HH: A very special day, because a very special book appears in bookstores today, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I begin by saying that very rarely do I give three hours over to a book. Usually, it’s been on the war – Lawrence Wright on The Looming Tower, or Rajiv Chandrasekaran on Little America, Jake Tapper on The Outpost. But over the 15 years I’ve been doing this show, once in a while, I’ll do a non-war book for an entire show. You’ll remember Jay Mathews’ Work Hard, Be Nice, or Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map, Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nation. You’ll remember Bishop N.T. Wright’s How God Became King, or Clayton Christensen’s How To Measure A Life, or even Hitch-22 by the late, great Christopher Hitchens. Those were all different kinds of books, books I thought might impact and change the course of your life. And now I think when A Path Appears, has that same potential. So we’re going to spend all day talking with its author, Nick Kristof. Now this is a pretty easy deal, because Nick’s a big name. He’s a bestseller, two-time Pulitzer winner, Sheryl WuDunn is his wife. She is also a Pulitzer Prize winner. She’s a banker. Nick Kristof, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Is Sheryl with you this morning at all?
NK: Unfortunately, she’s not. She’s in a plane, but I’m delighted to be with you, and she sends her best to you and the audience.
HH: Well, it’s better, because her name is one of those names that manages to trip me up like, well, so many do. So Nick Kristof, I can do. Congratulations, first of all, on A Path Appears being in bookstores today. It’s big launch day.
NK: Thank you. It’s exciting.
HH: And there’s quite a lot of momentum. You’ve got a documentary coming out as well as a website, www.apathappears.org?
NK: That’s right. There’ll be a documentary on PBS beginning in January.
HH: How long is that going to be for?
NK: The documentary will be four hours.
HH: That’s pretty amazing. Now Twitter, you can follow A Path Appears @APathAppears. Nick’s Twitter account is @NickKristof with one F, and @WuDunn is his wife’s. Now the blurbs are from Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono, but also Bill Hybels. I just want to tell my center-right audience there’s a lot more in this book than the blurbs might let you understand at first glance. You a little bit worried, Nick Kristof, that the center-right audience might say oh, New York Times columnist, Pulitzer winner, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, not going to read it?
NK: Yeah, I am. I mean, you know, my natural audience tends to be more center-left. And one of the lessons we’ve learned is you can’t begin to address so many of these social issues unless you really have a broad coalition. And you know, I do think these are issues, you know, creating opportunity, that left and right do fundamentally agree on. And especially if it becomes more an issue of looking where the evidence is, what works, what doesn’t work. Then I think there is some possibility of both sides kind of holding their nose and working together for the common good.
HH: I agree with this, and that’s why I want everyone, my regular audience to listen very closely. I think this book will change how you give your money, your time and your service. And it will do so, because it’s sort of rigorously researched on the scientific end. I pummel my audience, Nick, with appeals for this and for that. And we’ll talk about that in the course of this show. And always in the background is the question, is that the best allocation of my time and service? And that’s really the question at the heart of A Path Appears.
HH: What’s the best use of your time and your service?
NK: Yeah, I mean, it’s really an idea that comes from the business world, that you know, what are the metrics we have to measure how effective this is going to be. And I think that one of the real advantages of more people from the business world going into the humanitarian world in recent years has been that they have brought a real emphasis on measurement, on evaluation, and on getting the most bang for the buck. And you know, if it’s important to get the most bang for your buck when you’re a millionaire investor, it’s a thousand times more important to get bang for the buck when you’re dealing with potentially life-saving interventions.
HH: And not merely for the recipients, but also for the giver. I’ve got a buddy in Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput, and he wrote a column last summer about Marcus Aurelius’ meditations, which is called A Map To Living A Worthy Life. I think what you’re trying to do is rebuild that map here, is that you don’t want people to waste their efforts.
NK: That’s right, and I mean, one of the things that really struck us in writing the book is that we always start out trying to empower other people. And look, you know, helping people is harder than it looks. And our record of helping others has a somewhat mixed record of success, although I think we can do better. But it has this almost perfect record of helping ourselves. And that’s not just a, kind of a vague hunch. I mean, really, there is now real evidence of that from neuroscience, from careful studies. There is one study that I saw that if you join a church, then this is for senior citizens, then mortality rate is cut by 29%. If you exercise regularly, then your mortality is cut by, I forget, 30-some percent. And if you volunteer for one or more organizations, then your mortality risk falls by another 44%. So I guess the key is, probably, to volunteer for a religious running organization, then you just never die.
HH: That study’s on Page 242-243. I made a note of that. I also point out, you had on Page 17, a growing stack of evidence has shown that social behavior, including helping others, improves our mental and physical health, and extends life expectancy. And you quote the Harvard study, the longevity study, that follows 268 Harvard undergrads from youth, life and old age. Altruists seem disproportionately likely to age gracefully and maintain their health. Indeed, a willingness to help others seems more important to longevity than cholesterol levels. So that’s self-interest, right?
NK: Yeah, that’s astonishing. Absolutely. And you know, here is a case where self-interest coincides with helping others. And I mean, you mention Bill Hybels’ blurb earlier. And I think this is something that Bill and the megachurches have really done very successfully is to figure out how to combine giving back with just a frank acceptance that this is something that isn’t a burden, it’s not a sacrifice, but it’s something joyful, and when done in a social way with others, can make oneself feel good as making other people feel good. I think that there is, that the rest, that the secular world has a lot to learn from the way Bill Hybels and others approach giving.
HH: Now you have got, probably, I tried to count, there are more than a hundred stories in this book. And it’s written in a very interesting way. It’s sort of a layered approach to storytelling, and you loop back over some themes repeatedly, which we’ll talk about. But I want to start at maybe an unusual place, with Yok Yorn on Page 305. It’s sort of towards the end of the book. But it leaps up out even reading about, I’ve been reading about this initiative, that initiative, this entrepreneur, that successful intervention, and all of a sudden, you your wife are in the middle of the fields of Cambodia, and you hear someone keening.
NK: Yeah, I will never forget that. I was in the jungle in Cambodia, and you know, the backdrop is that I think that we all subconsciously somehow absorb the idea that because there are so many deaths in the developing world, that life is cheap, that people somehow get used to it. And I was walking on a jungle path with my interpreter, and we heard this incredible screaming, and we didn’t know if it was an animal noise or what. It was just unreal. And we approached very nervously, and we came to a clearing. And there was this man, Yok Yorn, and he was cradling the body of his son, who if I remember right, was 10, who had just died of malaria. And he was hugging the boy, cradling the boy. And you know, nobody who could have seen that grief that day could have ever subscribed to the idea that life is cheap, that people ever get used to the idea of losing a child. And you know, what really struck me is that that is the kind of thing that we can prevent for the price of what we spend on coffee. You know, a bed net, and anti-malaria bed net would have saved that child’s life. And actually, that same day, I met another family maybe two miles away that they had four children. It was a grandmother looking after four of her grandchildren, because the mother had just died of malaria. And she had one malaria bed net that could fit three of the kids. And every night, she had to figure out which of the kids she was going to leave out of the bed net. And this is a five dollar bed net. And it was the most excruciating decision she could make, and she had to make it every night. And…
HH: That is, to me, to witness suffering is to inspire compassion, and sometimes action. But it’s also, as you say, the poor do not become inured to their suffering, which may be a temptation in the West. We’ve been covering the Ebola outbreak, Nick, and you know Africa better than anyone. It’s a nightmare, and the West tends to say that’s over there, and that nightmare sounds pretty awful, but what could be done? Nothing can be done.
NK: That’s right, and we somehow think oh, you know, they must be numb to suffering. And in fact, you know, we’re the ones who are numb to it. And what has struck me over and over is that the people on the front lines, whether it’s in Liberia dealing with Ebola, or it’s Cambodians dealing with malaria, is that people who have nothing will so often share their nothing with those around them.
HH: Very powerful stories in that regard, and we’ll come to them.
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HH: I’d like to urge everybody involved in giving money or administering the giving of money to go and get a copy of A Path Appears. I ordered it up for all nine members of the board on which I’ve served for 15 years, the Prop. 10 Commission in Orange County, California, that’s given away a half billion dollars. I have asked my elders at my churches to get a copy of it. And I will encourage all of my partners at Arent Fox to get copies of it, because it is a, it’s going to profoundly impact those who read it how they go about giving life in service, because it’s a lot of empirical data pulled together in one place. Now I had allocated an hour to talk to Nick Kristof, because he’s Nick Kristof. He’s a New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer. He’s been on the show many, many times. And then as I read it, I got more and more enthusiastic, largely because it confirms some of my biases, some of which it did not, but nevertheless, it provoked me along the way. And I want to begin with one of my biases, Nick Kristof. Generosity, in my opinion, is learned behavior. Now your children gave you a rat for your birthday.
