Thursday, June 30, 2011

"How does the story end?" Only time and "the imaginations of unreasonable men" will tell!

I was riding my bike down Kings Highway at Goose Rocks Beach in Maine when I ran into Mr. Welch, the father of one of our staff at Share Our Strength who, coincidentally, spends a few weeks here each summer. “Hey, I read that book of yours” he yelled from his porch. “So how does the story end? Are those fellas gonna be successful? He was referring to my new book The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, and also referring to one of the toughest challenges I faced in writing it: knowing that any conclusive ending is probably 10-15 years away at best.

The book tells the story of the race to develop the first ever malaria vaccine, as a way of dramatizing the challenge of solving the toughest problems of all; those that affect people so poor, vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them. Malaria infects 200-300 million people a year and almost 800,000 die from it annually, mostly children in Africa. Just this week, Bill Gates told an assembly of Nobel Laureates that: "The true market failure is in diseases of the poorest countries because the voice of those people in the marketplace is silent," he said. "So that is why you get [a situation where] male pattern baldness gets 10 times the research [attention] that malaria gets."

That challenge – the lack of markets – and the fact that the malaria parasite has outwitted almost every threat to its eradication for literally thousands of years is what requires the strategies and qualities of character I’ve tried to capture in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men. The book takes its name from a George Bernard Shaw passage in Man and Superman: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

The book follows the journey of Dr. Steve Hoffman, among others, as he attempts one innovation after another scale the production of a difficult to produce but effective immunogen discovered almost half a century ago but never brought to market. Hoffman was a captain in the Navy who has devoted his life to curing tropical diseases, and started his own biotech company, Sanaria, to combat malaria.

The short answer to Mr. Welch’s good question is that Hoffman’s vaccine, as well as the vaccines of leading competitors, are currently in clinical trials and and it will still be several years before any vaccines get into the arms of kids in Africa. But there is plenty of good news, much of it inspired by these leaps of imagination. For example annual funding for malaria R&D has quadrupled in the past 16 years from $121 million in 1993 to $612 million in 2009. And several dozen countries have cut their malaria caseload by more than 50%.

The fact that Steve Hoffman and others have never given up is probably the most inspiring news of all. It doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. But it does ensure steady progress and hope for those who are most vulnerable and voiceless

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Latest HuffPosts re Reshaping The Natonal Agenda to Include End to Childhood Hunger

Sharing my two most recent posts on HuffPost about resetting domestic priorities to include an end to childhood hunger:

While We're Waiting for the Peace Dividend, Let's Use the Children's Dividend

Posted: 06/29/11 09:20 AM ET

The prospect of reduced military expenditures in Afghanistan has already set off speculation about the purposes to which a so-called "peace dividend" might be employed to support domestic needs. A robust debate about resetting domestic priorities would be welcome. But there's another kind of budgetary dividend already at hand and we've been missing the opportunity to take advantage of it.

I'm talking about what might be called the Children's' Dividend -- the more than a billion dollars left untapped each year from the nearly $100 billion allocated for childhood hunger and nutrition programs, because of the unacceptable gap in the number of poor children who are eligible but not enrolled or participating.

More than 20 million children in America get a free or reduced price school lunch but only 9 million get breakfast and only 3 million get summer meals when the schools are closed. If we increased the national average of 16 percent for summer participation to 40 percent, still well under half, we would drive $313 million to the states in reimbursements for milk purchased from local dairies, bread bought from local bakeries, and other expenses. The same holds true for the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition program and SNAP.

Although the federal government pays for this critical need, through programs that have a long record of bipartisan support and effectiveness, Governors and Mayors hold the keys to the lockbox where this Children's' Dividend resides. They have the power to eliminate barriers to participation and, working through public-private partnerships, increase awareness of and participation in these programs. But even many policy makers and elected officials are unaware that these funds are available -- a testament to how voiceless are the potential beneficiaries: low income children who don't belong to organizations, make political contributions, or have lobbyists. That's the real reason a Children's Dividend exists!

Before we engage in a predictably partisan and divisive battle over how to use any future peace dividend, we ought, for the sake of our children, use the dividend we already have so that we can end childhood hunger, and in so doing improve health and education outcomes, and restore America's competitiveness in the world.
The National Conversation About New Priorities: Including Those Most Vulnerable

Posted: 06/26/11 05:39 PM ET

The nation's priorities are finally beginning to shift, as President Obama acknowledged last week in his televised address about reducing troops in Afghanistan: "America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home."

