Friday, December 30, 2011

NY Times editorial on hunger tells half the story

The New York Times recent editorial @  makes the important point that increases in the school lunch program to a record 21 million children is an important barometer of the need created by our nation’s economic challenges. And it makes the case for so many of our children receiving this help.

But the editorial fails to discuss the most relevant issue in the fight to end childhood hunger which is that all 21 million of the children who get a free or reduced price free lunch also are entitled to school breakfast but only 9 million get it,. And when the schools are closed in the summer time, only three million get summer meals. Amazingly, because these are entitlement programs with bipartisan support, the funds are available for all 21 million.

The most efficient and effective way of addressing childhood hunger in the U.S. is to close this gap between those eligible and those actually participating. That is the core of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry strategy. Read more @

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Impressive Corporate Leadership in the Fight to End Childhood Hunger in the U.S.

With a remarkable growth rate of more than 30%, to a budget greater than $32 million, there is no one factor that can be singled out as responsible for Share Our Strength’s growth this past year. But our corporate partners have played an especially important role in the fight against childhood hunger.

I don’t want the year to end without giving special thanks to this extraordinary group that includes but is not limited to Walmart, ConAgra Foods Foundation, Food Network, Hickory Farms, Arby’s, Sodexo Jimmy Dean, Ocean Spray, Hillshire Farm, Brown Forman, American Express, Weight Watchers, Whole Foods, Open Table, Sysco, Tyson, Williams-Sonoma, Tastefully Simple, Birds Eye, C&S Whole Grocers, Capital Grille, CGI, Corner Bakery, Ignite Restaurant Group (Joe’s Crab Shack), Ecolab, Family Circle, and the many more you will find on our website at

Many of these businesses are not only generous philanthropically, but play a critical role in creating the jobs America needs to get its economy moving again. And they have not only supported us, but shared their strengths through community service, mentoring, and sharpening our strategy. We look forward to an even more productive 2012 and to our ultimate shared success in ending childhood hunger in America.

The strategic imperative of broadening the base

Recently in Boston I heard Senate U.S. candidate Boston Elizabeth Warren speak and field questions from a crowd of potential supporters. One of the first questions she was asked was how she would be able translate her ideas into concrete policy accomplishments in the hyper-partisan environment of Washington. She used the story of creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as her textbook example of how to get things done and there were some great lessons for our No Kid Hungry campaign.

Warren told how lobbyists for all of the financial and banking interest lined up against the legislation to create the CFPB and how they temporarily prevailed in the Senate to kill a vote on the bill.

“Then we started broadening the base of our support by building a coalition. The SEIU became a huge champion. And we went to the AFL-CIO and they said this is not exactly our top priority but we’ll get involved. And we went to the Consumers Union, which in the past has focused on toasters and other products, and they said we can see why our members might be interested in this. And we went to the AARP which saw that a lot of their members were being taken advantage of by banks and credit card companies. And we eventually built such a large coalition that they had to give us a vote, and once we got the vote, Senators were afraid to vote against us. So it was about organizing that broader coalition.”

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign doesn’t have special interests lined up against it, but we do face a lot of indifference which is just as bad if not worse. And to overcome it we will likely need the kind of broader coalition that is successful in the kind of legislative campaign that Warren described. This is the strategic imperative to broaden the base that is faced by virtually every movement and important cause.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Noel Cunningham's funeral: extraordinary tribute to private citizen with public following

 Noel Cunningham's funeral was yesterday. It was an extraordinary tribute to a private citizen who had developed such a devoted public following. St John’s Cathedral had an enormous standing room only crowd, that included Noel’s brother, sister and twin daughters, the mayor, Governor Hickenlooper, U.S. Senator Michael Bennett, former Senator Gary Hart, a number of Ethiopians, and close to a thousand Coloradans, virtually every one of whom Noel had roped into one good cause or another. Generations of Taste of the Nation organizers and Cooking Matters volunteers found themselves together under one roof for the first time.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter gave the eulogy, which like all of the newspaper articles over the past week was filled with references to Share Our Strength, Noel’s anti-hunger work from Denver to Ethiopia, and Noel’s endearingly unique combination of relentless persistence and utter selflessness.

In the days just before the funeral Noel’s family revealed that Noel had taken his own life. This stunned the community to a degree I can’t begin to describe but I’m sure you can imagine. Toward the end of his remarks Governor Ritter addressed this directly and tenderly, giving comfort to many in convincingly arguing that Noel could not have intended to hurt anyone but that some unknown and unknowable desperation made it impossible for him to hear or see the many friends who would have sought to help him.

After the service everyone in the church was invited back to Noel's restaurant Strings for a reception that included Noel’s favorite dishes. And it seemed like everyone showed up. Bagpipes played Amazing Grace while we ate and thought about what the minister had said at one point in the service: that while Noel was truly irreplaceable, his deeds were not, and those deeds remain to be embraced and carried out by each and every one of us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

remembering Noel Cunningham: "a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones"

In the earliest days of Share Our Strength, one of the great forces in our growth, perhaps the greatest, was Noel Cunningham, a Denver chef and restaurateur who died suddenly yesterday at 62. He was instrumental in the creation of Taste of the Nation, served on our national board of directors for many years, traveled to Ethiopia with us, and pushed us hard to be the best we could be.

More than 10 years ago I devoted part of a chapter to Noel in The Cathedral Within, explaining that his power came from his vision and his commitment to remain true to it no matter how na├»ve it might seem or how uncomfortable it may make others. He was the first truly “unreasonable man” in the best sense of the word, that I’d ever met, and no one else has ever come close.

In the book I wrote: “Noel’s goodness is not always practical, but it is always authentic, and this authenticity moves people further than anyone would have guessed they were capable of being moved…. It’s so real, so undeniable, that it compels others to believe that there must be at least some of that same goodness in themselves, and thereby compels them to the same actions as Noel’s. His impact on people is similar to Billy Budd’s as described by Herman Melville: “A virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones.”

From Denver to Addis Ababa, and everywhere in between, Noel will be deeply missed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Crossing the threshold to historic levels of childhood hunger

For the first time in our nation’s history a majority of fourth graders in the U.S. are enrolled in the school lunch program, having crossed the threshold to 52% from the 49% that were enrolled in 2009. The total number of students receiving subsidized lunches now exceeds 21 million. That’s the bad news, which is reported today in a front page of the New York Times @  about the millions of kids from once solidly middle class families who are getting free lunches for the first time because of changed economic circumstances and lost jobs.

The good news is that programs like school lunch and school breakfast are in place and as entitlements they are funded to absorb such increases in enrollment. They remain one of the few elements of the social safety net that can be relied upon, even as state governments are projected to face increasingly crushing economic burdens and anticipate cutting if not shredding many other efforts to help children and families in need.

This is a continuing affirmation of the very core of our No Kid Hungry strategy. And as we saw from yesterday’s incredible outpouring of support for Share Our Strength following the Dr. Oz Show, the American public gets it, wants to do something about it, and believes that No Kid Hungry is an effective answer worthy of their generosity. And so we enter this holiday period with increased resources and support, but also increased urgency knowing that not only hungry children, but those who care about them are looking to us to make the difference.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Blessing

      At our Thanksgiving dinner, we will repeat the short blessing we’ve been saying every night at dinner since Nate was born. Since Rosemary is Catholic and I’m Jewish the only thing we could agree upon was this passage from a Wendell Berry poem: “And so we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart and in eye clear. What we need is here.”

     That feels especially true at Share Our Strength this year, given the amazing talent we’ve assembled, and the powerful collective commitment to end childhood hunger that we represent. Indeed, what we need is here. For this I am most thankful. All the best to you and your family for the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jeff Bridges Day Off : All About Serving Others, Making Connections

Jeff Bridges, the national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign was in the middle of a four month movie shoot in Boston but he arranged to take off two days to help us mark the first anniversary of the launch of our No Kid Hungry campaign. We met in New York for a 90 minute session of our No Kid Hungry Taste Force, a Food Network reception that included a preview of a new documentary on hunger they are producing for 2012, and an appearance together on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Even though this was his only break in months, Jeff took the following day to quietly tour a health center in Yonkers for people living with HIV, visit a bakery that trains the unemployed, and to help raise funds for a global peace campaign. In between he’d ask questions, suggest ideas for bringing more attention to these efforts, and help plan our strategy for continuing to grow and expand No Kid Hungry. We were accompanied by Jessie Bridges, his daughter, and a force in her own right who seems to bring the best out of her dad and everyone else around her.

“National spokesperson” only covers a small slice of Jeff’s enormous contribution to our success. His genuine compassion, dedication, and authentic commitment have inspired thousands of people to join our cause, and to give of themselves in ways they previously might not have imagined.