NK: They did. This was actually for Father’s Day.
HH: Father’s Day, that’s it.
NK: …as I recall. And there is a, there’s a group of people, it’s an organization called Apopo that is training these special kind of rats that have an incredibly good sense of smell. They’re training them to detect land mines, and also to detect cases of tuberculosis by sniffing them. And it’s incredible to watch these rats at work. You know, they don’t set off the land mines, because they’re too light. And so they can go across the field sniff sniffing, and they stop at one, at a mine. Or in the lab, they set up a bunch of trays of sputum, and the rats walk along, and they stop at one that has tuberculosis. And you know, they’re more reliable than lab workers, and they can test far, far more a day. And they cost so little to train. So my kids got me, they sponsored one of these hero rats, they’re called, in my name, and boy, I was flattered to get a rat.
HH: Yeah, an African giant pouched rat, an African giant pouched rat. Now my point of that is, A) it’s a funny story, and it’s an interesting story, and I was amazed that they can clear four times the amount of land as a human being, and of course, without risk to the human being. But your children have learned a behavior. They know what satisfies you and what gives you joy. And I’ve often said to people who are atheists, take your kids to Sunday School anyway, because they’ll learn how to give. And it is learned behavior, Nick Kristof. Do you agree with that?
NK: You know, I think it’s a bit of both. I mean, there’s some indications that at very, very young infants, that if they see somebody, an adult who they think is, who pretends to have hurt himself, that very early on they will try to comfort that individual. They’ll share a teddy bear. And in our brains, the, if people are scanned when they see somebody else suffering, then the parts of your brain that light up are the same as those that when you yourself are injured. And injury to somebody else can also affect ourselves. But having said that, it’s also true that we’re socialized people, and we absorb the values of our families, our communities. And there’s obviously a lot of people who manage to be oblivious to the suffering around them, and other people who are enormously responsive. And so in that sense, I think we start with some kind of hardwiring for empathy, for altruism. But it’s kind of hardwiring, and the software comes from the way we’re nurtured, especially by our families. So I’m with you.
HH: On that hardwire side, I was thinking of the serotonin connection if it’s early on released with the one vast day of sharing, as run by a bunch of Protestant churches. If you get that serotonin impulse early, you may want it back. You might learn and actually become addicted to giving, which is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.
HH: You’re non-judgmental about categories of service and charity, provided that they assist the needy or the oppressed. I would say that’s, is that a fair statement, a summary of it?
NK: Yeah, that look, there are lots of ways to spend money, to volunteer. But to us, the paramount one is to create opportunity, to give people a chance to get a better life.
HH: And so that mostly returns on investment for the very poor or the very oppressed. You are not a fan, I gather, or Sheryl, of vast endowments and Ivy-covered universities as a first choice for philanthropy.
NK: Yeah, I think that would be fair. I mean, I think that there are all kinds, I mean, look, I donate to all kinds of causes, including arts organizations, including universities. But I think where we get the most bang for the buck is helping the neediest.
HH: Well, it’s interesting, because I’ll press you on this a little bit…
HH: You’re a Harvard grad, right?
NK: I am.
HH: As am I. And so our university has a $32 billion dollar endowment. I haven’t given them a dime in years. I can’t bring myself to divert a dime from, for example, Save the Children, to send it to Harvard. I mean, it makes no moral sense to me. Does it to you?
NK: Yeah, Hugh, I mean, it’s an interesting question. I’ve thought about this a lot. And I just wrote a check the other day to Harvard, so I was thinking about it again. And I guess the way I guess where I come down is I mean, a few different things going on. One is that while I think that Harvard and other Ivy institutions aren’t as economically diverse as they should be, but still, institutionally and through their research and their programs, then they do create support for the entire country. And a lot of the research we cite, for example, on cortisol in very young children. That comes from a Center For the Developing Child at Harvard. So I think that there is a certain amount of research there that does support everybody. And indeed, some funding goes to support kids who are given scholarships and so on. But I still, I mean, I take your point that most of the beneficiaries at the major institutions are people who are already pretty well off. And so for that reason, I guess I think of giving a little bit like a buffet, and I want to have a lot of fruits and vegetables, but I also want to support, give back to an institution that I went to. I want to support a theater that I deeply believe in, even though that’s not, even though I wouldn’t want to argue that that is going to be as, get as much bang for the buck as lifesaving intervention like a bed net.
HH: I agree. I’m not against giving to universities. I urge people to give, for example, to Hillsdale College and Colorado Christian University all the time. It’s the endowment that makes it a problem for me, Nick, $32 billion dollars. And those institutions which are vastly funded in this world use so little of that endowment. And I’m not sure our tax code, this is an incentive to inquire with Paul Ryan, encourages them to use as much of their resources as ought to be used at a moment when opportunities to genuinely impact the sciences, in other words. Now we know what works.
NK: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s an open question, again, one that I’m a little ambivalent about the tax write-offs for charitable giving and whether they should be more narrowly targeted so that it’s really only for those donations that are clearly creating opportunity. And you know, I mean, it is true that a lot of people are writing checks to private schools or to colleges basically so that their kids or their grandkids are going to get in. And I’m not sure that taxpayers should be subsidizing that.
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HH: The fact is, wherever you look in the world, there’s suffering. We’ve got our eyes paying attention to Ebola right now, and our eyes paying attention to the rampaging of IS. But next year, it’ll be different chapters everywhere. Next decade, it’ll be different chapters. How do you actually make a dent in it? And A Path Appears is an attempt to comprehensively survey what works both at home in the United States and abroad. I want to spend the short segment here, Nick Kristof, on the matter of the Church as agent of charity. Now you recognize, the book is full of nuns and priests and pastors. They appear out of nowhere to do great good. On Pages 130-140, there’s this remarkable story, a Kenyan named Kennedy, and there’s a priest, a nun, a pastor. There’s also a U.N. worker and a college, there’s all these religious folk, though, that make Kennedy out of the Kenyan slums an amazing success. And they show up throughout the book. On the other hand, I think you might be consciously trying to avoid commenting on church as charity as much as possible.
NK: I’m, I don’t think I’m trying to avoid that. We, you know, we have a section in which we talk about the way the religious world and the secular world kind of need to cooperate, and each needs to acknowledge that the other is engaged in humanitarian efforts and does some really good work. But you can’t, I mean, you can’t report on global suffering without acknowledging the incredible work that so many missionaries and others are doing in the field. And you know, in contrast to a lot of aid workers, these are people who often stay for many, many years, speak local languages, not just the European language, but local tribal language. They send their kids to the local schools. And when everybody is evacuated, you know, they’re the, they stay behind, very often. So I’ve just enormous respect for some of these folks.
HH: Now my Presbyterian congregation just sent 73 people to South Africa and Swaziland. And my friends in the LDS, I’ve got a bunch of friends who are Mormons, they undertake these vast philanthropic efforts. And it’s truly incredible, since their church takes tithing very, very seriously. Catholic charities are motivates, they’re always at work. If you took the religiously motivated service and giving out of anti-poverty and anti-oppression programs, Nick Kristof, by what percentage do you think those efforts would decline globally?
NK: You know, I think it would vary a lot by country. In Africa, the health establishment would be just crushed. Likewise in Haiti, it would be destroyed. I’ve always felt a little kind of ambivalent, because on the one hand, in writing about AIDS, I was aghast at the way the Vatican was discouraging the use of condoms as a tool to fight HIV transmission. On the other hand, it was very obvious that there so many, so many people on the front lines trying to fight HIV were these nuns, these priests, these Catholic hospitals. And indeed, while the Vatican’s position was very hostile to the use of condoms in those circumstances, you know, the nuns and the priests often on the ground were looking the other way, occasionally even handing them out. So it’s a lot more complex on the ground than at the varying official positions are.
HH: It’s so interesting, to prepare for the interview, I took a couple of Norbertine priests, monks out to lunch, and we talked about this. And they said well, a lot of the secular world will never get our infinite perspective. We’re playing for infinity in the soul, and so we have to play both with the suffering in front of us and the infinite destination of the soul. And that really does bring the worlds into collision at some point. But for the most part, if, for example, you talk about freeing children from slavery, you’ll find the International Justice Mission, and you’ll find your secular groups. If you talk about secular care, you’ll find Upon This Rock Medical Center running a hospital in southern Nigeria. Every category has, it seems to me after reading this book…
HH: …has a secular and sectarian parallel.
NK: Absolutely, and one of my frustrations is that they don’t cooperate more, partly because we are in such a polarized age, and everybody is so distrustful. And so you look at sex trafficking, and you know, there are some genuine disagreements, but everybody agrees that 15 year old girls shouldn’t be trafficked by pimps, shouldn’t be locked up in brothels, whether we’re talking about Cambodia, whether we’re talking about L.A. And yet, because of this suspicion, there isn’t nearly enough cooperation across that God gulf so both sides can put pressure on politicians here and abroad to try to help those girls and end the impunity and get those pimps in jail.