That same week the Conference of Mayors approved a resolution calling for an early end to our military role in Afghanistan and Iraq and asking Congress to redirect the $126 billion dollars spent annually there toward "urgent domestic needs," especially jobs. It was the group's first advocacy about the balance between foreign and domestic priorities since the Vietnam War.

Along with recent national public opinion polls, or perhaps because of them, these developments signal a distinct and long overdue change in the national conversation, one that began without the president's leadership but which he was savvy enough to recognize and at least give lip service, if not embrace.

The question now is what, beyond job creation, will make it onto the new list of domestic priorities? Will special interests see a new pool of billions of dollars in play and succeed in dominating the debate? Will politicians compete only to see who can appeal the most to the politically influential middle class? Will we let the greatest income gap between rich and poor in history continue to widen further? Or will those most vulnerable and voiceless -- the record number of Americans who are hungry and living in poverty -- finally be acknowledged and included in the national conversation?

This may be the best opportunity in decades to lay a moral foundation at the base of our public policy choices. Where to begin?

Notwithstanding the likelihood of many competing interests, there is one issue that politicians of all stripes should be able to agree upon because its redress is inextricably linked to solving so many other issues of import -- and that is the issue of childhood hunger. Aside from being unnecessary and just plain wrong in a nation of such abundance, allowing children to go hungry undermines our ability to achieve vital national goals.

Childhood hunger is a health care issue because the long-lasting consequences of hunger and poor nutrition manifest themselves in maternal and child health, diabetes, obesity, hyper-tension and an enormously expensive array of other health care costs borne by society at large.

Childhood hunger is also an education issue. Large majorities of public school teachers assert that hunger is an obstacle to kids in their classrooms learning at the level they should.

That means childhood hunger also directly impacts our ability to compete in the global economy and ensure our economic security.

And of course childhood hunger, which impacts those who are the most vulnerable to and least responsible for the suffering they endure, is unquestionably a moral issue.

Ironically, childhood hunger is probably the issue that is least expensive for our nation to address, especially because the resources to do so already exist in the form of programs with long track records of effectiveness and bipartisan support: school lunch and school breakfast, summer meals, SNAP (food stamps) and the Women, Infant and Children's Supplemental Nutrition program. The problem is that millions of kids who are eligible are not accessing and participating in these programs because of lack of awareness or because communities have not made it easy for them to do so. That's why simply elevating attention to the problem and the existing solutions could lead to powerful change. Some governors -- Democrats O'Malley in Maryland and Beebe in Arkansas, and Republican McDonnell in Virginia -- have begun to do just that and the results have been dramatic. A national focus could do even more.

The window that now exists to reshape our nation's agenda and priorities will not remain open long. There will be many voices competing to be heard. But if we are to reclaim moral leadership, and get to some of the root causes undermining education, health care and economic growth, then our national agenda must also reflect the needs and the rights of those whose voices are not heard. There's no better place to begin than by ending childhood hunger and addressing poverty in a more serious way than we've done in at least half a century.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nonprofits connecting to public policy to reach a broader audience

I’m sharing here a link to a piece published this week on Huffington Post ( that I hope helps more sharply frame Share Our Strength’s key issue of childhood hunger in the context of the emerging national conversation about domestic priorities.

But it may also be a useful example for a broader range of nonprofit organizations when it comes to:

(1) The importance of having a public policy component to advance their mission, if in fact they want to be part of systemic and transformative change; and

(2) creating or at least illustrating the connections between what they do and the most pressing issues that donors, activists, stakeholders and others are reading about in the news, discussing at the water cooler, etc.

Too often non-profit organizations work not only in silos but in a kind of isolation from “the real world”. They assume that everyone will be interested in the issues they are interested in, but in practice we compete for mindshare not just against other nonprofits but against the broad range of issues, problems and needs that dominate the news, the Net, and the ever changing national conversation. To be part of that we have to adapt our message to fit into that conversation. To reach beyond the usual suspects to a larger audience we must help people see the connections between what we care about and what they are being told they should care about. The HuffPost article is an effort to do that with childhood hunger.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A potentially seismic shift in the national political agenda

We may be the verge of a potentially seismic shift in the national political agenda and conversation, best represented by President Obama’s remark last night in his speech about reducing troops in Afghanistan: “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” The day before the NY Times had a related lead story and headline on “urgent domestic needs” and reported that the Conference of Mayors approved a resolution calling for an early end to our military role in Afghanistan and asking Congress to redirect billions toward domestic needs, especially jobs. It was the group’s first venture into foreign policy since the Vietnam war!

