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Home > Blog > Optimism
Out of Our Minds
Friday, October 28, 2005 6:21 PM
Optimism
Kevin Salwen on Making a Difference

A friend from Northwestern's Kellogg School read a letter from an MBA student there and was kind enough to pass it along. When you see what the next generation is doing -- and more importantly aspires to -- you can't help but feel a sense of hope and optimism.

I just love how this student, Andrew Youn, starts his piece: 'I am a second-year MBA student at Kellogg. I am one of growing numbers of MBAs that have a career focus on doing good in the world. We are learning not how to make millions of dollars, but how to change the lives of millions of people.'

It's long, but definitely worth a read:


Background\nI am a second-year MBA student at Kellogg. I am one of growing numbers of MBAs that have a career focus on doing good in the world. We are learning not how to make millions of dollars, but how to change the lives of millions of people. \n\nI graduated from Yale in 2000, and worked as a management consultant for four years prior to Kellogg. The tools of business appeal to me because they are the tools of mobilizing and organizing large amounts of resources. In my lifetime, I hope to end poverty for as many people as possible.\n\nHere is a description of my summer internship, managing AIDS treatment sites in South Africa, and my future plans, which are to pilot an anti-poverty venture in Kenya.\n\nMy Summer Internship\nMBAs use their summer internship to explore a career interest, and I went to South Africa to work in an AIDS treatment organization. Here is an update I wrote to my friends when I was nearly complete with the internship:\n\nOkay where to begin. First, I never thought I'd say this, but 'work has been incredible.' The founders of my organization are pioneering a new, community-based approach to healthcare. Our organization doesn't rely on big, shiny hospitals to provide AIDS treatment for our patients. Hospitals, (particularly shiny ones), are in very short supply in Africa. Rather, we organize poor communities to provide medical care for themselves. We go to a community and 1) find the best community doctors, who usually operate one-room practices out of a shopping mall, and we give them the tools and training to treat AIDS. 2) We supplement the doctors by training and organizing a network of community support leaders, who provide the patient follow-up and support that is critical for AIDS patients. We basically organize poor communities to look after themselves, and these communities are able to mobilize a stunning array of resources. I believe that this concept is the future of healthcare in Africa.\n\nThe most gratifying part of my experience has involved actually implementing this healthcare model, and getting ground-level experience with these communities. It has been a great opportunity to learn about the lives of AIDS patients, poor people in general, community leaders, local politicians, and community doctors. The highlight was definitely last weekend, at one of my main sites. We held a 'patient enrollment,' a three day education and enrollment session for patients starting in our AIDS treatment program. We were expecting about 50 people. But 200 people showed up. It was utter, utter chaos. There were people milling around everywhere, we had nurses drawing dozens of vials of blood, we ran out of three different kinds of forms, babies crying, and we had to scrounge up more than a hundred additional meals! But when the dust finally settled, my coworker and I had educated and enrolled 140 patients onto AIDS treatment over three days.\n\nI simply cannot describe the emotion I felt. The life expectancy of these patients is less than 12 months, and I saw in front of me an ocean of people, choosing to live. Each one special. There is this amazing little boy I have gotten to know, Mbuso, who has these horrible open sores on his face. Yet he is strong like a tree. Standing on a chair, he spoke in front of his community members about the importance of taking his medicine every day so that he could live, all in his tiny tiny voice, and I felt so alive to be able to witness him. It was an amazing feeling.\n\nThankfully, I haven't had to digest this all alone. I have had a great South African friend to share these experiences with, Zanele (pronounced Zanelay) - we have been a two-person team, traveling together for the last two months. This amazing human being is absolutely full of life. Zanele is the fourth and last sister in her family, and her name means 'enough girls.' She is a fiery lesbian African woman who lost her partner to AIDS in March, and is on a personal mission to end this disease. I doubt anything will stop her - she lives in the Johannesburg townships, and was once shot in the chest, while arguing with three armed men who wanted to steal her car. Amazing. Personally, if anyone ever tried to steal my car, I'd hand over the keys before they could finish asking. I'd also take off my shirt, in case they wanted it too.\n\nZanele educates our patients before they begin treatment, and can tug at the heart of a crowd of people like you wouldn't believe. She has amazing charisma, and wields emotion with great skill. She is absolutely tireless, and keeps patients on the edges of their seats, listening and participating and laughing, even at the end of seven hours of training. Zanele has this fire within her that doesn't feed off of any fuel I know of - rather, her fire grows stronger with every person she passes it on to. She is a born educator and leader.\n\nWhen Zanele talks about her partner Daisy, who passed away from AIDS, it is readily apparent that most people don't experience this kind of bond with someone in their entire life. For me, Zanele's story serves as an important reminder. With all the death here, it has become easy to forget the moral value of life - instead of creating a sense of emergency, one becomes used to it. Zanele counters this, and is a daily reminder to me about the value of life - both in her partner's death, and in her own bright aliveness. We have been through a lot of very emotional things together, much more than I was expecting, and she has taught me a lot about myself.\n\nOkay. Pictures! (Sign-in not required). http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=bsa8xba.bb3i0tw2&x=0&y=-y70a3o\n\nFuture Plans\nI am really interested in 'social entrepreneurship,' and did well in the Global Social Venture Competition last year, a business plan competition. I will re-enter this year with a new business plan, and am working with a team here at Kellogg. We have narrowed our focus to the root cause of health and starvation crises, which is simply: poverty. After graduating, I am hoping to make this into my job, although that is pretty uncertain. This is the concept:\n\nThere are 850 million people in the world, mostly children, who are so poor that they are chronically malnourished. The best answer the world has come up with is $10 billion dollars in annual food and medicine donations. Despite decades of pouring aid into Africa, there are still more hungry people than ever.\n\nThe paradox is that the majority of these hungry people are actually farmers, capable of growing food for themselves. They are just using ancient agricultural techniques, which are not very productive. I am very interested in finding ways to intelligently provide fertilizer and commercial seed to these farmers, which has the potential to increase their crop yields by at least 400%. I am interested in a permanent solution to their poverty problem, not just in repeatedly band-aiding their hunger and health problems.\n\nI will be starting a demonstration project in Kenya in December with about 20 families, to prove that their crop yields can be dramatically increased, and that this one-time intervention can result in a permanent path out of poverty.\n\nThere is an old saying that we seem to have forgotten: if you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.\n