HH: More on the sex trafficking trade and other interventions on the life of the oppressed and the very poor.
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HH: It’s a transformative work if you are already in the business of giving some of your money in service. But if you’re not, it may move you. And if you’re in a position of leadership, it ought to be mandatory reading for those around you about how you operate your organization as they go about trying to help people. I want to go back to the beginning of the book. I jump around, because I found the layering of the book so interesting, almost impossible to structure an interview off of this, Nick. I don’t know if you know that or not.
NK: Well, you’ve read it carefully. I’m impressed.
HH: Well, it just loops. There are loops, and I think you’re trying to layer, and as a result…
NK: And amplify the lessons, absolutely.
HH: Exactly, and so that’s very well done. We brought in Bridgespan to study this commission I was on after ten years of giving, and maybe $350 million dollars, and they came back and they said gently, some of the things you’re doing are really stupid, and they praised what we were doing really well. But then they encouraged us to find the most needy and layer on services. That was the bottom line, and they’re very good, as you know, at what they do.
HH: They study the not-for-profit world, layer, layer, layer, so I believe in it. Let’s start with Rachel Beckwith. At the beginning of the book, she wanted to give a birthday party to benefit Charity:Water, which we’ll talk about later, and she was a little bit more than disappointed in how much she raised, and then tragedy struck. Tell the story.
NK: Sure, so Rachel is a little girl in Seattle who from very early has been, has just kind of cared about others. And you know, her mom, Samantha Paul, I think is a very giving person, and maybe she nurtured this in Rachel. So then Rachel in her church heard about this group, Charity:Water, which digs wells for those people around the world who don’t have clean water. And Rachel thought wow, I’m going to donate my 9th birthday, and instead of birthday presents, I’m going to ask people to donate to my birthday page on the Charity:Water website to help build a well for people. And she set $300 as the goal for what she wanted to raise. And then she was checking it every day, and she was just kind of a little, she was happy that she got gifts, but she was a little disappointed, and in the end, I’m trying to think how much she raised.
HH: Yeah, $230, I think.
NK: $220, I think, yeah.
NK: And so she was a little disappointed, but at least she’d raised $220 to build a well somewhere. And then shortly after her birthday, she was in the car and a couple of trucks had an accident. She was, her vehicle was in the middle of it, a bit pile-up. She was very badly injured. Other people in the car in the family were okay. She was in a hospital, and friends and family members, people in the church, they were trying desperately to show their love and support for Rachel, and they did so by donating on her birthday page for Charity:Water, which was still up, even though her birthday had passed. And so they donated more and more. Then word spread about this girl who had tried to help others, who’s fighting for her life in a hospital, and more and more people donate. And so the amount goes up and up, and soon, she surpasses the record for a birthday, which at that point had been raised by Justin Bieber, was about $50,000. And so her mom is whispering to her, she’s in a coma, nobody knows if Rachel could hear that. And the amounts just go up and up, and they finally have to disconnect the life support. It’s clear that she’s never going to recover. And so Rachel dies, but people donate $1.2 million in her memory, and a year later, her mom travels to Ethiopia with Charity:Water and sees these wells that have been dug and are transforming the lives of villagers in Ethiopia, just like her daughter, who now will have a chance to get clean water, a much better chance at life, fewer parasites. And obviously, there’s no salve that can erase the pain of losing your child at age 9, but it was a way for to give some meaning and memory and legacy for Rachel’s life. It was a way of other people to show their concern, show their compassion to memorialize an extraordinary young girl, and to make a difference.
HH: As you wrote on Page 5, “Giving wells couldn’t dissipate the grief, but it could turn it, at least, into something bittersweet.” Now I’ve seen this again, and I mean, just a couple of weeks ago, Erik Rees was in. His daughter, Jessica, died at the age of 12 after 10 months of brain cancer, and she started, and they continued, Joy Jars, which has become just this incredible, vast operation to bring just joy jars to kids in pediatric cancer wards. And I think of the family of Mark Daily, who was a friend of Hitch, and was killed in combat in Iraq, and they are laboring to get a Fisher House open at the Long Beach VA. Grief powers a lot of this. It’s an interesting connection.
NK: It does.
HH: …that I think goes to both the idea that grief can’t be wished away, but you can make it into something else. You can transform it into something else.
NK: That’s right, and you know, sometimes it’s sort of intuitive to do this as a way of memorializing somebody. What I think we don’t do enough is that when we’re upset or depressed or feeling lonely, we often withdraw into ourselves. And I think that in fact if at that time we can summon the strength to reach out and engage and even try to help somebody else, even though we’re emotionally needy ourselves right then, that that can be an incredibly powerful way to help ourselves as well as help others.
HH: It recurs again and again and again in the book, A Path Appears. By the way, A Path Appears, how did you come up with the title? I saw the Epilogue, but when did the light go on and say that’s it?
NK: Well, we were struggling over a title. And our previous book, Half The Sky, came from a Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky, and I’ve always liked this saying by the Chinese writer, Lu Xun, and hope is a real theme in A Path Appears, and we think there should be more emphasis on hope. And the saying goes that hope is like a path in the countryside. At first, there is nothing, and then because more and more people walk this way again and again, a path appears.
HH: It’s actually a beautiful saying, and A Path Appears, a wonderful book.
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HH: Many more different sorts of categories of intervention is to be talked about, and of strategies, and of controversies in the world of giving and service. But this is a short segment, Nick, and so I thought I’d bring up Lester Strong, who in the writer’s craft that you display, you weave him in at the beginning, and then back at the end, Page 6 and Page 284. And I think he’s intended as an example to sort of say not too late to start your own effort, even if it cannot be the experience corps. He’s 55, and it’s kind of a shout out to the late middle aged, get off your butt and do something.
NK: That’s right. So Lester was himself a kid who’d had a tough upbringing, and his parents were poor and not able to give him much help, and the teacher kind of told him early on that he was sort of hopeless, that they told his parents they shouldn’t waste their time kind of giving Lester and education. And then there were some people in the community who said, there was a barber, there was a minister, and a friend of his mom, and they said no, Lester, you know, you can make it, you can study. And he ended up doing really well in school and going on to Davidson College, Columbia Business School. He had a successful career in broadcasting. And then, but he knew that this was only possible because there were some adults who had mentored him when he was very young, and so he wanted to give back. And so he’s now running an organization called Experience Corps, which lets senior citizens volunteer and help kids in the situation he was once in. These are typically disadvantaged young kids in school, and it’s helping them learn to read, get books from the library, tutoring them, often getting the kind of help that middle class kids always get, but that a lot of, you know, some working-class or disadvantaged kids don’t always get at the home. And so it’s just a fantastic outlet for people who have some time on their hands and want to give back.
HH: And back to that longevity study or studies that you cite repeatedly in A Path Appears, it’s not only for those who are being mentored, it’s for the mentees as well. They’re getting an extraordinary benefit of longevity and purposefulness in their life.
NK: It’s a wonderful two-way street where you start out helping somebody else, and you realize that they’re giving you a sense of meaning in your life, a sense of fulfillment, and a real satisfaction for contributing, for giving back in ways that boost your own well-being and boost your physical health.
HH: Not a cliché, and absolutely positively supported by the best research as is voluminously footnoted in A Path Appears.
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HH: I think you’ll find it compulsively readable, because Nick and Sheryl have chosen an approach that is storytelling interlaced with academic research so that you’re getting a lot of sort of David Brooksian social science and a great deal of tremendously moving stories of sacrifice, pain and redemption, all organized around some themes about how to assess what you’re doing with your own life without being didactic. So it’s very good. I want to go to Page 292, Nick Kristof, Cheryl Dorsey, head of something called Echoing Green, and I thought to myself, okay, I’m probably not going to agree with that, going green very much, but I loved what she had to say. “I start every talk I give at a university saying please don’t start another social enterprise. Young people have equated success with being a founder. That’s the Achilles’ heel of our movement. And I tied that into the stuff you wrote about cleft palates and clubfoot, and that’s all early on Page 19, or trachoma on Page 306, or Guinea Worm and river blindness on Page 245, we already know what gets remarkable return on investment. We don’t need any new organizations. But you’re even ambivalent about that message.
NK: Yeah, look, I’m, you know, I think it’s exciting that so many young people especially want to give back and want to start organizations. And I think social entrepreneurs sometimes can really be very effective. But it’s also true that these days, everybody wants to start their own organization. Nobody wants to join an existing organization. And so in the business world, you get scale, you’ve got economies of scale, you get mergers and acquisition, all that helps create productivity and effectiveness. In the social sector, you don’t have mergers. You have a million little tiny organizations that never really grow, and then the founder after a few years loses interest or gets busy, and then it kind of fades away. And that’s a real shortcoming of our effort to try to help others, that we’re just so focused on starting our own thing and being a founder that we’re not willing enough to kind of subdue our own ego and work within a large organization.