We didn’t get back to Boston until after 10:00 p.m. on Friday night and Jeff had to study his script for a long weekend of filming that began early Saturday morning. But he’d gone through the entire day relaxed and unhurried, not only seeking personal connection with those he met, but the interconnection between the various needs and causes that had won his attention.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Kid Hungry, "What's" Been Achieved, and "So What?"

It’s been about a year since we publicly launched our No Kid Hungry campaign with Jeff Bridges and we will have the good fortune to be with him again later this week in New York. The accomplishments of the last 12 months are worth reviewing.

Many facts and figures reflect what we’ve done – 18 No Kid Hungry state campaigns launched or about to be, more than 104,000 NKH pledge takers, huge increases in summer meals sites in Arkansas and Colorado, countless new relationships with policymakers, funders, and volunteers.

But our friend Jeff Swartz, former CEO of Timberland, always urges: don’t tell me the ‘what’, tell me the “so what”. In that spirit, let’s look at how the past year has produced four important answers to the “so what?” challenge:

 We have added tens of thousands of children to school breakfast and summer meals programs, through innovations like the school breakfast challenge and in-classroom breakfast. There is a clear correlation between NKH advocacy / community organizing and increased participation, demonstrating that: Ending childhood hunger through existing food and nutrition programs is achievable.

 Annual 2011 revenue around $34 million means we are raising almost $100,000 a day, every day, thanks to a diversified revenue engine with all of the necessary expertise – event, corporate, foundation, grassroots and large donor – to scale to the size necessary to end childhood hunger. That is probably only about 1/3 of what we will need to eventually raise on an annual basis, but will soon be in range and that is a manageable amount of money, proving that: Ending childhood hunger is affordable.

 We have changed the conversation from feeding kids to ending childhood hunger, and we have changed the focus from federal legislation to its implementation at the state level. We have led the effort to re-imagine and re-invent the nation’s strategy for ending childhood hunger in ways that attract bipartisan support including Republican leadership in Virginia and Texas, demonstrating that in contrast to the many issues on which our government is politically paralyzed: Ending childhood hunger is politically feasible.

 The need is greater than ever. With millions of Americans out of work, child poverty is climbing. For the first time in history, 45 million Americans are on SNAP, and more than half are children. Their current suffering puts their futures at risk. But solutions to childhood hunger exist and so does federal funding for those solutions, which makes: Ending childhood hunger a moral imperative.

We’re still a long way from reaching our goal. As we had hoped our early progress has inspired the support we need to sustain our strategy and continue to grow. The year ahead will be pivotal in cementing and scaling our early results, especially as we drill down deeper in the states where we’ve already launched No Kid Hungry campaigns. But in a few short months we have demonstrated that those ingredients most critical to our success are at hand: strategies that are achievable, affordable, politically realistic, and morally imperative. It would be difficult for anyone to say “so what?” to that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Three Governors whose leadership makes a difference

In the last two weeks I’ve been able to spend time with three of the Governors whose states have made the most progress in ending childhood hunger: Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas, and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado. All three understand that children in America are not hungry because of a lack of food or even a lack of food and nutrition programs, but because they lack access to those programs. And all three are sincere in their passion to fix that.

Most important of all, each understands that while food and nutrition programs like school breakfast, summer meals, and SNAP (food stamps) are federally funded, they are implemented at the state and local level and so it is governors who have the power to make or break the national effort to end childhood hunger in America.

All three states experienced dramatic increases in participation in food and nutrition programs once their governors got involved. Arkansas increased summer meals sites from 330 to 441. Colorado increased from 315 to 392. Maryland recently saw a 17% increase in the same year that national participation declined 3%

The difference in each state? Leadership. Some of it has to do with a governor using the bully pulpit to persuade others to do what they should be doing anyway. And some of it has to do with changing the priorities and activities of the state bureaucracy. And this is the kind of leadership that lives and works closer to the people being served. So everyone is more motivated to ensure that good intentions translate to powerful results.

Governors O’Malley, Beebe and Hickenlooper have inspired many of their colleagues as well, such as Republican Governor McDonnell in Virginia and Democratic Governor Malloy in Connecticut. This bipartisanship is one of our greatest hopes for success in ensuring that there is No Kid Hungry.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Health conditions that emerge through poverty and cause it

Peter Hotez, whose bold vision led to the first National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University is someone I wrote about in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men @  His persistence and commitment in developing a vaccine for hookworm is a great example of someone seeking to solve a problem for those so voiceless that there is no market for serving them.

Last week Hotez published an important op-ed in the Austin Statesman ( ) about the “hidden underbelly” of neglected tropical diseases, which we typically associate with the developing world, that is now afflicted poor people of color in the American South. Describing these diseases as “the most important diseases you have never heard of” Hotez explains: “Not only do these conditions emerge through poverty, causing horrific disability and disfigurement, but the neglected tropical diseases have been shown to actually create poverty because of their ability to impair child growth, intellect and cognition, and adversely affect pregnancy outcome and worker productivity. These conditions are not rare; they afflict millions of Americans, almost all of them the disenfranchised poor.”

Let’s hope that Hotez’s research leads to the national dialogue he’s called for about how we finally break this cycle of poverty.

When social change begins with changing the conversation

I had lunch recently with my friend Jim Down, a wonderful strategic thinker who led Mercer Management Consulting until retiring at age 50. Since then he has played a critical role in the nonprofit sector, advising organizations ranging from OxFam to the Centers for Disease Control. Jim is on the board of OxFam and I asked him what he thought their most impressive accomplishment was so far.

“Changing the conversation. Changing the dialog. Whether with the coffee industry, or mining, the most important thing we’ve done is to get people to think and talk differently about what the real issues are in the developing world, and to help them understand that there are policies that can be put in place to enable people to have the means to support themselves.

That squared with my own sense of the most important thing that OxFam or any social change organization could be doing, as well as our experience at Share Our Strength. With our No Kid Hungry campaign we shifted the conversation from emergency feeding and how we can afford to feed more people to actually ending childhood hunger once and for all, and how we ensure that people access existing, already paid for federal food and nutrition programs.

As an example, the government official in charge of the food stamp program in Arkansas told me how No Kid Hungry’s focus on access caused them to shift from focusing mostly on compliance with regulations to access and outreach, with the result being an increase in enrollment from 71% of the eligible population to 84%, and a workforce of state employees a lot more fulfilled in their jobs.

Once you change the conversation you’ve won more than half the battle. The rest becomes execution, and “how to?” not “whether to?” As soon as I heard those words from Jim Down I knew it was the perfect affirmation of how we think about our goal at Share Our Strength.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Still swimming against the current: an unreasonable man speaks out

Malaria vaccines have been in the headlines once again, raising hopes that a vaccine that can prevent or even eradicate the disease is not far around the corner. But most scientists are more wary than the mainstream press that faithfully covers the hype if not contributes to it. Some of that wariness comes across clearly in an article in Nature News that raises questions about why GlaxoSmithKline published partial trial results for its RTS,S vaccine, and comments on the restraint Bill Gates exercised in announcing them. The story can be found @

I had dinner with Steve Hoffman and Kim Lee Sim last week and we discussed this. Steve, who is the CEO of Sanaria and a developer of a rival vaccine based on live attenuated sporozoites is quoted in the Nature News article. While acknowledging the progress the trial results represent, and praising the unprecedented cooperation with African scientists, he seemed buoyed by the knowledge that his own vaccine is potentially much more effective even though it won’t be first to market.

I wrote extensively about Steve in my book The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men @  which documented the relentless rollercoaster of ups and downs that go hand in hand with trying to do something that’s never been done before. With as many as six different clinical trials of his vaccine taking place around the world, and a trial of his vaccine being administered via IV just beginning in the U.S., Steve can expect more of the same. That he persists is a testament to both his imagination and his unreasonableness, in the best sense of the word. And afterall, this is what scientific research is all about.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

cathedral builders of science

In his statement on the Phase III results of the clinical trial for malaria vaccine candidate RTS,S, Peter Hotez, the president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene says the accomplishment – “more than 24 years in the making” … “is a true testimony to perseverance in public health.” @

Hotez should know. He’s devoted his life to developing cures for the parasitic diseases that take a terrible toll in the developing world but are all but ignored by much of modern science.  Like the great cathedral builders who devoted their lives to efforts they would not see finished, these vaccine developers persevere.

