Opening Remarks from the 2014 RESULTS International Conference
From the RESULTS International Conference on June 21, 2014.
It is great to just see you all and to get such a powerful sense of our collective reach. It’s an honor to get to welcome you to the 2014 RESULTS International Conference. You’ll hear many amazing speakers in the next few days—I know you already have this morning. But please remember that the fundamental power of this conference and of our collective network is not up here—it’s you—you are the frontline change agents. Our influence in Washington, in other capitals, or in the World Bank is because of you.
We have in the room today, advocates literally from Alaska to Australia, from France to Florida, from San Diego to South Korea, and Japan. I am particularly excited that we have a powerful injection of new energy and leadership. It’s essential for building our advocacy impact to have so many new advocates and leaders in this room. It’s what we need to create the transformational change we seek against poverty.
I am very excited about the wonderful cadre of young leaders who are here as part of our year-long REAL Change fellowship program—your willingness to be bold and engage in advocacy to shape national and global agendas on issues that matter is both essential right now and for our collective future. For sure, we can’t predict everything that will happen in the next 10 or 20 years but we DO KNOW that we will need advocacy and brave people to steer events and opportunities toward justice and equity. I am excited about what you can bring not just this week, but to starting new RESULTS chapters and joining existing ones and bringing new ideas and skills to the movement to end poverty.
We also have years of incredibly valuable experience, knowledge, and above all, persistence in this room – including those folks that have been in RESULTS for years and decades. Learn from each other—we need to bring everything we have to this moment and to this movement.
I want to acknowledge some other special allies in the room today—our powerful partners from Circles and Witnesses to Hungers, our great young leaders from AMSA (American Medical School Association), our advocacy allies from Partners in Health, and dedicated longtime allies on the front lines of public health from the National Tuberculosis Controllers Association.
I also want to thank sponsors of the conference—who are also, each of them, great allies in our advocacy: The Stop TB Partnership, Oxfam America, Areas TB Vaccine Initiative, the GAVI Alliance, Bread for the World, Shot@Life, and 1000 Days.
Those of you who looked around a few minutes ago and saw you are one of just a few or maybe even the only one from your state, I hope you understand what you bring to our network. Your presence, your being here, offers the chance to bring a call for specific action toward ending poverty to two more of that group of a hundred hugely influential people in this country—the U.S. Senate. And, those of you who are the only one from your city or covering your Representative—you’re the bridge between these issues that matter and this decision-maker. That’s what each of you bring by being here. When U.S. Congressional staff were asked in a survey they said that the single most influential action to impact members of Congress was a visit from a constituent. Ninety-seven percent agreed this had a high impact.
That’s you they’re talking about. That’s the power you have.
Our wonderful U.S. grassroots leadership body, our Regional Coordinators (thank you for what you do!), set a bold goal for us this year—that we meet face to face with every Representative that we cover and at least a third of our Senators, because it matters.
And, those of you meeting your World Bank Executive Directors Tuesday while others go to the Hill, that will help oversee investment of $52 billion over the next three years and also the Bank’s huge influence in the world’s poorest countries.
Folks, the good news (and the bad news) is that very often we are the only constituents raising these issues with our legislators. We have this almost automatic reflex to diminish our importance, to assume that someone else will handle this, that we can’t really be the one on whom this rests. If I have learned one lesson in the last 25 years of advocacy with RESULTS, it is never assume that someone else is doing it or that your action is superfluous. You will almost always find out that “you are the one,” that in fact it is in your hands if you choose to act.
I want to share a few examples:
Australia had a major change in government last year electing a new, more conservative Prime Minister (PM), and RESULTS Australia was working on different ways to reach the government. On World Tuberculosis Day, RESULTS Australia grassroots volunteer Lilli Koch got an op-ed placed in the hometown newspaper of the new prime minister, asking for the government to reinstate funding for tuberculosis (TB), and she included her story about contracting TB as a child. It was a powerful piece that not only got published in the PMs home newspaper but got syndicated through the biggest news website in the country. And we know the PM and the government noticed it because the Foreign Minister (of Australia, equivalent of our Secretary of State in the U.S.) responded to Lilli’s op-ed with her own letter to the editor. And not to be outdone, RESULTS responded to the Foreign Minister’s letter with another letter to the editor to set the record straight.
[OK so not every op-ed you write will get a response from the Foreign Minister—or at least not one you’ll read in the paper—but it does matter. I sent your media in support of the Global Partnership for Education—in a big zip file—directly to the head of our aid agency—and I got a thank you.]
In terms of deciding we are the “one”, one of our grassroots leaders for RESULTS in Albuquerque and also a leader in the organization Circles, LaNae Havens, came to D.C. to our RESULTS conference for the first time last summer. Working with the New Mexico RESULTS chapters she met with every congressional office in the state of New Mexico and spoke firsthand about what it means as a single working mom and a college student living in poverty in America. LaNae’s own Representative, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham used her story on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to argue against cuts to SNAP (the Food Stamp Program) and LaNae’s story is now part of the Congressional record.
