Influence for Good: Inside the Clinton Global Initiative

People ask me all the time about the well-known people I meet.

But the thing with me is I don’t really get awestruck about the famous anymore.

Maybe it is because I worked as a protocol officer while in graduate school during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where I met heads of state, movie stars, and athletes over and over during the course of the Olympic Games.

Or maybe it’s because I believe that celebrities are human beings like the rest of us.

Or because my parents raised me to speak to nearly anybody in the kindest way I know how.

But, if I were still to get awestruck, I would have last week while attending the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City.

Coming out of the steps of the Sheraton Times Square, I brushed shoulders with a who’s who of leaders in international development, business and politics—President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Chelsea Clinton (a couple of days before her baby was born, I might add!), Katie Couric, heads of many foreign countries, countless CEOs of global corporations, news anchors galore… The list goes on and on.

It was wonderful to meet together with some of the most passionate and influential minds to discuss global change. I was honored to be Feed the Children’s delegate. And during the three days that I spent at the conference, it was good to be involved in the conversation with many of the world’s influencers.

I also heard what was on the minds of high-profile folks like these:Kevin Hagan at the Clinton Global Initiative

Hillary Clinton. She led sessions on education of women and girls saying to us: “We know when girls have equal access to quality education in both primary and secondary schools, cycles of poverty are broken, economies grow…”

Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow). She received the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and shared with us about her passion saying: “Education should never fail because it gives a child a sense of normalcy.”

Matt Damon. As co-founder of Water.org he compelled all of us with stats about the importance of clean drinking water. I left his session thinking all day about how more people around the world have access to a cell phone than they do to a clean water source.

In hearing these inspiring words, I began thinking about the role of influencers in the work of bringing hope to those who need it most around the world.

One of the greatest life lessons my family taught me from our Christian faith tradition is that “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

This is why I believe that if I am given anything of value in this life, it is my responsibility to give back. Countless others, I know, share this sentiment.

It is our goal to offer people in positions of notoriety an opportunity to join in Feed the Children’s mission and to give back to society. We are not alone in our stance that no child should go to bed hungry, no matter where they live. We want to facilitate more champions in this great cause who desire to use their following for good.

As President Bill Clinton said in one of the breakout sessions: “We are creating a network of cooperators.” I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative this year. I look forward to future events with these new colleagues and to joining forces with other leaders, famous or not, who want to defeat hunger.

Feeding Minds: How We Are Ending the Cycle of Poverty

This is the third in a four-part series introducing you to our proactive, sustainable approach to ending poverty and improving lives. Our Four Pillars—Food & Nutrition, Health & WaterEducation, and Livelihoods—comprise an 8- to 10-year, integrated program that equips and empowers impoverished families and communities to achieve self-sufficiency.

Today we’ll take a look at the Education pillar, where we work toward positive, lasting change by providing children with educational opportunity and support.

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If you were to take a tentative step into the fetid streets of the Kibera slum of Kenya, the first thing you might notice is the stench—one million people packed into one square mile without plumbing will do that. You’d notice poverty streaked into every face. You’d notice children scavenging; you’d notice babies languishing.

But what you might not notice—not right away, though it’s there—is the hope slowly growing. Because tucked into a cluster of tiny ramshackle building is Spurgeons Academy.

Feeding children in body and mind

Throughout the world, about 215 million children have to work—some of them full-time—to help their families make it through the day. They can’t attend school because it’s more important that they find food or sell scraps or haul water. Food and water are the most basic human needs, and every other need, no matter how important, falls by the wayside when people don’t have them.

Children living in poverty don’t get proper nutrition. Children who are poorly nourished can’t make education a priority. Children who lack education remain living in poverty. And on it goes.

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So Feed the Children breaks into this cycle to come alongside families who desperately need a way out. We run programs at schools in impoverished areas around the world, like the Kibera slum, to regularly provide nutritious meals to 350,000 children who might otherwise go an entire day without eating. We provide school materials like backpacks and uniforms. We pay for teachers if none are available in a community. And if a school doesn’t already exist in the area, or if it’s in disrepair, we build a new one—and this is often the only place a community has access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The food and clean water they can count on getting at school is a strong incentive for attending—and while they’re there to get their most basic needs met, they get an education too.

Educating parents to raise healthy kids

Providing education for children is an important part of our work—and so is providing education for their parents. By teaching the adults in impoverished communities good health, nutrition, and sanitation practices, we equip them to improve the quality of life for their whole family.

In the Pueblo Nuevo community of Nicaragua, we recently held a comprehensive two-day training on nutrition and preventative health. Nineteen women learned about the food chart; the relationships among health, nutrition, and education; signs of malnutrition, including measurement of children; hygiene in food handling; and personal hygiene.

The women were enthusiastic about the training and are eager not only to get more, but to pass it along. They recognize that this kind of education has tremendous ability to further the hard work they’re already doing in their community to improve their children’s health and give them a better future.

Kids can’t thrive when their families are trapped in poverty. Education is the key to breaking them out of the cycle. If we want to improve their lives, we have to help them get an education. And we do.

With school walls separating them from the slum, the children are insulated for the day. Most of them are orphaned or have only one parent—and that parent is either gravely ill or struggling to support the family with odd jobs for meager pay. There is no doubt life in Kibera is beyond difficult.

But this morning they chatted and laughed over their hot bowls and fresh cups, and now they’re engaged in the lesson—fed in body, mind, and spirit. When Spurgeons Academy opened in 2000, a handful of children attended, but with the assurance of a meal every day, now over 400 come.

Inside these walls, they have hope—and it shows.

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