HH: What’s interesting, though, the tension, you may have heard me talk about this before, because I think I had him on right after you once, Brian Ash was my son’s college roommate in Colorado, and he upped and graduated from Boulder, and he went to Kenya, he started Arrive in Kenya. He’s now housing, it’s been a year and a half, he’s housing two dozen Kenyan orphans from all different tribes. He has to turn them away. He’s raising a lot of dough. It’s because of the youth of energy and almost the ignorance of youth that allows someone to try something like that.
NK: That’s right. I mean, and I don’t want to discourage people who want to and try to make the world a better place. And often, some small, little venture can really make a real difference for some number of people they interact with, and that’s fantastic. Everything doesn’t have to be a huge scale adventure. On the other hand, when one is starting something small, when you don’t have experience, you often can make mistakes.
NK: And you could be less professional. If, you know, there is a risk that you’re going to be not as effective, and occasionally, risk you’re actually going to do harm. So it’s a complicated world, and I think right now, we’re just too, there’ too much of a bias in favor of starting one’s own thing.
HH: We’ll come back to that in a minute. I do want to pause on this cleft palate, clubfeet, trachoma, Guinea Worm, river blindness. The return on investment, these things are not difficult to cure. They’re very, they’re really easy to cure. And the money, it made me think to myself every dollar you give here in the United States to address anything can save a children’s life somewhere else with a club foot operation or casting. It’s really remarkable.
NK: Yeah, you know, clubfoot is something that I was only sort of dimly aware of. It’s a condition where you’re born with a birth defect where your foot, at least one foot, sometimes both feet, turn inward, and so you can’t walk. You’re not, if you’re born abroad with it, you’re not going to be sent to school. You’re not going to marry. You’re not going to work. You’re probably going to end up a beggar in the streets until you die. And we don’t see club foot here. It’s not on our minds, because it’s treated at birth. And when we were writing A Path Appears, it turned out that my mom had actually had club foot, I had been totally unaware of this, because she had been treated at birth. And you know, she’s going strong at age 82, and yet in so much of the world, it’s just such a tragedy and ruins a person’s life. And so we followed a woman in California named Shashana Klein, who got a mailing about a clubfoot, and she as a baby had had it, although of course, she hadn’t remembered it, and so that touched her. And so she sent off a check for $250 to this organization to try to help a child with clubfoot, and we followed the money. It went to a hospital in Niger, and it went to a girl called Rashida, who was from a village where when people had clubfoot, they never got treated. They never got cured. And Rashida, because of Shashana’s $250 contribution, that was enough to get her clubfoot repaired. And so she is now going to be able to go to school, live a full life completely transformed because of that donation. And you know, look, obviously donations don’t always work. Some giving is ineffective. There’s corruption. There are a million problems. But does it sometimes work in a way that is completely transformative? Absolutely, and we saw that again and again.
HH: And there are reliability indices. If you want to be a risk taker and innovate, there are some that are riskier than others. But if you want just reliability, we’re going to talk about adopt a children programs and clubfoot. There are some very extremely reliable…let me ask you about an omission. With the exception of The Mission Continues on Page 280 by Eric Greitens, and a photo credit in the Jim Oates photograph, and by the way, I appreciate that you have photos throughout the book. Jim Oates is a San Diego giver on Page 151, and some of his money goes to Semper Fi Fund. With the exception of those two references, you don’t talk about mili-charities much. Now on this program, the time I have to allocate, I give to the Semper Fi Fund, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Fisher House, and the Gary Sinise Foundation. That’s my time that I can allocate to charities. The network sponsors things with Food for the Poor, Salvation Army, Save the Children, Feed the Children. We have lots of charitable efforts. But I notice that there’s sort of a hole in here about the charities that are serving the gravely wounded and the families of the fallen. Was that a choice? Or was it simply where your reporting took you?
NK: I guess it was really kind of where our reporting took us. And we were really focused on especially early interventions and trying to create that opportunity. So we looked, as you said within the Eric Greitens chapter about veterans, especially those with PTSD and kind of efforts to return them to the workforce and get them strong again, partly though getting them engaged in helping others. But yeah, there’s just, you know, only so much space. And invariably, there’s a lot of things that we could not, that the book did not address.
HH: One of my suspicions, it’s not been confirmed, but one of my suspicions is there are lots of frauds in the veterans charities. The Semper Fi Fund and Fisher House have been charity star, charity navigator rates. Their overhead’s very low, Gary Sinise’s deal as well. But boy, are there a lot of frauds out there. And a lot of people are making money off of helping vets, because it touches the patriotic chord as well as the altruism chord. And you’re very blunt. I’ve been regulating charities since I was at OPM and ran the Combined Federal Campaign in the 80s. and you warn readers there are many frauds in the non-for-profit world, and that they’ve got to do their homework.
NK: Yeah, I mean, one of the problems is that we tend to give not necessarily to the best charities, but to the charities that are best at asking. So when somebody calls us up, and they say they’re raising money for, and if they mention children with cancer, if they mention veterans, you know, firefighters’ widows, there are a few kind of key words that just make us feel okay, you know, I’ll give X amount. And we don’t know anything about that caller, or whether that money is used properly. And if we care about children with cancer, if we care about veterans, if we care about firefighters’ widows, then we should want to make sure that our $25 bucks or $50 bucks, or whatever it is, is actually going to help some. And in general, we’re much better off looking for a great organization rather than just giving to somebody who calls us.
HH: Yeah, I learned a new word – chuggers.
NK: Chuggers, yeah. They, charity muggers, I run into them here in Manhattan all the day. They’re people who are hired by a charity, and they confront you on the street and say there are children who need sponsorship in southern Africa. Can you sponsor one child? And because you’re confronted, you feel like a heel if you just…
NK: …if you just walk on. It, you know, it plays to our empathy. And some of these organizations are great organizations. But the problem with responding in that way is that those people are typically not volunteers. They’re typically being paid. And a lot of your money is going to pay them.
NK: And so you’re so much better off going through, finding your own organization and supporting them that way.
HH: There’s a chugger outside my pharmacy for homeless veterans, and I go in there, you know, many times a year to get something, and I think I give one out of ten times. It’s irrational. My pattern is irrational. But chuggers aren’t rational, either.
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HH: I want to pick up on the question of early intervention. My Prop. 10 Commission spends a lot of, we’re by law required to focus only on children 0-5 to make them healthy and ready to learn. And so we’ve learned that those first three and a half years are critical, and one of the reasons I got very excited about the book, the nurse partnerships, we put a lot of money into that. It took us a long time to figure out that’s where the return on investment is in America.
NK: I’m so glad you’re supporting them.
HH: Yeah, well, tell people about what you discovered. That’s why I got excited about A Path Appears.
NK: You know, I came across them and some of the research on them, and as a journalist, you’re trained to be skeptical. And the results just seemed too good to be true. Here’s an organization, the Nurse Family Partnership, that works, it begins working with usually like a teenage, low-income mom during pregnancy, and then works with the mom and the child until the child is two. And so it ends when that child is two. And yet fifteen years later, that child has so much better outcomes than others who were randomly assigned to other groups. And it just didn’t make sense that a program that ends so early could have such long term effects. And yet the evidence is just overwhelming that it does, and now we sort of throw science behind it, that that period, as you say, from conception through the first two or three years of life, is just critical, and lays the foundation. And it’s because it’s when the brain is developing. And the architecture of the brain is affected by poverty, by stress, by a mom not hugging a child enough, not reading to a child enough, not talking to a child enough. And you know, sure, there are some just bad parenting, but a lot of times, there are ways that an outsider, a nurse who’s sort of trusted can create a better parenting. And part of it is encouraging the mom when she’s pregnant not to drink, not to do drugs, after birth to read to the child, talk to the child. Maternal attachment is just critical. And at age three and a half, assessment of the degree of maternal attachment is a better predictor of whether that child will graduate from high school at age eighteen…
HH: Right, it’s amazing.
NK: …than that child’s IQ is. It’s incredible.
HH: Yeah, it’s amazing. You’ve got a source here who I know, Irwin Redlener, who’s been a guest on the program. I met him, actually, traveling abroad once, wonderful guy, wrong on all things political, but a wonderful guy. And he’s president of the Children’s Health Fund, and their research on this stuff is absolutely unchallengeable. On the other hand, now Nick, this is where politics, you’re an advocate of advocacy, they take the good thing, which is you need the nurse partnership, especially for the poor, and they expand it to universal preschool by Bill, what’s your mayor named?