Obama’s remark signaled a vital shift in the national conversation, one that had already begun without him but which he was politically savvy enough to recognize and seize. The question now is what, beyond job creation, will make it onto the new list of domestic priorities. Will special interests see a pool of billions of dollars now in play? Will politicians see that largesse as a new way to appeal to the middle class? Or will those most vulnerable and voiceless finally be included in the national conversation?

This new political dynamic will likely be framed very quickly and once it is it will solidify in ways that are hard to change. I anticipate a frenzy of competition to influence the new agenda of domestic priorities. This window will not remain open long, but it is the first crack we’ve seen in more than two decades and we must think hard about how to leverage this opportunity on behalf of those most affected by hunger and poverty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Upon accepting the Jefferson Award for public service

For those who asked, here are excerpts from my remarks at the Jefferson Awards last night:
Thank you so much. I want to accept this award on behalf of my colleagues at Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures, and on behalf of my wife Rosemary who is such a great partner and support, and my sister Debbie who started Share Our Strength with me. Share Our Strength would have been created with or without Debbie but it would not have lasted more than two weeks if not for the dedication and passion she has brought to it every day for 27 years.

This award is obviously a great honor, but it is also potentially a great inconvenience. I say that because I started Share Our Strength in 1984 with a $2000 cash advance on a credit card and we’ve raised $315 million since, helping to fund literally thousands of organizations fighting hunger. And so after 27 years I had fantasies of slacking off a bit, but now comes this award and with it the need to be faithful to the proud legacy of the Jefferson Awards, and to the spirit and legacy of Sam Beard, so it is inconvenient in that sense. It is also inconvenient because it is one of those awards that says that if you are dedicating your life to public service – and this is a notion that has unfortunately gone out of fashion in Washington a long time ago – you should be prepared to give more than you get. Kind of perverse for an award – and very inconvenient – but that’s the genius of founder Sam Beard and that’s the genius of the Jefferson Awards.

But this award is not just inconvenient, it is also insistent. This bright shiny medallion comes with an insistence that if you have a voice, you be willing to project that voice on behalf of those whose voices are not heard. It comes with an insistence that in a country with 48 million people living below the poverty line, and 44 million Americans on food stamps, half of them being kids, that we do better than having our children go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, go to school hungry, and become part of an economy and society weakened by such neglect.

This award comes with an insistence that we maintain the urgency that led us to this work in the beginning, and not be haunted by the words of Martin Luther King who 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.

And finally, this award comes with the insistence that we embrace the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks who though not talking directly about public service certainly could have been when she wrote:

We are each other’s harvest.

We are each other’s business.

We are each other’s magnitude.

And bond.

It is in that spirit of inconvenience and insistence that I so proudly accept this award tonight.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What nonprofits can learn about donor development from Apple's remarkable success at retail

Using J.C. Penney’s hiring of Apple’s top retail exec, Ron Johnson, as a hook, The Wall Street Journal today has a front page story on some of the secrets of Apple’s success at retail. Most of the credit of course goes to innovative, quality product, but the article’s focus is on Apple’s 326 stores which now have more visitors in a single quarter than Disney’s four biggest theme parks last year.

Much of their philosophy is very similar to how we at share Our Strength think about creating real value for customers. It suggests a valuable perspective for all nonprofits regarding donor development and corporate partnerships. “According to several employees and training manuals, sales associates are taught an unusual sales philosophy: not to sell but rather to help customers solve problems. ‘Your job is to understand all of your customers needs – some of which they may not even realize they have.’ One training manual says….”You were never trying to close a sale. It was about finding solutions for a customer and finding their pain points,’” said one former employee.

The article can be found @


Monday, June 13, 2011

Behind the scenes with Jeff Bridges during No Kid Hungry launch

  In response to several questions about spending time with Jeff Bridges I thought I’d share this glimpse of life behind the scenes with our favorite national spokesperson.  He was in D.C. last Monday and Tuesday for the launch of our No Kid Hungry campaign in Virginia and a media tour that included CNN, FOX and Hardball on MSNBC.