Because of his commitment to solving problems that affect people so voiceless and economically marginalized that there are no markets for serving them, I included Hotez in my recent book The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, where you can read more about his life and career. @

Remarkable Results from No Kid Hungry campaign in Arkansas

         On Friday I was in Little Rock with Governor Beebe to celebrate the first anniversary of our No Kid Hungry campaign in Arkansas, and ro recommit ourselves to even great investment there.  Arkansas is a poor state that a year ago ranked first in the nation in food insecurity. But that was before we launched No Kid Hungry’s signature mix of public-private partnership that includes:

 gubernatorial leadership: not only the Governor and his wife but his senior staff and relevant cabinet officials

 local corporate involvement: WalMart, Tyson Foods, The Midwest Dairy Council

 leveraging federal food and nutrition programs like school breakfast, SNAP and summer meals,

 coordinated action with nonprofit partners: the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance

 an unprecedented level of collaboration among all of the above (which virtually everyone credits to Share Our Strength)

The results are compelling:

 an increase in summer meals sites between from 330 in 2010 to 440 in 2011, with the addition of programs in 14 counties that did not have any summer meals at all

 an increase in after-school meals sites from 48-119 or 248%

 six schools piloting breakfast in the classroom, which won a strong endorsement from First Lady Ginger Beebe who has nicknamed it “Desk Top Dining”.

 Cooking Matters pilots in 4 sites

 SNAP enrollment up from 71% of eligible to 84% bringing $740 million of SNAP benefits to the state.

What is palpable wjhen visiting Arkansas is the degree to which the conversation has changed – in every corner of the state and at every level of state government – from feeding kids to ending childhood hunger, and to doing so through our No Kid Hungry strategy of focusing on increasing access, outreach and participation in programs like school breakfast, summer meals, and SNAP. 

A scientist whose tools are microscope and macroscope

Thanks to Dr. Peter Hotez, neglected tropical diseases are neglected no more. His vision for a National School of Tropical Medicine has come true and in the fall of 2012 he will accept the first class for the School at the Baylor College of Medicine. @

Hotez has not only been a brilliant researcher of parasitic diseases that plague the developing world and that the developed world has or too long ignored. He has also found a way to finally ensure that this work achieves more prominence. He’s used both the microscope is his work, and through the National School of Tropical Medicine has created a “macroscope” to bring that work before a larger audience.

Hotez not only employs science, but innovation, entrepreneurship and communications skills. For these reasons I included a profile of him in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, which uses the race to develop the first malaria vaccine as a way of writing about how you solve problems affecting people so vulnerable, voiceless and marginalized that there are no markets for solving them. @

As a voice for the voiceless, his is one to which we must listen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

lessons in "eradication", whether malaria or childhood hunger

On Tuesday while we were at our staff retreat in Baltimore the Gates Foundation was hosting a forum in Seattle with 300 scientists from around the world to release the latest information about its campaign to eradicate malaria. I wrote The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men because I thought there were so many lessons to be learned from that work that were directly applicable to our goal of ending childhood hunger. Tuesday’s results only reinforced that belief. There were three specific points worth noting.

First, In a report published by Roll Back Malaria at the start of the forum, it was shown that seven countries recently eliminated malaria (their “proof of concept” countries) and that up to a third of the 108 countries where malaria is endemic are moving toward being able to eliminate it. The results were widely reported and seen as inspiring more nations and donors to join the fight.

Second, results were released of the largest clinical trial ever of a malaria vaccine – RTS,S (a competitor to Steve Hoffman who I wrote about) developed by GlaxoSmithKline after 25 years of research and more than $300 million spent. It was tested in more than 16,000 children across seven countries. Only half were protected. It is still considered a major milestone in malaria research, though as one prominent researcher pointed out underscoring the difficulty of eradication: “The reality is that malaria does fight back.”

Finally, In 2007 Gates and his wife Melinda urged the international community to fight for the global elimination of malaria saying that to aspire to anything less would be “timid”. On Tuesday Bill Gates, (sounding like Josh!) challenged the malaria community to be “smarter, faster, and more ambitious”. Gates added: “it will take leadership, innovation and money to plan for malaria’s eventual eradication.” It’s noteworthy that he put “leadership” first – precisely the point of our Conference of Leaders, and the key ingredient we must assess at every level of our work.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What we owe our partners and other stakeholders

I’m writing from my home away from home - National Airport - where I’m waiting out a 90 minute delay on a flight south. The concourse is filled with the usual assortment of software salesmen, lobbyists, lacrosse teams, U.S. Army Rangers, and electricity scavengers looking for a place to recharge iPads. We have little in common but the vague scent of Aunt Annie’s pretzels. Next to me is a man in a green t-shirt that says “Margaritaville on the back, and on the front “There’s Booze in the Blender” It’s a dark and rainy night and the plane looks like a small sparrow next to the 737s heading to New York and Boston. I am missing Rosemary and Nate and second-guessing my decision to try to inspire a small college’s undergraduates with the Share Our Strength story.

Distracting myself by plowing through e-mail, I just opened one that includes the audio message that John Miller, CEO of Denny’s, sent to his team about the Great American Dine Out (They have more than 700 restaurants participating.)

It’s not unusual for our corporate partners to issue communications to motivate their staff and get buy-in. But instead of reading it, I was able to listen to John’s voice as he talked – and as he described the impact Share Our Strength is having, what it means both nationally and at the community level. That must explain why this one hit me more personally.

What struck me is that not only are our partners committed and generous, but that they go to extraordinary lengths – taking risks actually – to vouch for us, to put their own reputation on the line – to link the brand they’ve worked day and night to build to our brand and especially to our brand promise that we will end childhood hunger.

From Whole Food, William-Sonoma and WalMart to Jimmy Dean, Hickory Farm, Denny’s – and everyone in between – men and women with their own businesses and careers to worry about are sticking their necks out further than they have to on our behalf. They are giving testimony in the most public way, that Share Our Strength is where you want to place your bet. Their employees, whose engagement is so critical to Dine Out and our other partnership promotions, know us mostly through what their management tells them. And what they are hearing is that we make a difference, and that while we still have a long way to go, we are going to end childhood hunger.

Humbling, ain’t it? Scary too. There are more people counting on us than we could ever count, more people investing their hopes in us than we could ever have hoped for. It is not only America’s hungry children (as if that weren’t enough) to whom we owe our best, but many others to whom we’ve given our promise as well. Makes it hard to complain about small planes to small towns on dark and rainy nights. Makes it seem more like an honor.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When poltical calculation becomes politcal callousness

I’m en route from Boston to Anchorage, Alaska.  During the course of ten hours in the air it’s hard to not be impressed with what a vast country ours is, and just how formidable is the task of ending childhood hunger, or solving any major national problem for that matter. I’m making the trip at the invitation of the Alaska World Affairs Council, and partly to satisfy my desire to get to the only one of the fifty states to which I have not yet been.

Such a long journey guarantees that rare opportunity to read every single article in the newspaper. What I read today reinforced the vital responsibility that both Share Our Strength and CWV have to be a voice, even if a lonely one, for those whose voices are not heard.

The New York Times reported on the latest round of skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending, almost all of it designed to score political points rather than impact the economy. In another article, about the team guiding President Obama’s re-election, his top political adviser David Plouffe, asserts that Obama offers the American people the choice “of a president who says ‘Every decision I make is focused on the middle class.’”

What about the rest of the country? 46.2 million Americans now live below the poverty line. I wonder what it feels like to hear that they are not even in the scope of the President’s work, let alone a priority.

Plouffe’s comments have bothered me all day, especially for how deliberate they were. His enforcement of message discipline is legendary in political circles. His carefully chosen words were meant to be music to the ears of many Americans who fit squarely into that most popular and potent of all political cohorts: the election-deciding middle class. They of course have legitimate wants and needs, but at least they have a voice. What of those who don’t?

We have reached a new low when political leaders and their spokespeople actually brag about representing not all of the nation, but only a portion of the population, albeit a politically powerful one. Political calculation has morphed into political callousness.

Presidents are uniquely elected to set a higher and unifying national standard. When they don’t the bar is lowered for everyone else. That’s apparent in Congress’s response to the President’s jobs bill, which Thursday’s NY Times also discusses in its lead editorial. Not only is the jobs legislation during this unemployment crisis being held up by the president’s Republican adversaries, but also by members of his own party who lack the courage to advocate government action that may be politically unpopular.

From 37,000 feet up here somewhere between Boston and Alaska, looking down at the farms and factories, at the small towns and schools where children were taught that Presidents act on their behalf no matter which class they belong to, America looks fertile and full of possibility. But our leaders no longer see the whole, as one can from this vantage point. They have instead narrowed their vision to see only what is small and advantageous in the short-term. As a result they perpetuate the smallness, the narrowness, and the division. By such actions they are choosing to follow rather than to lead. The only remedy is for others to lead, for citizens and community organization to act not on behalf of a class, but on behalf of a country. That remains our work, more important now than ever.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why We Can Succeed in Ending Childhood Hunger (Remarks at Autumn Harvest Dinner)

Thank you so much for being with us for such a special evening. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to you from this podium 18 times now, during good times and bad, but never at a moment as pivotal as this.

