Make a Difference: A Spectacular Breakthrough in the Fight Against Poverty

Make a Difference : A Spectacular Breakthrough in the Fight Against Poverty
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These issues did not come up in our family; in fact, to the extent they did come up, it was clear that my stepfather, who married my mother when I was four, was a racist. Why was I sensitive to these fairness issues? Was it genetic in the same way some people seem naturally gregarious from an early age, while others are more reticent? Was it some sort of need to be different from my parents—to be better? By the time I embarked on my Nepal trip, I had developed the rudiments of a political philosophy. From the navy I had learned of the incredible waste that occurs in large bureaucracies, and from my business experiences I came to appreciate the value of entrepreneurism, tenacity, hard work, and having a mentor.

Lots of people with more initial advantages than I had not done as well, either personally or professionally. Life will never be completely fair, but it does make sense to try and level the playing field—not the final score. Rank-and-file conservatives tend to be underrepresented in the media and in academia and, with some exceptions, not very involved in the national debate. This, and their natural skepticism about bureaucracies, politicians, and the effectiveness of government programs leaves conservatives vulnerable to charges of not caring about the less fortunate.

Extremists on both sides liberals and conservatives are each saddled with a Jesse help keep simplistic labeling of conservatives like me alive. Because we know that birth circumstances are often very unfair, we help lots of nonprofit organizations and foundations that help others. Everyone deserves a good chance to help himself or herself, and many people do not get one. But we believe government has a job to do to demonstrate positive outcomes from the myriad of existing programs now spending billions without much to show for it, before we commit more taxpayer dollars.

Both views are, of course, narrow and wrong in most but not all cases, reflecting an intuitive lack of understanding of the much more complex reality. During the many hours of climbing the trails up the Himalayas, my mentor and role model, Harvey Branigar, kept coming to mind. Harvey was about twenty-five years older than I, about the same age as both my father, whom I never saw, and my stepfather. I had spoken with Harvey, a former business partner and devout Christian Scientist, at least once a week on the phone for over twenty years.

He sold the Branigar Organization for many millions when he was in his sixties, but stayed involved with other investments he had made, including my company, Mark Controls Corporation. He and his investment group gave me the opportunity to be the CEO of Mark Controls when I was thirty-three, despite my having had no corporate management experience. However, after six years of consulting, the chance to have direct line responsibility was enticing. When we first met we had immediate mutual trust, the kind of chemistry that rarely occurs.

This led to a wonderful yet stress-tested relationship that survived two periods of near bankruptcy but ended with a sixteenfold increase in the value of Mark Controls stock. He had a marvelous ability to inspire, to create in people the ability to see themselves at their full potential. Among many other roles, Harvey was always pushing me to not be too busy to develop my spiritual life. I remember when I was in grade school, my stepfather dropping me off at the local Episcopal church to sing in the choir. This was a remedial effort, since I had received a very poor grade in music in fourth grade.

Sitting and singing through the services, I picked up some appreciation for what church was all about, but it never really took hold. For a long time I thought myself too busy running my international company and spending time with my two young sons, Gary and Mike, on their activities and other family activities to have time to get involved. Perhaps sensing a lack in me, and once commenting tactfully on the lack of religious preparation given to Gary and Mike, Harvey suggested that I needed more, and he was right.

I went back to church in , after a thirty-five-year absence, and started to appreciate the importance and value to me of faith. Harvey, though somewhat shy, was made of steel when it came to his unwavering personal convictions about right and wrong. He was just under six feet tall, of medium build, and with piercing but friendly bluest-of-blue eyes.

His handsome, rugged face was usually deeply tanned from riding his favorite horse out on his Arizona ranch. When he talked with you, his head would be cocked and his eyes would sparkle in a quizzical way that expressed curiosity and real interest in what you were saying. He listened to every word. He could look through you, but his manner was so diffident that there was never any feeling of being threatened.