NK: Bill de Blasio, yeah.
HH: Yeah, he wants everybody to go to preschool. That’s not the jump that needs to be made. That takes the targeted group and expands it far beyond the targeted group, and that’s where my side of the political spectrum loses the focus on that which works.
NK: I mean, with all these interventions, the biggest bang for the buck is for the most at risk kids.
NK: And the truth is that middle, that middle class kids are already getting a lot of support at home. They’re getting, their parents are investing in them. And the problem is there are some kids who are losing the lottery at birth, and they’re born to a family that maybe isn’t exactly a family, and they need that support desperately. And so in Nurse Family Partnership, for example, so the most at risk kids that if you invest in Nurse Family Partnerships for a nurse to work with that mom, then for every dollar invested, there’s $5.70 saved in public investment years later. But that is not true if you, you know, as you move to less at risk kids.
HH: Exactly. And if you can stop a child from being exposed to alcohol and fetal alcohol syndrome by intervening in the life of an addict, the return on investment in the cycle of prison…
NK: …is just enormous.
HH: Yeah, it’s enormous.
HH: And so that’s where the political systems diverge. I did want to bring up the one, the Bucharest Family Intervention Project. I tweeted it out to you. That left me morally conflicted.
HH: They left half those babies in Bucharest. Tell people about that.
NK: Right, so in 1989, the Romanian, the communist government in Romania fell, and the Romania government had this just horrifying system of orphanages where these babies were in these little cots. There was nobody attending to them, nobody ever holding them, hugging them, talking to them. And then communism fell, and there were, some researchers came in, and they took some of these babies out of the orphanages and placed them in really good foster care situations. And others, they left in the orphanages, and they monitored them, and they were randomly assigned. You know, some babies were taken out and given to these great foster care, and the difference was enormous. And it turned out that what mattered not only whether a child was taken out and put into foster care, but at what age that was done, that basically, if a child was taken out before the age of two, then kids had some resilience. They had some plasticity. They could recover, to some degree. But if you took the child out after the age of two, then the damage was really done. And you can see in these brain scans of these kids, you can see many years later, you can tell which ones were taken out before the age of two, and which ones after the age of two. So the lesson is overwhelming that those first two years of life are just critical. And if we miss that window, then it’s hard to undo the damage. But you know, as you say, we know this tremendously important thing, because of this horrifying fact that there were these babies who were left behind in the orphanages.
HH: It’s just not tainted, but it’s troubling. The University of Minnesota study also confirms the kind of parenting a child receives in the first three and a half years is a better predictor of high school graduation than IQ, parenting being a big word. But on the domestic side, those organizations which are aimed at those critical prenatal and postnatal years make up so much more of a difference, and so much more of an impact, that people have got to address that. And I think that’s actually recognized widely now, Nick Kristof, don’t you?
NK: Yeah, I think we’re becoming more familiar with it. I mean, I think that traditionally, there was some idea that oh, you know, little kids, they’re resilient, so you know, if they don’t do so well in the first few years, then you know, they’ll get to school, and they’ll recover lost ground. And in fact, just the evidence now is overwhelming from human studies, you know, these randomized control trials, from animal studies. You know, there are these remarkable rat studies, that it turns out that rats that are licked and cuddled by their moms as baby rats do much better as adults in mazes and things like that. And from understanding the brain science, of you can see the architecture of the brain, and the hippocampus, for example, is smaller in babies that aren’t being cuddled and supported, and so the evidence is overwhelming about the importance of early childhood interventions.
HH: Yeah, it’s not debatable, not debatable.
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HH: This is sort of a high-end question, Nick. My law firm, Arent Fox, like most big law firms, we encourage and we reward pro bono work. We’ve got a partner, Ambassador Prosper, who spends whatever time it takes to free American dissidents who are wrongly imprisoned in places like Iran. We support the Special Olympics World Games. We organize the Rule Of Law project in Afghanistan. My partner, O’Brien, is over there dodging land mines all the time, countless other things. Most big firms do that. Here’s my question. We could be just doing our law work, making more money, and giving the money away. That’s the lesson of Adam Smith, is that specialization occurs for efficiency reasons. What do you think about pro bono work versus give the money away that you would earn from your highest and best use?
NK: I’m a believer in pro bono work for a couple of reasons, and obviously, it depends on the quality of the pro bono work. And you know, sometimes it’s just decorative, but often, it really is real. And I’m a believer in it for two reasons. First of all, I think for those partners or associates at that law firm, I think it’s incredibly meaningful for them, and I think it gives them a sense of engagement with a cause larger than themselves that they wouldn’t get just by writing checks. And I think that for the firm, it creates a sense of morale, helps with retention, recruitment in a way that just writing checks wouldn’t. And I guess the other point I’d make is that there are a lot of organizations out there that need specialization. They need good lawyers, for example, or they need accountants, or they need IT people. And if they can get those kind of specialized services from an organization that will lend them those skills, that’s incredibly useful to them. They need more than just money.
HH: Okay, that’s a fine answer, and that is the answer that I thought you might give, but I wanted to ask it. Now let me ask about capitalization. I mentioned Thomas P.M. Barnett’s been on the program before. He’s written a great deal about development in a box, big fan of KIVA. You write about KIVA, about CARE, about micro-lending and micro-saving generally. And I mentioned earlier the book, The Poverty Of Nations by Asmus and Grudem, a theologian and an economist. And they point out you’re never going to get long term success unless there are things like the rule of law, guaranteed property ownership, and capitalization. How much do you agree with that, because right now, we’re watching, for example, this horror story unfolding in West Africa. Whatever has been done in West Africa, it’s like the Rwanda effort, the bakery that you talked about. Whenever a catastrophe happens in a country without institutions and deeply-embedded civil society, it gets washed away either by the disease or by the violence.
NK: Yeah, I mean, I think you need a few things to make development work. And in my travels, I’ve seen this. I mean, one is that you need security. And there, I remember in Central African Republic at one point seeing the shell of a hospital that had been built, and you know, kind of the only thing left was the sign saying it was donated by the German Aid Organization.
NK: In the absence of security, nothing else works. And you need good governance. I think the single, if you look at Africa, the single best explaining factor about why some countries have succeeded and why others haven’t is probably the quality of the governance. And you know, in turn, that relates to education. And one of the reasons I’m a big believer in education is that I think it tends to raise the quality of governance, and raise the expectations, and kind of lay the foundation for improved health care, for improved governance, for more market-oriented approaches. But there’s no magic formula. And I guess that’s the other point, I’d say, that I think we in journalism and the aid world, just as human beings, we yearn for silver bullets. And it always seems to me the better metaphor is silver buckshot. And there are a bunch of things that will help incrementally, and none of them is going to be transformative on itself, but you need education. You need early education. You need to save children early on. You need family planning efforts. You need health initiatives. And all of these collectively will move the needle. And it’s not as if one is crucial and another is wasted, but there are a bunch of things that will move the needle.
HH: Page 41, “The stakes are too great to fight the global war on poverty based on hunches and intuition. Just as the investment world has become increasingly rigorous, the non-profit world should as well.” That could lead, however, to not-for-profits shunning some areas and concentrating on others where that minimum is available. I mean, you’re not going to invest in Somalia right now.
NK: Yeah, I mean, that’s a real risk. And you know, just as in capitalism, you need people who are willing to take risks. You need venture capital. So we have to be willing to take some risks in the humanitarian world, but we need to know when we’re taking risks, because we need to assess that and take them at a modest level.
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HH: Next hour, I’ve got the hardest questions lined up. I want to use this segment just to tell a few quick stories, Nick, to illustrate your technique – Biti Rose Nasoni and the donuts. That’s a pretty amazing story.
NK: Yeah, so everybody knows bout microfinance, but you know, most of microfinance is micro-lending, where you lend small amounts of money. Then as people were doing really careful studies, they were finding that micro-lending is useful, but the even more powerful tool is micro-saving, helping people save their own money and then invest it in a good cause. And so Biti Rose is this woman that I met in Malawi, and this is an incredibly simple intervention to start, because people are, you know, the villagers are starting, they’re contributing their own money. So basically, it’s just giving them a lockbox, which is this wooden money box, and it has several padlocks on it. The keys are distributed among various people in the village. And then they have meetings, and they bring a small amount, five or ten cents, to each meeting. And they start this custom of savings. And then they invest it in small businesses. And so Biti Rose, who was just about the poorest, most forlorn women in the village, who’s getting beaten up by her husband…
HH: He’s a drunk, yeah. He’s a drunk.
NK: He’s a drunk. He’s spending what little money they have on prostitutes. And they’d had a child who died of malnutrition, and another child who died of something, it was a little unclear, and so they had very little money. And what money they had wasn’t being used effectively. And so she started this little donut business, and she turned out to be a really good donut maker. And once they got started in the sort of entrepreneurial tradition, they could realize they could make money, then it gave them a sense that maybe they could have a different future. And so she expanded her donut business, then she expanded her little agricultural plot, and she ended up renting more land. She started hiring other people to help her.