 The most telling time is probably when we are in the car together between stops. As you’d expect, there is the occasional reference to movies he’s made, or directors with whom he’s worked, and such Hollywood gossip is always fun to be around. But unlike some celebrities who withdraw until they are “on”, Jeff spends almost the entire time asking hard and thoughtful questions about our strategy and about the conditions of hungry kids in America: “How close to success are we in our best state? What other governors are likely to be influenced by Governor McDonnell’s example? Who has the most credible information on SNAP beneficiaries? What strategies do schools use to eliminate the stigma of getting a free breakfast?”

It’s one of those refreshingly rare examples of someone whose on-stage and back-stage persona are one and the same. It affirmed my own sense that as exciting as it is to be working with Jeff Bridges, or CBS’s Scott Pelley who spoke at our recent NY event, or Vermont Senator Leahy who spoke at our DC dinner, the real VIP’s are not the celebrities but those whose work has attracted the celebrities in the first place: the talented team at Share Our Strength. Jeff Bridges made the point himself at the National Press Club last November and again in a recent interview when he said: “Working to end childhood hunger is the most significant thing I’ve ever done.”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peter Hotez's breakthrough on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless

In the Imaginations of Unreasonable Men, one of the scientists I wrote about was Peter Hotez, dedicating much of his career to developing a vaccine for hookworm, because he was grappling with the issue of how to solve problems that affect people who are so vulnerable and voiceless that there are no markets for solving them. He’s done as much as any human being could possibly do to bring attention to what he calls neglected diseases of poverty. One part of his vision has been to create the first national school for tropical medicine in the U.S. Now that vision is coming to fruition.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, Hotez is relocating to Texas to assume posts at Texas Childrens Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, and to be dean of the first national school of tropical medicine. See:

There are too few leaders today – in politics, business, science and many other fields - willing to raise their voice on behalf of those whose voices are not often heard. But Peter Hotez is one such leader and his move to Texas is a testament to what one person, with vision, commitment and authenticity can achieve.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why This Time is Different in The Fight to End Childhood Hunger

Per several requests for a copy of my remarks at the Share Our Strength dinner on June 6 at Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington DC, I didn't speak from a text, but have tried to transcribe what I said, as follows below:

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 more than 20 times now, during good times and bad, but never at a moment as pivotal as this. I’m grateful that Senator Leahy is here, a lifelong champion in the fight against hunger, and of course I’m grateful that Jeff Bridges was here tonight and grateful that you had a chance to meet and hear him. I’m sorry my young son Nate wasn’t here. He asked me the other day who was older, me or Jeff. I explained that Jeff was older. And he said “But that can’t be – he’s got so much more hair!

Nate, at the tender age of six, turns out to be this very interesting combination of idealistic yet pragmatic, and in ways that I think reflect exactly what Share Our Strength is all about and the reason we have grown so successfully. 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. 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 those of us who have been in Washington for some time might say the same about some of the causes and campaigns that we’ve seen come and go: 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. 48 million Americans live below the poverty line and 19 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. As you heard Scott Pelley say, today’s generation of children faces hard times worse than anything since the Great Depression. But as you also heard him say, there is a solution and it is Share Our Strength.

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 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 tomorrow we will be 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 came to Washington or have stayed in Washington because you wanted to change the world or some small piece of it, if that has something to do with why you are in this room tonight, 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 have worked too long and too hard and fought too many good fights to let our legacy be swept away like sand castles at the water’s edge 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, June 8, 2011

A powerful, living, breathing reminder of what's at stake with our No Kid Hungry campaign

As much fun as it is to be with Jeff Bridges and do Hardball and CNN interviews and see all of the great press from the Virginia launch of No Kid Hungry etc. I have to say that the most valuable part of yesterday for me was to sit on stage at Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia while Jeff Bridges and Tom Vilsack and Governor McDonnell were talking and look out at those kids as a living, breathing reminder of what we’ve committed to do, and how much is at stake in our holding ourselves to the highest possible standard of accountability.

The kids were really beautiful in their diversity and energy and playfulness.  But we all know that in just a few short years some of them will likely be compromised educationally and developmentally by one or another of the myriad consequences of growing up in a low income environment and being short-changed the social services they need and deserve.   So in a strange way, instead of being tired after two long days, I was energized by the responsibility our team has had the courage to undertake – and the knowledge that we’ve developed the gift of pulling disparate interests and people together in ways few other organizations have. If we can keep up the pace we’ve set, and somehow increase it (as only the imaginations of unreasonable men and women would contemplate) we could change the trajectory these kids would otherwise be fated to follow – and set an example for others as well.