I’m grateful that Savannah Guthrie is here, and grateful to Kim DiPalo and Danny and everyone on their team for such support. I do want to say a word about Danny Meyer, because there is no one in the country who has made a bigger difference in our success – and we now have an annual budget of $37 million a year – than Danny has as a mentor, leader, champion and friend. The recent New York Times magazine cover story told of how successful he’s been, but it didn’t say what he has done with his success, to what purpose he has put his success, and it is that which I admire most about him because Danny is not only a successful business leader he is a leader in the community and an example of what inspired citizenship can achieve. The reason it wasn’t in the magazine is that it would take an entire book to describe his accomplishments. Fortunately that book is being written today in the smiles of children who have been fed, and on the bodies of children who are strong and healthy because of Danny’s support and leadership.

As I thought about how to describe for you the special blend of idealism and pragmatism that I think is at the heart of Share Our Strength’s effectiveness, I was once again helped by the words of our six year old son Nate. He spends a lot of the summer in Maine at a small cottage we have on the water.

Recently a neighbor came over and said “I had an interesting talk with your son.” This is the moment I begin to hold my breath. Anyhow, this man on the beach comes over and says “I had an interesting talk with your son. I was building a sand castle down by the water’s edge with my son”, he continued” and your son came over to us, hands on hips and said: “Just so you know, I’ve seen a lot of these and they’re always gone by morning.”

Well many of us might say the same about some of the causes and campaigns that we’ve seen come and go, be it the war on poverty, the war on drugs, climate change, even hunger. But I’m here tonight to tell you that this time is different. We’ve got a dream but it’s not built on sand. In fact it’s got a more solid foundation than anything I’ve seen before.

Here’s why it’s different. Hunger is a problem, but it is a problem with a solution. In fact the extent of the problem has never been greater. 46.2 million Americans live below the poverty line and 20 million of them live in deep poverty, families of four living on less than $11,500 a year. 44 million are on food stamps and half are kids. Secretary Vilsack told me that one of every two kids in this country will be on food assistance at some point in their lifetime. Today’s generation of children faces hard times worse than anything since the Great Depression.

The solution has to do with two facts:

First, kids are not hungry because we lack food or food programs but because they lack access to those programs. 20 million kids get a free school lunch but only 9 million get breakfast and only 3 million get meals in the summer when the schools are closed. Even though all 20 million are eligible. The reason they lack access is that sometimes they aren’t aware of the program, but most times the state or city where they live hasn’t set the program up.

Second, and this may be Washington D.C.’s best kept billion dollar secret, the food in the programs these kids lack access to is already paid for, it’s costs are 100% federally reimbursed. It buys milk from local dairy farmers, break from local bakeries. But the money doesn’t flow until the kids actually participate.

Here’s the catch: These kids are not only vulnerable but voiceless. They don’t belong to organizations and they don’t have lobbyists. There is no greater testament to their voicelessness than the fact that $1 billion has been allocated for their needs and they are not getting it. These are federal entitlement programs but not the programs that have given entitlements a bad reputation. They are not drivers of the national debt. They represent the bipartisan wisdom of our predecessors, the wisdom that says kids are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the situation in which they find themselves, and something as basic as whether or not they eat should not be subject to the prevailing political winds of the moment.

So what we do at Share Our Strength, in its very simplest terms, is work with governors and mayors, nonprofits and businesses, in public-private partnership, to identify the barriers to kids participating in programs like summer meals and school breakfast. And then we knock those barriers down. If it means working with community organizations to set up additional sites, that’s what we do. If it means putting ads on radio stations to make parents aware of where their kids can get food, we do that too.

• Maryland: In August 2010, there has been a 45% increase in participation in summer meal programs over the previous year.

• Arkansas: They have nearly doubled the number of summer meals sites where families can access free summer meals.

• Colorado: There has been a 66% increase in the number of kids who are participating in school breakfast programs in the two years.

• Washington State: There has been a 64% increase in participation in SNAP in Washington State.

And we were recently joined by Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia in making this a truly bipartisan effort, and an important regional one, with Maryland Governor O’Malley, to end childhood hunger.

I hope what we are doing sounds good. But I also hope you will agree that good is not good enough. Why? Because Martin Luther King once said “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood, it ebbs.” Despite our success there are still too many children for whom we are too late. The spectacular results we are getting in Arkansas have not found their way to Texas. The progress we’ve seen in Maryland, has not reached Mississippi.

If you are in this room tonight because you believe we can change the world, I hope you will agree that there is no higher likelihood of accomplishing that than by helping us address this problem with the solution I’ve described.

We’ve got a diversity of interests in this room, and many of you have numerous other community and philanthropic commitments. But we’ve come together because we believe that children are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the position in which they find themselves. And it turns out that is one of the few things Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree on as well. And so do teachers, and doctors and Fortune 500 CEO’s and economists, and chefs, of whom some of the best in the world are here tonight. So this problem of hunger has a solution. Private efforts can’t take the place of vital public policy, but engaged and active citizens who put people ahead of politics, can show Washington the way.

We have worked too long and too hard and fought too many good fights to let our legacy be swept away by incoming tides of special interest and cynicism. We’ve worked too long and too hard and fought too many good fights to let our legacy be an America in which record numbers of kids go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, show up at school hungry, and become part of an economy and society weakened by such neglect.

So tonight I ask you to join me in ensuring that for my son Nate at the beach, and your own kids wherever they are, and for American children everywhere, that this time will be different, that this time what we build together will not be washed away like sand castles at high tide, that this time what we build together will be there in the morning, and will be there for the next generation, that this time what we build together will endure and inspire like the great cathedrals that have stood for hundreds of years.

This time what we build together will say to the world that we not only have a vision but a voice and that we have raised our voices together on behalf of those whose voices are not heard, and that rising together our voices finally changed the national conversation, that our voices unashamedly and finally made heard the idealism that brought us here in the first place, that our voices insisted that partisan politics should not only stop at the water’s edge but at the doorstep of any home where young children need a chance and are depending on us to give it to them, that our hopeful voices finally achieved an America in which there is No Kid Hungry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SNAP (food stamps) one of our most effective childhood hunger programs

Earlier this week we met with Bob Greenstein from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He is also a long time member of the Share Our Strength board. Bob’s focus is poverty and hunger. He knows that are even more narrowly focused on childhood hunger. And he wanted to be sure that we understood that the most effective childhood hunger program in the country is SNAP (food stamps). Three-quarters of SNAP recipients are families with children. 93% of SNAP benefits go to families with incomes below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four.)

SNAP is also the program at greatest risk from budget cuts. The child nutrition programs such as school breakfast and summer meals are not expected to come under attack. But there has always been a political mythology about SNAP, especially that it is subject to fraud and abuse and can therefore afford to be cut. At one time that was true. But Democrats and Republicans came together and reformed the program. Today benefits average less than $1.25 per person per meal. So to cut SNAP could compromise the basic health and well being of more than 20 million low income households.

Whether SNAP makes for good political fodder may be debatable. The facts are not. In 2009 SNAP lifted 1.7 million children above the poverty line. Any serious effort to address the record levels of poverty recently reported must protect SNAP.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Four questions nonprofits must ask in light of dramatic rise in poverty

Last week the Census Bureau released a new survey showing a record 46 million Americans living in poverty below the poverty line, and more than 20 million living in deep poverty (below less than 50% of the poverty line) The sheer magnitude of the problem – greater than any time in the 52 years since such records have been kept – makes it likely that the work of virtually every nonprofit and social service organization will be impacted by heightened need. Most if not all will be asked to do more with less.

There are at least four questions that community leaders and nonprofit executives should be asking in light of this crisis level of poverty:

First, anticipating greater need, are we investing internally in building capacity to meet it?

Second, is it possible to do more with less or must we find ways to not only redistribute wealth but to also create a new kind of wealth called community wealth?

Third, will we go about doing business as usual, or can we reorganize to serve those most vulnerable and voiceless in our society?

Fourth, are our programs and services designed to yield incremental change or to achieve the transformational results necessary?

These are many of the questions we’ve wrestled with over the past 2 years at Share Our Strength and at Community Wealth Ventures. Share Our Strength has grown from revenues of about $14 million in 2008 to about $36 million today. The result is that we and others in the anti-hunger community been able to alleviate a significant percentage of hunger even as poverty has increased.

Community Wealth Ventures is working hard to tease out these lessons of success, and the ingredients of other transformational efforts, and to make them available to other nonprofits and community leaders. To see if they can help go to

Friday, September 16, 2011

Increase in Poverty Not Surprising, But Lack of Bold Response Is

The government’s newly released statistics showing a record 46 million Americans living in poverty were shocking but not surprising. The dismal economic trends of the past few years made a surge in poverty predictable. But the sheer magnitude of the problem – greater than any time in the 52 years since such records have been kept – cannot fail to shock the conscience of the nation.

