Health who owns the hospital. ZL/PIH plays a major supporting role at the hospital which is well run but very antiquated for the last 18 months. The goal of our trip is to plan for a renovation of the operating room and add OR recovery rooms and a small isolation ward. The hospital has played a major supporting role to PAP since the quake as there is a good road between the cities and hundreds of badly injured people were brought to St Marc. For treatment. Tonight we will stay in Mirebalais and then Tuesday on to Cange. I will try to post pictures of St. Marc tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Doctor and His Camera Bear Witness in Haiti

Dr. David Walton has worked with Partners in Health for 12 years and was the person who took us through the general hospital when we were in Haiti at the end of January. He is also a photographer who took more than 2000 pictures documenting the medical aftermath of the earthquake.

I’m including a link to a 4 minute slide show he has prepared @ http://www.pih.org/inforesources/Media/DWalton_video/index.html and which is included on Jim Ansara’s blog (http://jiminhaiti.org/) Dr. Walton was kind enough to share many of his other pictures with me on a thumb drive, some of which may be too graphic for general consumption. But the slide show is a good and representative selection. Besides, you only need to look at a few to see what to understand what Walton’s body of work is saying.

Not surprisingly, the pictures reveal a medical professional’s unflinching eye. Whether the lens is trained on a man with a bandaged head leaning against a car, or an exhausted mother lying on a cot, or the blood soaked bandaged stump of a just amputated leg, the view is clear, calm and centered.

In that sense the photos seem to model what will be required of us all. We cannot turn away. Not from the small Haitian girl on a stretcher clasping a helium balloon, or the tiny nursing baby blissfully unaware of the surrounding trauma, or the shirtless young man leaning on two others as he tries to walk after losing his left leg. We also cannot turn away from the reality that is Haiti. As the images begin to accumulate in our own mind’s eye, they tell us we can’t turn away even when the discomfort and pain become redundant, tiresome, almost numbing. Dr Walton didn’t stop looking. Neither can we.

There is a quiet stillness to these pictures that contrasts with the chaos the earthquake caused. Some of that is the result of a doctor’s steady hand. But some it reflects how time froze the day the ground shook. Not just time in the present as we know time, but also the future it stole from so many.

A large number of the photos show the hands of one person touching another. Sometimes the hands are carrying someone to safety. Some are doctor’s hands performing a procedure. Others show relief workers simply placing a comforting hand on arm or leg. It’s as if Walton is saying we must not only look, but also feel. We must be present with all of our senses.

There are no shortages of images from Haiti. But David Walton probably took more pictures than any other doctor on the scene. He made it his job to not only heal, but to bear witness.