HH: Her husband cleaned up.
NK: Her husband cleaned up, and he began selling goods in the city, and he stopped beating her, partly maybe because she was earning the money in the family. But I think, also, there was a sense that you know, he had a little bit of hope. I think he’d been just self-medicating with alcohol, with prostitution. And the upshot was that the family completely changed its trajectory through this project with CARE. It’s called Village Savings and Loans. It’s one of the most effective interventions that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. And one of the gauges of that is that it’s self-replicating, and that is, the other villages see that okay, that village has these village savings and loans, and these villagers are all, you know, bringing the money, and so they want to adopt it themselves. So even if there isn’t any aid worker to explain how to do it, they copy the model. And so they buy their own lockbox, and they get somebody from the other villages to show them what to do. And okay, they have these meetings, and bring ten cents each time, and start a business. And so this…
HH: It goes viral without the web.
NK: Exactly. And without outsiders, it’s self-initiated, and is really kind of transformative. And the best kind of aid is when people can help themselves.
HH: Now contrast that in the middle of Malawi with Bernard Glassman and Greystone Bakery targeting the previously incarcerated for whom the rate of unemployment can sometimes approach 50%.
NK: Yeah, so Glassman, I mean, traditionally, the way we think of, you know, we should help people, you know, give them a handout, or help them with this, help them with that, and Glassman wanted to start a business that would hire people. So he started a bakery in Yonkers, New York, an area, just a really decrepit area, and he said he would hire anybody. And so he got a bunch of people just out of jail, a bunch of drug addicts, and he managed to build a business, this bakery, making brownies for Whole Foods and for others, and to keep it intact. And look, it’s an uphill struggle, and these are people who don’t have work histories. But he’s training them, he’s having these workers coach each other, kind of keep an eye on each other, support each other, and he’s had some amazing successes. And this notion of providing jobs to those whom, who have trouble in the labor market, I think, is an important model.
HH: Have you come across Father Gregory Boyle and Homeboy Industries, because he does tattoo removals, and Homeboy Industries are all gangbangers in L.A., and he’s been doing it, he’s a Jesuit, been doing it forever, and extraordinarily successful in the same model as Bernard Glassman. But the…
NK: I’ve heard of them. I haven’t met him. I haven’t seen it.
HH: Well, you’re on the East Coast. There’s a little bias here on the East Coast, so you did get west a little bit, and my bias is West Coast, obviously, because I’m out here. But a couple more, Global Grandmothers, Dining For Women, all of these groups sort of self-organized. You’re almost overwhelmed by reading A Path Appears at how many people are organizing themselves to do good.
NK: Yeah, you know, I think there is this yearning on the part of people to do something more than just write a check, and to do something social. And I think maybe part of it is that in a, often, this was something that people did through their church.
HH: Yup. That’s where I was going.
NK: And this is a more secular age. There are a lot of folks who are less likely to be going to church on Sunday, and so the church no longer becomes the vehicle, but they still want to engage in this community activity, in support of their community, and so Global Grandmothers is this effort to support kids who don’t, who aren’t getting the right kind of gifts. And Dining For Women is a group that they have a potluck dinner, and they donate the money that they would have spent going out to a restaurant to some kind of women’s cause somewhere around the world. And it’s fun, it’s social, and it gives them the feeling that they’re really making a difference, and that’s great.
HH: And it also recreates what church used to put into people’s life, the social connection with others involved to share the experience and grow it. That’s why I think pretty much on ever corner church in America, you’ll find a missions committee.
HH: But in the secular America, in secular America, they need things like this, because that’s the God-shaped hole in the soul.
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HH: Nick, Duane, my producer, has been producing the show for fifteen years. Before that, he did five years with Warren Duffy. And for as long as he’s been in radio, we’ve been raising money for World Vision, Children’s International, Save the Children, Compassion International, Plan USA. They all raise money on the radio, and you talk about the kids that you can sponsor. And you finally have the evidence. I’ve never seen it anywhere. Child sponsorship works. It actually matters to adopt and know the child.
NK: That’s right, and I’ve been likewise a child sponsor for many years, and I found this fascinating, because traditionally, it was felt that the most effective kind of child sponsorship was one in which you weren’t really so much helping that individual child, but you were helping the community. And so the argument was that the money is more effectively spent on a well for the village, or a community project of some kind rather than really focused on that child. And then Bruce Wydick, an economist, really carefully looked at Compassion International, which is a sponsorship organization that has a different model, and it really focuses on that individual child and tries to give them support and encouragement and hope. And it found an enormous impact. And it’s really a careful, well-done study looking at this real impact on that child. And it found that there was a remarkable effect, and it was really because of empowerment. And you know, empowerment is one of these sort of buzz words. But what it meant is that a lot of people kind of feel sort of hopeless, and they don’t really think that there’s much they can do. And Compassion International sponsorship gave these kids through coaching, through support, a sense they could have a different future. And so they got much more schooling. They worked harder in school. And they had long term, much better outcomes because of that sponsorship. And I think that there is a larger lesson here that we think that we’re going to have an impact on people by giving them things. And sometimes, that will indeed help. But often, what they most need is a sense of hope, and a sense that they can have a different future than what they expect. And then they generate from within the energy, the ambition, the resources to make that happen.
HH: And that connection with the family, and the family writing the letters, it’s all validated. And for a long time, I didn’t know if it worked. I knew it was a good thing to try, but I’m so glad to see this study. Give Directly is another organization that gives money to very poorest families, models a donor I know who would capitalize families with a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars to buy a business in the D.R. It’s just fascinating stuff. There’s too much to cover in three hours, but we’ll try in hour number three to get through it.
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HH: It’s about giving and service in many, many contexts – the best research, the best anecdotes, and some controversial lessons. And I want to start hour three on marketing, because many years ago, I was talking with the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt, as we call my wife around here. In 2000, she did the Avon breast cancer walk, three day walk, Santa Barbara to Pepperdine, back in the days of Dan Pallotta. I think I’m saying his name correctly, or Pallotta.
NK: That’s right.
HH: Pallotta, and it was a big success. She raised a few grand, and many thousands of women participated in it. And she did it in a memorial to my mom who died of breast cancer. And then I read about Dan Pallotta after that, before I read your book, and you know, he crashed down, and there were questions about his lifestyle and the amount of money he was spending, and the return on investment. And then you write a redeeming chapter that hey, marketing’s okay, and that in fact Pallotta-run enterprises actually made more money for the bottom line than non-Pallotta-run enterprises. It’s a fascinating chapter.
NK: Thank you. Yeah, Dan Pallotta was the guy who, he did this bicycle rides for AIDS, these walks for breast cancer, and he was really criticized by so many people, because he was spending a lot of money on marketing, on administration, and he spent money on advertising. And you know, all that was true. And he was also paying high salaries to get the best people. But it also worked, and he was raising stunning amounts of money. They, I think his annual giving was something like $70 million dollars in one year under Pallotta for breast cancer.
NK: I mean, just an amazing amount of money. And then because people protested that basically he was raking money off charity, so his organization collapsed, and others took it over. They didn’t market, they didn’t advertise, they didn’t hire the best people, and it was kind of run on a shoestring, and the upshot was that it raised much, much less money.
NK: And so less money was going to AIDS, less money going to breast cancer. And you know, at the end of the day, it is, I’m just a real believer in marketing in particular. And you know, we flinch at the idea of marketing for charity, but you know, and we go that’s what Coke should do. But if it’s important to market Coke, it is so much more important to market something that is potentially lifesaving, right?
HH: Yeah, A Path Appears came out after the bucket challenge went across the United States…
HH: …and raised more money for ALS than had been raised in probably the last fifteen years combined. That was marketing.
NK: That was brilliant marketing. And over and over, I’ve seen that causes that manage to market themselves, they get resources, they get attention, and those that don’t, you know, and maybe that’s because they’re diseases that Americans don’t suffer from, they just get neglected. And people suffer from them in silence and don’t get resources and die.
HH: Now you also talk about Charity Navigator, and we at my commission, we’re very concerned with outcomes. And measuring those are very hard, though you can always measure overhead ratios. And usually, if you have a charity with a very low overhead ratio, you know you’re at least not wasting your money. But a higher overhead ratio, unless it’s really high, doesn’t indicate larcenous intent or maladministration. It’s a bad screener of bad organizations. It’s a good screener of good organizations. But it’s not enough.
NK: That’s right.
HH: And outcomes matter.