He regarded humility as a great strength. Those of us who knew him well would compare notes on our efforts to get him to walk through a door before we did since he was invariably holding it for others. When Mark Controls Corporation grew and I was becoming successful and getting media attention, I received a carefully crafted letter from him warning me that humbleness was an asset more important than the visible trappings of success that were coming my way.

I felt terrible that I might be letting him down, and made sure that I did not. He was a director of Mark Controls, and after the first few years we had an annual ritual: he would offer to retire and I would insist that he stay. I would then persuade him to give a talk at our annual management conference, when our one hundred top managers would assemble from around the world.

In a featured talk at the conference, Harvey would tell stories about people, especially those in the factories, and their importance to our success. One poignant story about an after-hours farewell talk he had with an elderly, heavyset African-American cleaning woman at his real estate company brought some of us to tears. Harvey was retiring, and she wanted to and did hug him for taking a personal interest in her and her family, and for his kindness.

The younger Mark Controls managers, seeing a highly successful and, of course, quite wealthy entrepreneur in front of them placing people values at the top of the list was a powerful message. Get good people, inculcate those people with values, and you will be successful personally most important as well as professionally. Harvey put most of his money in a foundation to provide scholarships for the disadvantaged—dealing personally with each individual.

He would get letters from far and wide, and read most of them personally. In choosing recipients, he would look primarily for qualities of character, especially determination, as well as degree of hardship. His scholarship selections favored tenacity and tough circumstances over test scores, and many lives were dramatically changed by his generosity. Every so often, I would get an envelope full of letters he found particularly interesting. Trekking in the Himalayas provided great inspiration and space for reflections, and Harvey kept appearing in my thoughts. As I trekked across the Himalayas I also often found myself thinking about God.

Looking out at the incomparable vistas, and at the staggering image of Mount Everest, the case for His existence was overwhelming. What I was seeing with my own eyes each day transcended what most of us can even imagine. I reflected on what I read about top men of science returning to church and their explanations of how their scientific knowledge moved them toward belief in God, not away from it. I had made my own important leap of faith a few years ago, when Harvey inspired my return as a regular churchgoer. I usually found the once-a-week opportunity to listen to a story from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospel very interesting and often helpful to me in my daily life.

The discipline of sitting still and listening to the larger thoughts of life for an hour and a half most weeks was clearly helping to change me, moving me more outside myself.

Challenge yourself for Cancer Research this Summer

This preparation gave me a base to draw upon as the seemingly endless hours and days went by in Nepal. My trek was strengthening my belief that God is working in all of our lives. The average per capita income in Nepal is less than 50 cents a day! These larger thoughts came together with some others: the remembrance of the shock I experienced as a young naval officer when I volunteered to deliver a Christmas basket to a family in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina, and saw the pitiful living conditions—three beds in the one room, rickety stairs, no screens, a broken-down stove, and ragged, unhappy-looking people.

I remembered my outrage at the segregated restrooms on the U. Naval base in Charleston, and the threatening response from the local congressman, L. Mendel Rivers, to my letter to him alerting him to this immoral and illegal condition. Later, I came to learn it was Mendel Rivers who caused most of those ships to be based in Charleston in the first place. If a powerful national leader with tremendous influence over our armed forces took this kind of position about segregated restrooms, what kind of influence must he have in other areas, such as employment and housing?

While in the Himalayas I also thought back on my embarrassment during a trip to Moscow in the Iron Curtain days when, on Moscow television, I saw homeless Americans sleeping in doorways in the inner city. I came to believe that the message worked quite well, as subsequent conversations with educated Eastern Europeans, after the wall came down, revealed a genuine fear of capitalism that clouded their embrace of freedom. That is the tough love needed to push him or her to take advantage of the opportunity that awaits.

Without really being conscious of it, I had been developing a personal philosophy about disadvantaged people over a number of years, and trekking in Nepal gave me the opportunity to start pulling the various threads together. Clearly, some things had to be fixed if I was going to be as proud of my country as I would like to be. We Americans had things right for 90 percent of our people, but we had some tough work to do to level the playing field for the remaining 10 percent.