But it unfortunately has failed to shock the conscience of politicians and policymakers. Perhaps most surprising of all is the tepid response and the utter failure of the President or any other national political leader to come forward with a set of bold proposals designed to reverse this devastating descent into despair for so many of our fellow Americans. Most failed to even muster expressions of sympathy. The media’s front page coverage was met by sounds of silence.

Jobs creation is of course a critical piece of what is needed. And there has been a belated focus on that. But even in periods of robust economic growth, and much better employment rates, such as during the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s, we’ve had more than 30 million Americans stuck below poverty and little effort made to reach them.

There’s a callousness settling into our political system that is deeper and more disturbing than the kind that is reflected in the political infighting and cheap shots that have become par for the course under the Capitol dome. It’s a callousness toward the suffering of other human beings who have nothing to do with politics or one’s political adversaries, but simply have the misfortune to be vulnerable and voiceless. There are 46 million of them now and they need someone in Washington with the courage to speak out on their behalf.

A nation indifferent to the fate of 15 percent of its own citizens has worse shocks ahead.

Monday, September 12, 2011

bearing witness to famine in Horn of Africa

Yesterday’s New York Times published a rare first person account of what it feels like to be hungry in the midst of famine. @

The tragedy in Somalia and the Horn of Africa continues to unfold in the face of man-made logistical obstacles that make meaningful relief problematic. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to continue to bear witness and fuel our own commitment to make a difference.

One of the lessons from the colossal suffering the world seems unable to stop, is that by the time a famine reaches this level, we have almost certainly missed the window of opportunity to intervene on a scale commensurate with the scope of the horror. The numbers are overwhelming and the political and security situation that prevents aid from being delivered, cannot be overcome merely with humanitarian best intentions and good will.

That is why long-range international development efforts, that do not lend themselves to dramatic film footage on the evening news, and which get so much less attention, are all the more important for us to support. One of the things we’ve always done best at Share Our Strength is to find creative ways to help people see needs of which they may not have been aware, and how they can share their own strengths to meet those needs.

As much as all of us naturally have the impulse to do something immediate for Somalia – and we have made an emergency grant and can hopefully do more - our greatest impact will come from developing a strategy, as we’ve done with No Kid Hungry here at home, that builds a larger and long-term constituency of supporters for efforts to ensure that those in famine struck regions can ultimately support themselves. That’s the kind of work that takes not only years but decades. It requires a kind of compassion and commitment that can be sustained long after this immediate crisis has passed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Another chapter in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men

I get the question all of the time. “How does the story end?” After reading through 300 pages of my new book “The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men” it’s a fair question. Indeed one of the challenges in finishing the book was knowing that the story of developing the first vaccine that might prevent malaria probably wouldn’t and couldn’t have an ending for another 10-20 years. That is partly the nature of science and it partly represents the almost insurmountable obstacles that scientists have faced over hundreds of years in trying to combat malaria. (The book can be found @

But that is one of the central points of the book, following the wild rollercoaster ride of Steve Hoffman in particular, from the beginning of his penniless lab in a strip mall to the infusion of more than $30 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which enables Hoffman to build a world class vaccine manufacturing facility. It takes certain qualities of character and specific entrepreneurial strategies to solve problems that affect people so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them.

Now, on the heels of a deeply disappointing clinical trial, Hoffman is back with a newly published paper in the journal Science with vaccine results that he describes as “staggering.” As any entrepreneur would, he took failure not as an end in itself but as another lesson learned along the continuum, and proposed the never before used innovation of introducing a vaccine intravenously. When tried on animals, the results were protection of between 71% and 100%, compared to protection of only 2 out of 44 when tried on humans via injection into the skin. (see summary of Science article @ )

“It was an ‘aha’ moment “ said Robert Seder at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Its classic entrepreneurship: try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else. It is the twist-and-turn lineage of most great achievements, moreso than a straight line. The initial results left Hoffman disappointed but undeterred. And now he has taken a huge step forward, fully aware that further complications lie ahead, especially how to overcome the practical and logistical challenges of wide-scale distribution intravenously. “Our goal has always been to show that this vaccine is highly effective. Once we have done that. We’ll figure out how to make it practical”, he told Science Now. Just the sentiments that made Hoffman the central figure in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two Books Give Voice to the Voiceless Suffering from Malaria

Is the global campaign against malaria reinventing international aid? That’s the thesis of an important new book, Lifeblood, by Time’s Africa bureau chief Alex Perry. @

The book, whose pub date is today, makes the case that former businessman and now UN Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers approaches charity like a business. Having known Ray for many years, that is definitely one of the many strength’s he brings to the task.

In my recent book about the quest to end malaria, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, @ I try to look at the challenge from the other end of the telescope, not just using business strategies and tactics, but looking at the strategies and qualities of character demanded by the toughest problems to solve, which are those that affect people so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them.

The two books make a good pair: Perry’s looking at the distribution of insecticide treated bed nets to prevent malaria infections, and mine looking at the quest for a vaccine to eradicate the disease completely. Thanks to our publisher Public Affairs for giving voice where there was none!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day comments on link between jobs and hunger

On Wednesday of this week the USDA releases its latest food insecurity numbers, and on Thursday, President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress about jobs. The press coverage will be unlikely to draw any connection between the two events, but it is essential for us to understand, act, and speak out on just how intimately these two issues are tied together.

Getting Americans back to work is a central ingredient to the long-term success of virtually every social program including the anti-hunger programs we champion. Record levels of poverty and unemployment make it extraordinarily difficult to reduce economic inequity and win battles to end hunger, ensure equal educational opportunities, and create a more just society. Those of us working toward those goals will come up short unless we take a larger and longer term view that includes economic growth and job creation as a priority. We must make our voices heard on those issues as surely as we will on the USDA hunger statistics.

The president’s jobs package is likely to be imperfect, and include compromises that reflect political reality. But it is critical to elevating the human catastrophe of millions of unemployed Americans as a priority on the national agenda. (As is typically the case, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities led by Share Our Strength board member Bob Greenstein, has an insightful analysis of the August jobs numbers @ )

Until now the political will in Congress has been insufficient to achieve progress on jobs. It will remain so unless more of us speak out and specifically underscore the connection between our missions and the need for bold measures to address the jobs crisis. Part of our leadership responsibility at both Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures is to encourage others in our sector to look beyond their specific silo, focus on the bigger picture, and raise their voices as well.

Nonprofit and advocacy organizations focused on human services need to reach out this week – to their supporters, donors, stakeholders and all of those they serve – and explain how and why concerted, bipartisan action on jobs is directly related to the mission of their organization.

In the case of our No Kid Hungry strategy, our challenge not only would be more manageable if more families had meaningful work and less need for public food assistance, but our efforts also can actually help create jobs. States have left more than $7 billion on the table in Washington because of the number of children and families who are eligible but not participating in school breakfast, summer meals, and the SNAP program. If that $7 billion were being spent locally to buy and deliver more food products it would create additional jobs at virtually every level of the supply chain. By itself it would not be a large enough number of jobs solve the unemployment crisis, but when there are as many American families suffering as there are today, every job counts and our efforts would be a net positive contribution to that solution.

It’s fairly obvious that when more Americans are working, they are less likely to need food assistance. But what’s less obvious is that enrolling more children in food programs as we do through our No Kid Hungry campaigns can also help create jobs. The national conversation this week and next will be focused almost exclusively on ideas to create jobs. If we want to be heard, we must find ways to talk about what we do in that context. And the large numbers of hungry children in America need us to be heard if they are to have a voice in that national conversation too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Top 6 Reasons Why No Kid Hungry Campaign is Needed and Destined to Succeed

I’ve been struck by the importance of relentlessly reinforcing the key messages of No Kid Hungry and what makes it so compelling. Given how powerful those messages are, and how strong a case we’ve built, I thought I’d summarize my view of the top 6 reasons why the time is right for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

1. Record Levels of Need: In the aftermath of the recession, with unemployment at 9.1%, and persistent poverty, there are now 45 million Americans on the SNAP (food stamp) program and half of them are children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Report shows that the child poverty rate in the U.S. has grown by 18% between 2000 and 2009, with 15 million of our children now living in poverty. More than twice that number lives in homes where no parent has a full-time job. Poverty rose in 38 of our 50 states over the last decade. But you don’t need to memorize all of these numbers. Just remember the faces from Katherine van Steenburgh’s photos of her summer meals visit in New Mexico. Innocent children are suffering in this country and No Kid Hungry is one of the fastest and most effective ways to change that.

