How to Change the World: Ten (or so) Questions with Richard Stearns, President of World VisionKristoff recently cried out in despair about the human disposition to protect a lost puppy nearby, while ignoring Darfur. We are not wired to deal with remote suffering. I don't think that will change short of widespread genetic engineering; we have to work with the levers we've got. I've personally favored CARE International's "roots of poverty" approach over the sponsor-a-child approach of World Vision, but I see the value of that peraonl connection.
...Question:How can people who do not want to radically change their lives make a difference in the lives of the poor?
Answer: To really change the world, values must change. Consider the civil rights movement. Racial discrimination was once openly accepted in the United States. Today it is unacceptable to our mainstream culture. Very few of us are civil rights activists, but we let our values speak in our work places, our schools and to our elected officials.
Today, we live in a world that tolerates extreme poverty much like racism was tolerated fifty-plus years ago. We can all become people determined to do something to change the world. We can speak up, we can volunteer and we can give. Ending extreme poverty will take money, political and moral will, and a shift in our value system. When enough ordinary people embrace these issues, things will begin to change. Margaret Mead once said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Question:What keeps you awake at night as the CEO of World Vision?
Answer: If I thought every moment about the incredible suffering around the world I would never sleep. I worry about keeping the covenant we have with the poor and with our donors. It is a very sacred responsibility.
Question: What are biggest hurdles to alleviating poverty?
Answer: One word: apathy. The very frustrating part is that we actually have the knowledge and the ability to end most extreme poverty. The world just doesn't care enough to do it. The U.S. government has spent more than $400 billion on the war in Iraq to date.
Our annual humanitarian assistance budget for the whole world is only about $21 billion. We spend less than a half percent of our federal budget on humanitarian assistance and less than two percent of private charitable giving goes to international causes. People and governments make choices based on their priorities. Poverty is still not a high priority for the world.
Question: What's the biggest obstacle to get rich people to care about poor people?
Answer: The obstacle is that poverty is often not personal. If your next-door neighbor's child was dying and you could save her for $100, you wouldn't think twice. But a child 10,000 miles away whom you have never met, that's just different.
About 29,000 kids die every day of preventable causes--29,000! These kids have names and faces, hopes and dreams. Their parents love them as much as we love our kids. We've got to make poverty personal. Stalin once said: "A million deaths is a statistic, one death is a tragedy." We must try to see the face of the one child.
Question: Why is World Vision so successful at fund raising?
Answer: The real secret of our fundraising is the notion of child sponsorship. We allow people to see the face of that one child - we make that child real to them. It is very difficult to raise money for poverty eradication - much easier to raise money to help a specific child. It makes it personal....
...Question: Do the efforts of rock stars and movie stars really help alleviate poverty and AIDS or are these people just seeking more publicity to sell albums?
Answer: They make a difference. Given the number of celebrities in our world it is actually shocking that so few of them are using their celebrity to make a difference. Bono is amazing. He has perhaps done more for the poor than anyone in the last century. I call him "Martin Luther Bono" because he has really been the leader of our movement.
Bill and Melinda Gates are changing the global landscape for health and development. The media rarely want to talk to me about poverty, but many reporters gush at the chance to talk with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or Oprah. That's just the way it is. I welcome celebrities who really want to make a difference...
As for Darfur -- well, if Bill Clinton were around he'd have figured something out. It's a miserable misfortune that the Darfur genocide occurred during the Bush regime ...