NK: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Now we, I think we all know that corruption and inefficiency are an issue in the charity sector, and so administration ratios are, sorry, cost ratios are a relevant factor. And if a charity is spending 90% of its income on salaries, then there is clearly a problem there. But when it’s within a reasonable area, what matters for a charity is whether it has impact. And sometimes, you can have more of an impact if you do things that are risky, if you hire the best people for more wages, and one classic example in trying to address polio years ago, you could have had a charity that had volunteers taking people with polio for walks around the park with a wheelchair. And the cost ratios would have been very low, because it was relying on volunteers, this kind of thing, but it wouldn’t really have accomplished very much. On the other hand, if you’d hired Jonas Salk and other people to develop a vaccine, the cost ratios might not have been so great, but once they developed that vaccine against polio, that was transformative. And so we’ve really got to measure outcomes and impact and not just be blinded by cost ratios.
HH: Now one of the very best charities when it comes to cost ratios are not in your book – Salvation Army. They work with the lost and the least, and they never give up. I’ve done a number of events with them where you’ll find guys going through their program the fifth, the sixth, the seventh time, and they never give up on the alcoholic or the drug addict. Is that just happenstance that you didn’t come across the Army? Or are you concerned about them for some reason?
NK: No concerns whatsoever. I’ve seen their work on sex trafficking, for example, where they just do heroic work. And it’s just…
HH: Okay, let’s turn to sex trafficking, then. 100,000 juveniles, this is a stunning statistic, are trafficked in the U.S. every year, you write on Page 156. Now we’ve got organizations like Gem’s Girls in New York City, Fair Girls in D.C. But generally, I think you’re arguing for a, the Swedish model, and to rehab the sex worker and jail the customer. Am I right about that?
NK: Yeah, that’s basically right, basically going much more aggressively after pimps, also after customers, and trying to provide services to the girls themselves.
HH: Now Nick, you did not cover the porn business, which is the driver of so much of this, and I mean the people enslaved in that are, it’s really seedy stuff. But International Justice Mission and others are always quick to point to the connection here. Just a lack of time and space, or an entirely different subject?
NK: Kind of just a different subject. It’s a feeder into it, but, and it’s something I’ve just reported on a little bit, so I’m less familiar with it.
HH: All right, now I want to turn to teaching. You spent a lot of time talking about Teach For America. I am ambivalent about Teach For America, because I’m afraid it’s becoming a line on a resume, and not an education reform. What do you think about that?
NK: I’m a believer in Teach For America. I mean, one of the structural problems in America is that middle class kids, kids of professionals who don’t, who were getting a lot of home support already, they get the best teachers. And kids in these broken inner city schools who aren’t getting the support at home, they get the least effective teachers. And there are a few organizations that try to address that. There are other ways of addressing it, and certainly, Teach For America isn’t, you know, it’s not going to solve that problem, but it is one way of getting highly-motivated, very talented young people for too modest a period of time to be exposed to these very needy kids and try to support them.
HH: Yeah, if they made the commitment three years, I’d be for it. I just, I’m just afraid that the first year they teach, they’re bumblers. In fact, if you read Jay Mathews’ book, Work Hard, Be Nice, the guys who founded KIPP were awful. They were Teach For America Yalies, and they were just terrible teachers until they came under the guidance of a hard-core, lifelong inner city African-American woman who really knew how to keep a classroom moving. And KIPP, Great Hearts, I’m on the board of Great Hearts, the Hillsdale schools, they all emphasize lifelong commitments to teaching. I mean, they’re going to be there forever.
NK: Yeah. Well, I mean, KIPP is just a fantastic organization, has a terrific record, and I’m a huge believer in it. I have seen studies of Teach For America volunteers, and supposedly what the kids learn in those classrooms is slightly better than what the kids are learning in adjacent classrooms, albeit it often from not the best teachers, even though the TFA teachers are inexperienced. But I take your point that it’s often a resume builder of a couple of years. On the other hand, it is also exposing those TFA graduates to disadvantaged kids around the country. And I think that’s probably good for everybody.
HH: Well, as a carrier gene, that’s the upside to Teach For America. If you’ve worked in the inner city, you carry with that experience with you for a period of years that will transform how you approach other problems. Did you see the movie Waiting For Superman, the 2010 documentary by Davis Guggenheim?
NK: You know, I’m so embarrassed that I haven’t, no.
HH: Okay, one of the things that’s interesting, and we’ll come back after the break and talk about the private schools, the for-profit schools in Africa, and Guggenheim is a lefty who came to the conclusion our biggest problem in America is public schools. And in Africa, they’re also a big problem, public schools. And for profit schools are changing Africa, and we’ll see whether or not that shifts over. But Davis Guggenheim, one of those people who because he comes to a conclusion you’re not expecting, had enormous impact and created enormous controversy.
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HH: The book chronicles sort of worldwide efforts to change lives, transform lives through interventions, and charitable and advocacy work. And it ranks them, and it talks about failures. There are a lot of failures in this book. I’m glad you did not shy away from that. Let’s talk about one of the biggest successes, and then a very thorny problem that you raise. Mr. Mullaney, who started Smile Train, is now doing wonderwork, Brian Mullaney. Is it Mullaney or Mullaney?
HH: He’s a pretty amazing character. And Smile Train, we know dentistry works out here. We put a lot of money into sealant, because it saves kids lots of pain in their lives. But he’s an amazing character.
NK: Yeah, Brian is an extraordinary person who started out as a standard person on Madison Avenue, marketing for companies, and had a, made a ton of money, running around in hot cars. And he felt he was kind of missing something in life, some sense of fulfillment. And so he got engaged in, initially, in cleft palates and cleft lips, and used his direct mail skills to raise stunning amounts of money for these causes. And direct mail is kind of frowned on in the charity world, because it’s expensive. And most of the mailing, you know, just get tossed right out. They’re not even opened. But what Brian Mullaney realized is that once you get some people responding, then over time, they will keep on, that mailing list is incredibly valuable.
NK: And you may lose money on the first mailing. But over a few years, you will be able to raise enormous amounts of money. And so he was so successful raising money for these kids with cleft lips, cleft palates, then he’s now moved on and started an organization called Wonderwork that raises money for burn victims, for clubfoot, for all kinds of other injuries. And it uses those marketing skills that he developed on Madison Avenue on behalf of the some of the world’s neediest kids.
HH: And the cleft palate pictures are I think familiar to anyone who watches cable. I was not familiar with the rate of burns. I should have been. It’s intuitive now that it’s mentioned to me that in the third world, people tip over boiling water all the time, and children are scarred. But there are pretty inexpensive operations that reduce the suffering associated with that.
NK: That’s right. I mean, one of the things I see all the time is kids, boiling water will fall on their hand. And so some person will bind up the child’s hand, they never see a doctor, they don’t have access to it. So somebody will wrap up the child’s hand, and then the skin will become fused together, and so that child then is unable to use their fingers, even if they actually recover from the burn. They need surgery to separate that. And so that’s, you know, a fairly simple thing to do, and it’s transformative for that child. If you can use your thumb again, if you have an opposable thumb, that’s transformative, and it’s cheap to do. And likewise, clubfoot, cleft palates, there are so many of these interventions that it is just heartbreaking when you see these kids who are held back for something that is so simple to repair. Or he’s also doing cataract surgeries on kids. This is something that, you know, it can cost as little as $90 for a kid, it’s sometimes up to $300, and they get their sight back. Brian just put up a video of two sisters, two sisters in India, who got this cataract surgery, and they, you know, you see the bandages being taken off, and now they can see.
HH: They can see. Is that at Wonderwork? Is that video at Wonderwork?
NK: You know, I saw it on YouTube. It’s probably on their site, too, but yeah.
HH: Now you raise a thorny problem, though, in the middle of this conversation, the red-tailed hawk in New York. And there was a controversy when you were covering the Darfur genocide in the city of New York about two red-tailed hawks that were going to be evicted from a high rise. And it became a big thing. Listeners to this show will know we mocked it endlessly. And you hint at the problem which I had of environmental charities competing for scarce resources for charities that deal with human beings and great suffering. And that’s at the bottom of a lot of controversies, Nick. You’re on very thin ice here with some of, I’m sure, your friends on the Upper West Side.
NK: Well, I was very frustrated, because I was coming back from Darfur, and you know, seeing these burned villages, people being slaughtered, bodies tossed into wells, women being raped, and I felt like my columns were just disappearing into the abyss. And meanwhile, on the Upper West Side, and Manhattan was all in an outrage about these two red-tailed hawks that had been pushed out of their apartment, out of the nest in their apartment building. And I thought how is it that I can’t generate the same amount of outrage over these two, over all these people being slaughtered in Darfur as people feel for these two homeless hawks. And that led me to the work of some social psychologists and other people, Paul Slovic is one of the leaders in this field, who look at what kind of message it is that generate empathy, what is it that moves us to want to help. And one of the lessons is that we are moved by individual stories. We are moved by emotions. And so I think so often, we in journalism, or the humanitarian world, want to talk about 14 million people are out of food, or so many people are threatened by Ebola, this kind of thing. And actually, we are neurologically built to respond to individual suffering.