2. Effective Solutions Exist and They Are Funded: The most effective tools for fighting childhood hunger are the public food and nutrition programs consisting of SNAP, school meals, summer meals, and WIC, to name a few. 20 million children in America get a free school lunch, but only 9 million get school breakfast and only 3 million get summer meals, even though all 20 million are eligible. I call this Washington’s best kept billion dollar secret because school breakfast, summer meals and SNAP are entitlement programs with at least than a billion dollars untapped but available to close the gap between the number of children eligible and the number actually participating.

3. No Kid Hungry is a Win-Win proposition: Everyone wins when more children are enrolled in public food and nutrition programs. The children are fed and healthier. Our schools and teachers have students better able to pay attention and are ready to learn. Better students and better schools mean an economy that is more competitive globally. And federal funds flow into cash-strapped states to reimburse for meals in ways that stimulate the local economy, buying bread from local bakers, mile from local dairy farmers, etc.

4. Measurable Results, Historically and Now: The programs work which is why they have been around for more than 30 years, have enjoyed bi-partisan support, and are continually reauthorized. At a time when so many doubt that government works at all, this is a shining example of public-private partnerships at their best. And we can count increases in summer meal sites, increases in school breakfast participation, etc. as we have in Maryland, Colorado, Arkansas and elsewere, so we know when the NKH campaign is effective and when it is not. That commitment to accountability inspires confidence in our stakeholders and distinguishes is from other organizations and efforts.

5. Unprecedented Community of Diverse Talent: We have attracted an unprecedented diversity of talented supporters including corporate CEO’s, chefs and culinary leaders, teachers and educators, Governors, Mayors and other elected officials, entertainers, philanthropic leaders, social media activists, and grassroots supporters in the form of nearly 60,000 NKH pledge-takers. There has never been such a broad-based, cross-sector, multi-faceted coalition championing this issue. It is a formula for success.

6. NKH is an Oasis in the Political Desert: Children’s Food and Nutrition programs were not cut in the budget deal that accompanied the debt ceiling increase, and were made specifically exempt from the automatic cuts that would be triggered if the Congressional joint “super committee” fails to reach an agreement. As other essential services, especially in health and education are cut, the safety net represented by the child nutrition entitlement programs stands out as all the more vital an oasis in the desert.

Needless to say we still have a long way to go to make No Kid Hungry a reality. There are plenty of obstacles and potential pitfalls along the way. And we have set the bar high in trying to accomplish something so difficult that no one has been able to yet achieve it. That’s what also makes it so necessary.

There are surely many other reasons, in addition to the six above, why the time is right for our No Kid Hungry strategy. But the larger point is that an unprecedented combination of ingredients, some brought about by your relentless efforts and leadership, now promises hope to millions of American children. That promise is ours to keep.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Unique Role of Public Affairs in Giving Voice to the Voiceless

This weekend I read a brand new book called Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time, by Alex Perry, Time Magazine’s Africa Bureau chief. It’s a profile of the efforts of long-time friend and Share Our Strength supporter Ray Chambers to rid Africa of Malaria, first through an organization he helped create called Malaria No More, and then in his role as the UN’s first special envoy for malaria.

Much of the focus of the book is on how Chambers used business practices to scale up the effort to distribute insecticide treated bed nets, and the many lives that has saved. It’s a good read and because it is published by Public Affairs which last year published my book The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men @ about the race to develop a malaria vaccine, and about the challenge of solving problems that affect people so voiceless that there are no markets for solving them, I think of the books as worthy bookends.

Mostly I’m so admiring of Public Affairs for having the courage and commitment to tackle subjects that at first may not seem to appeal to a large commercial market, and nevertheless publish them in a way that enables such important issues, like malaria, to reach a wider audience. It’s a unique niche in American publishing today, and a true public service.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sara Brenner's 8 common elements of successful social transformation initiatives

My colleague Sara Brenner, who is one of the leaders of Community Wealth Ventures, recently gacve a keynote speech at the Good360 Conference and outlined 8 common elements of the most powerful adn effective social  transformation initiatives.  I've excerpted her comments below as they are a superb summation of manmy of our learnings.

Element #1: Good is not good enough

Successful social change initiatives are led by restless people, those who are unsatisfied with incremental change. They believe good is not good enough.

Take the example of our parent organization and client Share Our Strength (which is an anti hunger/anti-poverty organization fighting to ensure that NO KID is HUNGRY in the US).

For a long time everyone involved with Share Our Strength was satisfied with their success except those leading the organization. Share Our Strength distributed hundreds of grants a year helping other organizations feed people, asked for little in return and was very popular as a result. Who could argue with that? The organization got plenty of good press and it kept friends, family and stakeholders impressed and supportive. The organization probably could have kept it going in that fashion for quite some time.

But they were unsatisfied with not being able to quantify their impact, and therefore to assess, if only for themselves, whether their hard work was paying off. They had no specific goal and therefore no way of knowing whether they were moving towards it. They knew what they were doing was good, but also sensed it wasn’t good enough. The organization plateau at about $13M between 2005-2008.

Executives asked themselves, we are feeding a record number of people but what are we doing to help ensure that they wouldn’t need our assistance in the first place?

They wanted to have greater impact.

Once it’s decide that good is not good enough, the leaders we studied set big vision for a different world.

This brings me to element #2.

Element #2: Have a big vision, but believable goals

To quote Jonathan Kozol’s the education writer and reformer “pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win”. In doing so, you’ve had impact and can demonstrate real progress – and you’ll be believable.

As an example – in 2009 Share Our Strength refocused their broad-based anti-hunger efforts on a specific subset: hungry children in the United States. They realized it was possible to do more than just feed kids, that they could actually end childhood hunger. The linchpin of the growth from $13 million dollar org to $34M organization was a commitment to shift away from short-term incremental progress in favor of long-term transformational change. The former is easy and comfortable. It is the norm. The latter is risky and hard to achieve.

Billy will say that “establishing the bold goal of ending childhood hunger – not reducing, reversing, or redressing, but ending it – represented transformational change and more than any other factor has been responsible for the organization’s growth and ability to have greater impact”.

For an existing organization – this is a process of steering the ship in a new direction, but what about new initiatives that are not born out of one organization.

When we spoke to Scott Case the former CEO and current Vice Chair of Malaria No More (which was established to end deaths from malaria by 2015), he shared… When you’re first starting a totally new initiative, it may not be practical to state the end goal at the beginning. It isn’t always easy to see what the end goals will be or what all the milestones will be. And, frankly the second or third milestone isn’t always easy to articulate until you’re well into working on the first. But sometime you just have to choose a first milestone and get going.”

In their case – they chose dramatic reduction of malaria deaths in one region of one country.

What Scott alludes to is action-oriented leadership – proving that it can be done. This is the third element.

The 3rd Element: Be relentless about showing immediate action and progress.

All the leaders we interviewed are relentlessly action-oriented and goal-oriented. They make decisions and they move, and they are able to bring in a small group of dedicated leaders to drive the initiative forward.

In the case of Malaria NO More’s work– they brought together a great leader in Ray Chambers with other government officials in the US and Africa and offered a solution of bed nets. They showed it was possible to make dramatic change in a particular country and moved on to the next. Once progress is shown, these leaders convince others that success is within reach and not working on the issue would be crazier than working on it.

This leads to element #4.These leaders not only act but are exceptional focused decision-makers.

Element #4: These leaders make tough and unpopular decisions; and take criticism

The leaders we studied are laser focused on achieving their goals, using data to inform decisions, and makes quick course corrections.

An example of this is when Geoff Canada who founded HCZ set the goal that every child complete college. Many of you may know HCZ. The organization has accomplished amazing results with graduation rates among disadvantaged youth that rival privileged private schools. He proved that regardless of one’s environment youth can succeed, and has changed people’s thinking about what works in education across the country not just in Harlem. He is a reformer.

Several years ago, HCZ built an employment program to create stability in the homes of these children. When they looked at the data from their employment program, they saw that the people who were availing themselves of the program didn’t have children.

Geoff had a tough choice. Many people in the community liked the program. It was helping people but it was not helping to achieve the goal of children completing college. He made the tough decision to close the program. This takes discipline and a relentless focus on your goal, and it takes courage.

This leads to element number #5. Successful leaders of social change initiatives need courage for tough decisions and also a tolerance for failure.

Over and over again, leaders we interviewed shared that you have to get comfortable with failure to be successful. For them, failure provided the opportunity to learn and change and do better. If you look at many highly successful for-profit entrepreneurs they failed several times before getting it right. Walt Disney was turned down by over 20 banks for capital until he came up with his “Mickey mouse” concept. He recognizes it was these failures that made his concept a huge successful.

