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.