NK: And we feel empathy for an individual. And it’s, our empathy is basically emotional, not rational. If you ask people to do math problems first and then you make an appeal to them, they donate less, because the more rational part of their brain has been exercised. And the other lesson of this research is that people don’t just want to hear about tragedies. They want a sense of hope. They want a sense that if they help, there can be a different outcome. And so, and again, I think we in journalism too often leave the impression that everything is falling apart, that it’s just despair out there, and we don’t often enough show that yes, there are terrible things going on, but we can make a difference. And you know, you, this child is blind, but for $100, that child can get a cataract operation and will be able to see, and will be able to go to school, and live a normal life and contribute to society. And we have to do a better job at that kind of positive messaging.
HH: Now Nick Kristof, tough question, and I’m going to get mail on this, I believe that there’s no doubt that a contribution to end human suffering is a far greater moral worth than one designed to end animal suffering, and that PETA and Humane Society, nice groups, but they’re not even close to being on the same floor in the moral skyscraper as curing cataracts and clubfoot and cleft palate. Do you agree with that assessment?
NK: Yeah, I basically do, although again, I think of my donation, I think of this in terms of my own donations and how I live my life, and I mean, absolutely. There are some kind of interventions, you know, a malaria net that is going to save a child’s life, it’s hard to compare that with other interventions. On the other hand, you know, I will buy a cappuccino at Starbucks, and that money would be infinitely better spent buying a bed net. You can’t live your whole life just thinking how will this three dollars be best spent. And so I’m also okay donating, as I said, to a university that I think helped me, or to an arts organization that I appreciate, or to some other cause knowing that it may not be the absolutely best optimal use of money. And I guess I would put animal rights in that category as well.
HH: Yeah, I put most environmental charities in that category, and the fervor of the environmental movement sometimes obscures what humanitarian is built on – humans.
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HH: Nick, here’s a hypothetical for you. Let’s say someone’s listening, they’ve got $100,000 in their pocket. And they’re moved by your message. And I now tell them that there are three literacy projects in the book – Reach Out And Read, Pages 74-76, Better World Of Books, founded by a couple of Fighting Irish, Page 209, First Book, which is scaled remarkably on Page 297. They all aim for the same outcome – to increase literacy among the disadvantage. Who should they give the $100,000 to?
NK: You know, let me first, let me answer that in two ways. First of all, I mean, I think that for any individual, the answer may be different, and that there’s no, again, no kind of perfect hierarchy, no silver bullet. and a lot of who you donate to is going to depend on your own interests and passions and so on. On the other hand, I’ve got to say Reach Out And Read, I find a pretty incredible organization. So if it was me, I think that’s where I would donate that money. And partly, the advantage and strength of Reach Out And Read is that it leverages doctors kind of volunteering their time. What it is, is an organization that it uses largely donated books to pediatricians who deal with at risk disadvantaged kids. And so when the moms bring the kids in for visits, the doctor will give out a children’s book to the mom, and will kind of prescribe to the mom…
HH: Yeah, they write the script.
NK: Yeah, exactly, that she read to that child every day, and will give out more books in other visits. And it’s incredibly cheap. It’s $20 per child per year. And there have been careful, randomized controlled trials to show that the upshot is that it doesn’t work in every case. There are certainly plenty of people who take the books and don’t read to the child. But very often, the moms actually do read, and they get in the habit. And these are people who may be, they don’t have a single children’s book in the house, they weren’t read to as kids, they don’t think it’s that important. And when the doctor tells them you should read to your child every day, and if you yourself can’t read, then just go through the pages and tell stories based on what you see, that has real impact. And then reading to kids becomes more of an issue in that household. And one of the great inequities in this country is just almost the way things are is that child professionals will by age four hear 30 million more words than a child on welfare, because upper middle class families are talking to their kids all the time. It’s a very kind of an inclusive situation. And working-class homes, or those that are lower down in the socio-economic spectrum, there’s less conversation, and it’s a lot more like do this, don’t do that.
HH: Authoritarian style, you call it. I have to, by the way, TV doesn’t count, Kristof…
HH: …details that television word spoken is not a word spoken to a child in the impact form. The 30 million word gap which your colleague, David Brooks, has written about a great deal as well, is so profound that Reach Out And Read, we’ve been supporting this for years on the commission on which I serve, because the neuroscience is absolutely clear that children who are read to or exposed to books, they just develop far better lifestyles and life outcomes.
NK: Absolutely. And you know, it means that they then get in shape for kindergarten, and they’re in much better position to take advantage of kindergarten when it gets to that. And it also gets that mom or the dad, if there is one at home, engaged in the child’s life in a way that will pay long term returns for that child for years after that.
HH: And does it reduce the cortisol? Is that the hormone that is the stress indicator? Am I remembering this correctly?
NK: That’s right. And so when a child is stressed out, his diaper is wet and hasn’t been changed, or there’s shouting in the household, or it feels a threat, then it releases cortisol, this stress hormone. And that’s a good thing if it’s brief. But there are a lot of kids who where their brains are just bathed in cortisol all the time because there is constant stress. And that changes the physical architecture of the brain. And even in that environment, if there’s a mom who is holding a child, hugging a child, that will dissipate the cortisol. So there have been studies of a child getting a shot from a doctor. And if the child is in a bassinette and gets the shot, its cortisol level will just surge. If just a mom is holding the child, the baby, as he’s getting the shot, then there is a spike of cortisol, but it’s a much more modest spike. So if that child feels secure and hugged and embraced and loved, then even if there is a threatening, difficult environment, then the cortisol can be subdued and kept under control.
HH: Amazing stuff. Read about Reach Out And Read, Better World Books, and First Book. They’re all good, but read about them all in A Path Appears.
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HH: I want to underscore that by talking this segment, in our penultimate segment, about water and violence, which are not really connected, but are major parts of A Path Appears. Of all of these chapters, China Joe and the Violence In Chicago seemed to present the most intractable problem set to me, Nick Kristof.
NK: Yeah, I mean, these gangs in Chicago, and these kids grow up surrounded by gangs, they see violence at home, and then they become gang members. And we talked to one gang member, China Joe, who just spent his whole life in these gangs. And it just seemed kind of hopeless. And then there is a doctor who’s originally from the Chicago area, Gary Slutkin. He spends most of his career in Africa fighting contagious diseases. And he finally comes back to be nearer to his parents, and he’s trying to figure out how he can contribute, and what he can do. And the diseases that he’s focused his life on aren’t so much of a problem in Chicago. But he realizes that violence is all around him. And the more he looks at it, the more he thinks that in many ways, violence is a contagion, a public health threat, a contagion, just like those diseases he was fighting, and that it starts with people who have reduced immunity, and in the case of violence, that’s because they grew up in violent households. They saw violence. They, it was all around them. And then it spreads contagiously like a virus that there is a one gang attacks another, and then they fight back, and that he had a skill set, a toolbox to deal with contagions. And so he started an organization in Chicago, Cure Violence, that has had amazing success in addressing gang violence and murders as a contagious disease. And so he hires these former gang members, and the one we focus on, this guy, China Joe, you know, his job is to go out there, deal with gang members who he remembers, and to diffuse threats early and on stop retaliations, and to build up a community spirit in which the most violent people aren’t respected, but are rather looked down upon. And so…
HH: A pretty dramatic story about the intervention of China Joe and the mom, and I would encourage everyone to read it for that. I remain, the jury is out on these. Father Great Boyle, who I mentioned, has been trying this for 20-plus years in Los Angeles with some success, but it’s such a difficult set of pathologies. I want to turn to water in this segment as well. And charity:water, you begin the book with, and then you focus in on Scott Harrison, has, I mean, it’s an amazing organization. It has three core rules – find a core group to cover all the expenses, so 100% of any new donation goes to making wells, documenting everything with photos and videos, you know, go all out, name the wells, naming rights, and use creative and irreverent marketing to go viral, because people are more generous and cooperative when they are observed by others. Of all the case studies, is charity:water the most compelling to you?
HH: Yeah, charity:water.
NK: It’s like choosing which of your children you like the best. I wouldn’t want to, but I think that what Scott does really, really well is figure out ways of giving people rewards for giving, so that it’s not a sacrifice, but it’s something exciting and cool and is a privilege to be able to donate to charity:water. And that’s why he’s so amazingly effectively. Scott himself is very religious, and I think that it draws from one of the lessons of churches, that giving in conjunction with others as part of a community, is a social activity, is a joyous activity, that that is what is really transformative.
HH: What is his religious denomination, do you know?