Malaria is no different, efforts in the 1920s and 1950’s failed. At one time, places like Sri Lanka actually got the cases down to 20 or 30 cases. But if 1 or 2 rainy seasons come without intervention malaria can rebound rapidly, and it did. In 1990’s people began to ask if we can eradicate Malaria herein US why not eradicate it elsewhere – and let’s learn from past efforts to make lasting improvement this time.

Failure can yield better results though the social sector does not set up systems that allow organizations to take risks, fail, learn and try again. We need to accept failure as part of the journey in transforming social problems.

Failure can result from many things. Often is comes from not understanding and monitoring your theory of change (or your product) to ensure you are getting results. Once you get this right – your set. Failures of some social change initiatives also often come from the complexity of the multiple stakeholders involved.

This leads me to Element #6 : Successful social transformation efforts are lead by connectors who bring uncommon bedfellows together across sectors.

It goes without saying that a critical element of social change initiatives is the power of involving individuals and organizations/agencies across many sectors and rallying them around a common goal. The number of people and parties involved in all successful initiatives is mind boggling from governments, religious leaders, nonprofits, and for-profits. In HCZ case, it was national funders, the hospital, a health fund, local funders, police, tenant association, and the clergy (which he emphasize were critical partners) And, it’s safe to say, that prior to these initiatives, many of these parties were working in isolation toward different goals, rather than a common one.

What is characteristic of successful change initiatives is that they have a leader with the ability to bring together uncommon bedfellows and build bridges. It takes many interests and a diverse group – and many people.

Randomly visit the headquarters of any ten nonprofits and you’ll find that at least nine have a poster somewhere on their wall of Margaret Mead reading “never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

While inspiring, it would be better stated by saying “can begin to change the world.” Actually changing the world takes a lot more than a small group.

One of the critical operating principles of effective social change leaders is that they increase the number of shareholders that has genuine ownership for creating change. This not only means collaborating, partnering, forging coalitions, etc., but also giving real ownership to others so that they are working with you or even independently of you, toward a shared objective.

People are critical. This leads to the 7th element.

Element #7 “Successful change initiatives value investment in raising political will and communications as much as programmatic investments. “

Successful initiatives invest heavily in increasing the political will among the general public, and the savviest initiatives view communications as a programmatic function rather than just a support function. Scott Case articulated the importance of mass engagement. Their team looked for platforms where they could reach masses of people (Nascar, American Idol, etc.) and then figured out how to make their cause/issue relevant, and have people take action. Share Our Strength did something very similar by asking America’s to take a pledge for NO KID HUNGRY and to get involved locally.

At its most basic- building political will simply means that you’ve succeeded in getting a broader base of people to care about your mission not just those immediately affected by it. It means building some capacity to engage in policy development at both the federal and local level, share and advance ideas with policy makers and ultimately bring some political pressure to bear on behalf of your ideas.

In SOS’s case this was a big shift for the organization that had never engaged government before. This meant new types of staff, new processes, and new systems. They found that the investment is worth it because if your mission is big enough to matter – you’ll need some partnership with government to realize large scale impact.

This brings me to the 8th and final Element: Leaders of successful change initiatives are beholden to goals and thereby control their own financial destiny

Geoff Canada shared that early on they made a decision not to accept restricted dollars. That’s right – no restricted dollars. This is the dream of many organizations. His believed that if funds were allocated for specific programs, funders would become attached to programs, and if those programs were not achieving outcomes, he’d have to cut the programs. He did not want partners/funders attached to particular programs that were unsuccessful, and cause difficulty for him in shutting them down. It would be a huge distraction from their goal. Rather he wanted them attached to the goals and he wanted them to hold him accountable to achieving those goals. He worked to change funders’ mindsets. It also helped that one big funder, George Soros, agreed to take the risk and be the first funder, and others followed.

Financial instability is distracting, demoralizing and debilitating, and many organizations that we work with to become more sustainable struggle with small financial decisions that feel like they will make or break the organization. The opportunity costs of spending time that way is both high and corrosive. For many organizations this is the norm.

Financial stability is about taking control, as in Geoff’s example, and calling the shots. It’s playing offense. We as a nonprofit sector cannot afford to play defense for too long. In defense, you can play and hold the line for a long time, but you’ll never win just playing defense.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sounds of silence greet new report showing jump in child poverty

The annual Kids Count report just released by the Annie E Casey Foundation shows that the child poverty rate in the U.S. has grown by 18% between 2000 and 2009, with 15 million of our children now living in poverty. More than twice that number live in homes where no parent has a full-time job. Poverty rose in 38 of our 50 states over the last decade.

Given the unemployment and economic crisis, these statistics are not surprising. But what does shock is the lack of response to so many kids in jeopardy.

When our banks are in trouble, Congress and the White House act. It’s the same when its auto companies or insurance firms. During the debt ceiling crisis there was enormous concern over whether the markets would suffer. But when it comes to children who are the most vulnerable and most voiceless, a report like this is greeted by sounds of silence. Where are the White House summits with the Speaker of the House? Where is the legislation that could help children?

This type of poverty is not just an economic issue. It’s a political issue as well. These children don’t belong to organizations, make campaign contributions, or have lobbyists. The result: their needs are not heard – and don’t make it onto the national agenda.

We can’t expect others to lead for us when it comes to changing the political climate. What are you doing to press policymakers for a response? At Share Our Strength we are working with governors across the country to ensure that they at least do everything possible to enroll more children in vital food and nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals. That is necessary but not sufficient. Is your nonprofit urging policymakers to do something about child poverty? If not, no matter how much good you are doing, it may not be good enough.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Washington is not just out of money, it is out of big and bold ideas

The stock market continues to plummet. Unemployment is stubbornly stuck above 9 per cent. A record 45 million Americans are on food stamps for the first time in U.S. history. The median wealth of white households is now 20 times that of black households. The debt ceiling legislation underscores Congress’s unwillingness to make the tough choices necessary to get our budget under control.

One is tempted to ask how so many bad things could be happening at once. But the real question is: how could they not? Because these are not randomly coinciding unfortunate events. As is often the case they are inextricably interconnected as symptoms of a deeper problem. That problem has to do with a political agenda that is set by and centers on the needs of the influential and elite.

Did it really take the stock market dropping 1000 points and losing 15% of its value for the light bulb to go off that when nearly a fifth of the nation’s adults are out of work or have quit looking they are unlikely to have the money to buy the kinds of things that cause businesses to expand and leads to economic growth?

One of Washington’s iron laws is that nature abhors a vacuum, and its corollary is that you can’t beat something with nothing. The President came to the podium yesterday, in the midst of Wall Street’s precipitous plunge, and sought to counter it with nothing more than platitudes. Instead of reassuring he inadvertently showed a hand that held no aces, and the effect was just the opposite of what was intended.

Washington is not just out of money, it is out of big ideas. Or perhaps worse, it lacks the courage to put forth big ideas that may seem unfashionable in the prevailing political climate.

Given the enormously complex economic issues facing our country, our challenge of ending childhood hunger begins to look manageable by comparison. And in a way it is, especially since the programs are in place to achieve it, and the need is so basic as to be undeniable. But the deep hole we’ve dug for our economy means the forces of gravity must be surmounted at the same time. That means we must multi-task – executing our No Kid Hungry campaign with focus and determination – but also getting behind bold new ideas to move our economy forward.

Monday, August 8, 2011

In Reducing the Federal Budget we have Reduced the National Imagination

There is a shockingly large inverse correlation between the number of pundits and politicians now saying that Obama should focus on jobs, and the small number of ideas being put forth to actually create them. One reason we hear so few specific big ideas about creating jobs is that to do so on the scale necessary to impact 9.1% unemployment would require an enormously ambitious and probably expensive agenda. Of the many negative consequences of the debt ceiling debacle, perhaps the greatest of all has been the national accommodation and acclimation to thinking small.

But that’s where presidential leadership is supposed to come in. Presidents are elected and paid to think bigger than the rest of us – to not be constrained by petty political considerations – even given the reality of the political environment in which their operate. From Lincoln to FDR, from Nixon to Reagan, we’ve seen presidents take risks when the stakes were high. President Obama needs to do more than call for a renewed focus on job creation as he did in his weekend radio address. He needs to put forth ideas on the scale that the problem exists, to show what our nation needs to do, not just center the debate around what some believe we can afford to do.

In reducing the federal budget we have also reduced the national imagination. The political failure we are witnessing today is not just a failure of fiscal discipline or of political civility, or even of long-range thinking. It is a failure of imagination. As I learned in writing The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men (@ ) that is what most failures are really all about.