What could I do? I began with a self-assessment. I enjoy people of all types—from cab drivers to factory workers to professors. I also knew I had an acute need for the intellectual stimulation of taking on new challenges—especially something that no one had done before. Undergirding the intellectual aspect of my Nepal thinking was my longtime service on the board of trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation, the largest foundation in the country devoted solely to social science research.

At the time of my Nepal trip, I was chairman of the board, and because of economic globalization and other trends, we had steered the foundation to a primary focus on poverty research. We met with and supported most of the leading poverty researchers in the country, and I had learned a lot in the process. Meyer was the owner of the Washington Post among other properties, and his daughter, Katherine Graham, the publisher of the Post , grew up in the sylvan surroundings. As an odd contrast, the focus of the retreat was poverty, and we were joined by half a dozen leading poverty research grantees.

Lucy Flower was one of those high schools where the dropout rate and pregnancy rate were both about 50 percent and the average ACT score was 8, the lowest in the entire city and less than half the score needed to get into an average college. I arrived the day after an incident in the schoolyard where a student had brought a loaded gun to school and had been threatening other children.

Lucy Flower is an all black school, and a bitter white teacher who seemed to be counting her days to retirement escorted me around. When we arrived in the cafeteria it was quite rowdy, much like my memory of lunch period at my own high school. At one point I asked the kids what they would do if they were the principal.

It appeared that the actual work of painting would be a small fraction of the total time and expense required to make this simple idea happen.

I was beginning to understand why it is so hard to fix a big city school system. In the meantime I found out that the very good Catholic schools in Chicago were shrinking in size due to lack of students, with tuition levels at about one-third the per capita cost of the public schools.


After dinner at the Russell Sage retreat, as we were sitting in the beautiful living room of the famous Meyer mansion while brandy was served, I told the Lucy Flower story. I then asked the poverty researchers and trustees how many had visited one of these inner-city schools. To my great surprise, no one had. I then offered to arrange a visit, and no one expressed interest. Jim Casey, the legendary founder of UPS, left a large portion of his estate to this foundation, named for his mother. Jim, a lifelong bachelor, founded UPS as a bicycle messenger service in Seattle in and led its growth to a multibillion dollar giant with over , employees at the time of his death in at the age of ninety-six.

One of the great privileges of my life was serving on the UPS board with Jim for about ten years. He had great vision, and, like Harvey, humility and a tremendous caring for people from all walks of life.

Collecting Nebula Award Winners of the 1970s

This caring was manifested in the egalitarian culture that was built into the UPS organization which has since grown to , employees. Meetings are rotated around the country, and I vividly remember sitting next to a thirty-year janitor in Colorado who told me proudly of putting his three children through college and his pride in keeping his part of the package-sorting hub clean.

Jim was a remarkable man, known well by almost every UPS employee, and virtually unknown outside the company. As a UPS director, I saw helping shape the strategy of the emerging Casey Foundation as a great opportunity to contribute and to learn, so I volunteered for the board when Jim died. The early board sessions involved many hours listening to experts describe what is going on around the country in poor communities in the areas of education, teen pregnancy, mental health, drugs, and the like as background for developing a strategy to maximize the leverage of the foundation dollars in helping others.

I noticed that the experts tended to see more money for their particular field as a primary solution to the problems.

If we could get a sharper focus on the economics we could do more. It was great to help a few hundred kids, but we were the largest foundation in the country focused solely on disadvantaged children and their families. Another member of the team, Dr Norah Fogarty, also of the Crick institute, cautioned that further research was needed.

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Why not start at what might be the top? The capability approach introduces value judgements explicitly. By the time I embarked on my Nepal trip, I had developed the rudiments of a political philosophy. The next sections present several examples of policy initiatives. The question is: which concept do we focus on? Some see development as a new word for neo-colonialism, and despise it.

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An uncommonly perceptive film about young people is always something to celebrate. This drama, based on the novel of the same by Tim Tharp , is exactly that. It came to Broadway in These Wreck-It-Ralph movies are so, so good. Better than they get credit for, even.

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