1 comment

Cindi Brown - 11/1/2005 12:51:11 PM
Development is a hugely complex issue with some of the brightest and most passionate minds around the world conferring and strategizing on how to lift people out of poverty (those living on less than $1 USD per day). I hope Andrew is right when he writes that more and more people are making it their life's work to bring safe water, basic health care, knowledge and hope to the millions who are excluded from climbing the development ladder.

Like Andrew, I recently lived and worked in Africa, giving my time and energy to eliminate suffering. I was extremely lucky to work at the Tropical Institute of Community Health and Development in Kisumu (TICH), a university founded and managed by Kenyans who want to improve the lives of their fellow Kenyans. Dan Keseje, a medical doctor by training, founded TICH to train students in building community partnerships, enabling the sharing of skills with the rural poor in areas such as health, nutrition and agriculture techniques, guiding them in using their available resources optimally.

Also like Andrew, I'm concerned with how we (from the wealthy countries of the North) can best contribute to and have the greatest impact in countries of the South. Currently, I'm writing a book about my time in Africa and the many wonderful people I met and grew to love. Their storiest must be told because within those narratives are clues to how poverty can be eliminated. Pouring money in isn't the answer, as Andrew has noted. Andrew's skills, heart and spirit are his greatest assets and Africa is lucky to have him working hard for them. It also helps tremendously when intelligent people, like the contributors at Worthwhile, share stories from developing countries.

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