Of course presidents don’t have a monopoly on big ideas. Other policymakers, academics and advocates have a responsibility to step up as well. Enough cowering under the covers as unfavorable political winds blow. Let’s debate what we’d like to do, and then we can talk about whether it is worth the price. Our politicians might be surprised to learn just how much most Americans, who are more used to sacrifice than the elites, are willing to do to get this country working again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Falling stocks and the need to create community wealth

When the stock market drops by more than 500 points as it did yesterday, it is not only bad for the many companies who lost value, it is also bad for the endowments of the foundations that fund many of our grant recipients at Share Our Strength. During the last market turndown, foundations ranging from Annie E. Casey to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation saw their endowments shrink by double digit percentages.

The fragility of our economy underscores the need for nonprofits to diversify their revenues, and to not be completely dependent on traditional philanthropic giving.

The conventional wisdom was that if Congress did not agree to a debt ceiling deal the markets would react negatively. Despite everyone’s unhappiness with the substance, there was relief and self-congratulation on Capitol Hill when the deal was reached.

So why did the markets react so negatively anyway? Unfortunately it did not occur to the politicians who are so acclimated to political spin, that achieving a deal in name only, especially one that kicked down the road the tough decisions to yet another commission, would not be enough to reassure investors whose livelihoods are at stake.

It’s also a deal that threatens to tear at some of the basic fabric of American society: programs like WIC, Medicaid, the military while it is fighting two wars, and the unknown of potential across the board cuts in all government agencies. Our political system is failing to create either community or wealth. But putting them together, by aspiring to create community wealth as we do at CWV and Share Our Strength, may be the best way forward for our nation.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

forgetting the unforgettable

Yesterday a wise friend and accomplished leader in the New York business community wrote the following in response to my Washington Post article about famine in the Horn of Africa (@ ) “The juxtaposition of the concentration of personal wealth with the increasing poverty and desperation of so many is more and more startling every day. It is clear that American politics today is dominated by greed with only a camera-ready nod toward compassion when it serves greed’s purpose."

I thought of his words while reading this morning’s NY Times. On Monday the Times had unforgettable images of suffering children from Somalia on page one, but today there is nothing to be found in the paper about this enormous ongoing catastrophe except a one paragraph AP wire service story buried inside. Page one instead has a photo of Louis Vuitton shoes being sold at Bergdorf Goodman for $1,495 a pair.

So the world inexorably moves on, even past the most horrific suffering, or perhaps especially past the most horrific suffering. The Czech author Milan Kundera wrote in 1979 in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai and so on and so forth, until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten.”

That is the way of the world. But it need not be the way of the world we strive to achieve. Thanks to all at Share Our Strength who for nearly three decades have found a way to keep remembering, keep bearing witness, keep caring and organizing to bring change on behalf of those most vulnerable and voiceless.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why the Debt Ceiling Deal Makes Our No Kid Hungry Strategy More Important

I have received several inquiries as to how the debt ceiling deal and proposed federal budget cuts will affect our No Kid Hungry strategy. Most people assume it will make our work harder. In the broad sense that is likely to be the case, especially because the nation’s economic growth is much slower than expected and the mandated budget cuts are unlikely to change that. Also, some important hunger programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program face potential cuts.

But while there is not much in the deal to be happy about, there are some rays of light regarding the specific anti-hunger and child nutrition programs that are core to our No Kid Hungry campaign strategy. Here are three examples:

First, the entitlement programs that are the focus of our efforts to enroll more children: e.g. school breakfast, summer meals, and food stamps are not included in the proposed cuts. Although that could change in the future, this means everything we are doing in our No Kid Hungry state campaigns has as great a potential as ever to dramatically reduce and eventually end childhood hunger.

Second, the debt ceiling package reflects an implicit bi-partisan endorsement of our strategy which is based on the conviction that these programs work, they protect those most vulnerable and least responsible for their situation, and that they should be protected even when the economy and the political climate change – perhaps especially when the economy and political climate change.

Third, the legislative cuts in non-entitlement discretionary spending makes our strategy all of the more necessary and important. As other essential services, especially in health and education are cut, the safety net represented by the child nutrition entitlement programs stands out as all the more vital an oasis in the desert.

So we are more determined than ever to expand our No Kid Hungry campaign, with a renewed sense of urgency, to protect more children by ensuring they are enrolled in programs available where they live learn and play. I hope you will join our efforts to advocate for the vital role these programs play and to protect them from cuts, especially as the new Congressional Joint Committee debates their future.

Share Our Strength board member Bob Greenstein, the director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has an analysis of the policy implications of the debt ceiling deal on the Center’s website @

Monday, August 1, 2011

Avoiding the Truth: The Hypocrisy of Debt Ceiling Deals and Bad Marriages

The debt ceiling deal has exposed our political system to be a lot like a bad marriage that perpetuates itself only when both parties to it tacitly agree to keep the relationship wholly superficial and at all costs avoid confronting the truth. It requires not only duplicity, but pretense, cynicism, hypocrisy, and a near complete abandonment of hope.

The details of the debt ceiling agreement are convoluted, upon which the illusion of substantive progress depends. But in fact most of the hard work has been left to the future, and that time-honored political dodge – a commission. As in a bad marriage there is so little confidence of it improving that even future action to reduce federal spending is predicated on automatic triggers rather than thoughtful deliberation.

Most observers would not have thought it possible for politicians to abdicate their responsibilities, let alone their principles, even further than they had over the past few weeks of negotiations. But with the final deal they managed to create a living monument to such cowardice.

The weak smiles of Senators Harry Reid and Charles Schumer walking through a Capitol corridor and captured on the front page of many papers the day the deal was done, betrayed the embarrassment of leading a party that has evolved, at least for now, into a paler, weaker version of their Republican counterpart. And President Obama, who put getting a deal ahead of his own once eloquently stated ideals, has unintentionally shown us just how much audacity it does take to continue to hope.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Remembering my turn at in that classic role: summer intern

I’m looking forward to lunch later this week with Share Our Strength's amazing interns. I came to Washington more than 30 years ago as a summer intern for a nonprofit (The National Wildlife Federation) and I’ve never forgot what a formative experience it could be. Our happy band of interns worked long hours, felt underpaid and under-appreciated, were convinced that we knew more than some of those of the staff to whom we reported, (I hope this doesn’t sound too familiar to our interns!) and literally could not imagine how the organization would survive without us. Nevertheless we savored every moment, somehow intuiting that notwithstanding each morning’s Washington Post headline about some clash between political titans, it was actually the countless small and invisible acts of the rest of us that set the stage for genuine progress.

My job at the National Wildlife Federation was to cover Congressional hearings on environmental and energy matters, write reports for their newsletter (there was no internet or web) and attend meetings with my boss about advocacy strategies. My boss was named was not as old as I am right now, but he seemed old enough to be stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian to my young eyes. In the absence of any specific guidance I assumed that my job was to gently elbow him awake in all of the meetings at which he fell asleep. But then I realized this only made him grumpy for the rest of the day, and my role evolved into one of distracting the other people at the meeting from realizing that the boss was asleep.

Meanwhile I was meeting other interns and staff, getting a sense of just how many complex and fascinating public policy issues there were on which to work, and finding myself inspired every time I drove by the White House or the Capitol, or jogged past (yes, I once jogged) the Lincoln Memorial.

The most important thing I learned was that I wanted to come back to Washington to find a job right after I graduated from college at the University of Pennsylvania, and that was what I did, literally the day after commencement. I’ve been here ever since. Along the way I had a second tour as an intern, in the office of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I’d met Hart’s legislative director through someone that had been at the National Wildlife Federation. And that led to 13 years on Capitol Hill, to presidential politics, and to the founding of Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures.

I’m sure you’ll Share Our Strength's interns will have their own story to look back on years from now and I hope that their time at Share Our Strength plays some part in that emerging narrative. Thanks to each of them for choosing to be here, and for all they’ve done to advance our No Kid Hungry strategy. At the National Wildlife Federation we fantasized that we’d played a huge role in the organization’s success. I’m certain that they have in ours.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A harsh critique of leaders who won't use their post powerful tool: rhetorical suasion

In this week’s New Yorker, staff writer George Packer, who is increasingly becoming that rare journalistic voice for the voiceless, has an excellent commentary juxtaposing the President’s focus on the deficit and debt ceiling, with the lack of any initiative around jobs for the now nearly one in six Americans who are out of work. @

Packer writes: “President Obama, responsibly acceding to the reality of divided government, is now the leading champion of fiscal austerity, and his proposals contain very little in the way of job creation. More important, he no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the county focused on the continued need for government activism…. What does either side have to offer the tens of millions of Americans who have settled into a semi-permanent state of economic depression? Virtually nothing.”

It’s a harsh critique, but not as harsh as life for those who have been unemployed so long that they’ve stopped looking for work, or for those navigating unemployment for the first time in their lives. Even a few words acknowledging their plight – let alone “rhetorical suasion” – could go a long way.