Over the past half century, we have been privileged to welcome into our California home more than 50 students from across the globe, most of whom came from afar to study at Stanford University. We hosted these students because we believe in the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and do our best to follow it. Yet each of these students gave us so much more than we gave them, broadening our world in ways we could never have dreamed. Through them, we truly came to understand that the word “neighbor” is not limited to those who live side-by-side on the same street, or even to residents of the same town, or citizens of a single country. On the contrary, as the world shrinks with astonishing speed, our neighbors are now everywhere on this earth.
Sadly, many of our neighbors are struggling. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s population – 702 million people – live on $1.90 a day, or less, a bleak statistic that is unconscionable to us. Simply to survive at such an income level is a daily challenge – to thrive, all but impossible. Most of the people who live in extreme poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly half of the global poor, with one in three of its people living in extreme poverty and oftentimes lacking access even to electricity and clean water, not to mention education and opportunity. South Asia has seen the percentage of extreme poor in its population decline to about 10 percent in recent years, but that figure encompasses huge numbers of people.
We seek to address the tragedy of global poverty by fostering entrepreneurship that will lead to job creation; supporting the development of future leaders and investing in the development of our youth; and enhancing the food security, nutrition, and rural livelihoods of the world’s poorest. In choosing where and how to direct our philanthropy, there is one “equation” we always keep in mind: 1 + 1 = 3. This guides us to adopt a systematic approach when seizing opportunities; we support organizations that will take full advantage of all available collaboration opportunities, create a positive cascading effect, and generate outsized impact.
Solving poverty by job creation
The Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, or Stanford Seed, was founded in partnership with the Stanford Graduate School of Business to address extreme poverty through job creation by scaling businesses. It aims to build entrepreneurship from the bottom up in developing economies, fostering a generation of successful entrepreneurs who will reach out and guide the next generation. Seed is an action-oriented program in which research informs practice, creating a positive feedback loop between Stanford faculty and entrepreneurs from developing nations who are actively working to scale their enterprises. Through its GDP Research Initiative, Seed supports research that relates to poverty alleviation spanning disciplines across all of Stanford University, including public health, education, law, political science, engineering, computer science, and the environment, among others.
Providing scholarships for future leaders of the developing world
The King Scholars program is based on a simple premise – that those with direct experience of poverty are best positioned to alleviate it. It brings outstanding students from developing nations to leading American colleges and universities (initially Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin) for a world-class education, extraordinary internship opportunities, and the chance to participate in a leadership training program designed to support careers related to poverty alleviation. The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program for graduate students at Stanford seeks to identify rising leaders from around the world, expose them to real-life challenges, and better equip them to lead ambitious change.
Promoting positive youth development for disadvantaged youth
The Thrive Foundation for Youth guides disadvantaged youth to reach their full potential by strengthening the presence and impact of caring adults in their lives. It relies on partnership with successful programs and evidence-based research pragmatically applied. In recent years, the Thrive Foundation for Youth has invested its resources in changing the trajectory of the lives of disadvantaged youth across the United States. Going forward, the Thrive Foundation for Youth seeks opportunities to leverage best practices in youth development globally, with a focus on youth growing up in poverty.
Alleviating poverty by combatting hunger and malnutrition
Our new Food, Nutrition, and Rural Livelihoods Initiative seeks to alleviate extreme poverty by focusing on the more than 500 million people who suffer from hunger and undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Malnutrition has many terrible effects, including stunted physical growth and impaired brain development. But one of its greatest cruelties is the theft of individual and collective potential – those who hover on the brink of starvation can never break the grasp of poverty and illness, which then persist for generations. Fortunately, there is ample evidence that reducing or eliminating malnutrition leads to improvement in individual and societal health, education, earnings, and even GDP. We have chosen to start this new initiative in Myanmar with a pilot program to support outstanding organizations working in food, nutrition, and rural livelihoods. We picked Myanmar because of need – the country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the Asia-Pacific region – and because the government has committed itself to significant change. Subsequently, we will extend our efforts to Sub-Saharan Africa and India.
Our new initiative to combat extreme poverty is built on the same three cornerstones as all our philanthropic endeavors: focus, collaboration, and results. In other words, adopt a laser-like focus on unmet needs and work with others whenever possible – by walking together, we will all walk farther. The truth of this African proverb has guided us throughout our lives, and it is in this spirit that we invite you to join us in the fight against global poverty. Together, we can achieve concrete results and an outsized impact; 1 + 1 = 3.