One of our biggest priorities and most important lessons we have learned in RESULTS is the power of the voices and experience of people who are living in poverty or have lived in poverty. The voices of people who can speak directly from experience make the issues of poverty real to policymakers and the media, and also challenge in the most personal and tangible way the myths that many people carry about poverty—beliefs and myths that people use to insulate themselves from guilt or sadness or hopelessness by blaming people for the structural inequalities that exist in our country and the world. It’s why we’re committed to building our partnership and also shaping our advocacy agenda to respond to the needs and challenges identified by people who are directly experiencing poverty.
We’ve also seen the great power of people sharing their direct experience when we bring our partners from Kenya or Zambia or Malawi or India to donor capitals to talk directly with policymakers and the media. It is one thing if I talk about the transformation created by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. But, it is entirely more profound when our colleague, Luwiza from Zambia, describes how her HIV medicines were costing the equivalent of several hundred dollars a month—an astronomical amount in Zambia—and her family didn’t know if or how they could keep paying that (literally a matter of life and death choice). Then one day, Luwiza went to the clinic and the drugs were free because the country had received funding from the Global Fund—that personal story wakes up policymakers and makes them understand the impact of their investment in the Global Fund in a whole different way.
When it comes to why you matter, it’s not just to challenge or stop bad policies or decisions, though we’ve had to do more of that than we want—and we did successfully stopped most of devastating $40 billion in cuts proposed for SNAP—formerly the Food Stamp program. It is also so much about helping our political leaders to be better leaders, to offer them opportunities to lead.
One of our best allies, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois was on a call with some of our grassroots just last Saturday. Jan is a passionate champion for women, for people living in poverty and for girls education; she was a consumer activist before she ever went into government. As some of you know, she was the lead on a letter from Congress to the Obama Administration calling for $250 million pledge from the U.S. for the Global Partnership for Education for the next two years—to fund the Global Partnership for Education so it can help get 29 million more kids in school and learning over the next four years. You all got 81 signers on that letter. When I thanked her on the call, Jan said two things that so stuck with me—first she said how deeply she appreciated the grassroots person who was her RESULTS contact and partner—Cindy Levin—not me or our DC office, but Cindy—even after Cindy has moved to another state. And second, after I thanked Jan for her partnership, she thought about it for a minute on the phone and said: Yes it is a partnership; we need you. She said, “I care about this stuff but even those of us who care are busy and often don’t know what the opportunities are to make a difference. We need you to tell us.”
A very smart ally and leader—author, lecturer, and board member Marianne Williamson—said something in our board meeting yesterday that I wrote down: “We need to realize not only that we can talk to power, but that we HAVE power.”
We have partners here from over a dozen countries. Our power is multiplied many times over by this connected network of really smart advocacy partners. When donor governments were all deciding what they would pledge for the next three years for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, we were able to use a bold increased pledge that our UK partners helped achieve from their government to push both the U.S. and Canada. And then, we brought our colleagues from Zambia and Malawi to D.C. and across the U.S. to generate media to push a U.S. pledge of $5 billion over three years. And later, we used the bold U.S. pledge to push other countries. That’s one of a dozen examples of the way your advocacy has impact well beyond your own city or country.
But to me, one of the most exciting and important parts of our global network is that we have powerful local advocacy leadership in a growing number of countries. Because in the end, the only way we will reach the end of poverty and sustain it is by having vibrant, bold, and strategic domestic advocates overseeing and shaping their own governments’ priorities in dozens of countries, joined up across borders to reshape global priorities. Which is why it is very exciting that our powerful advocacy partners in Kenya and Zambia are now also using the RESULTS’ model to build their own grassroots networks and reach parliamentarians and increase their political clout. A big shout out to our grassroots partners from Kenya and Zambia. You are doing some great work. We are also very excited that RESULTS is being formed in South Korea—a country with growing influence— and we are glad to have three RESULTS Korea partners here. It is inspiring to know we have folks in at least half a dozen countries right now who are enthusiastic to become part of our network and build their own grassroots networks.
Next year will be RESULTS 35th anniversary. RESULTS was created over 30 years ago to build the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty.
For the first time in history, we have a global goal to eradicate extreme poverty with an end date—2030, put forward by the President of the World Bank last year, endorsed by countries, and which we hope and expect will become the overarching frame of the broader set of global goals to be put forward by the United Nations that will define our aspirations and priorities for the next 15 years. We are at a generationally defining moment—a defining set of moments, actually.
Across an array of the greatest blights and scourges on the planet—killer diseases—some ancient like TB and malaria and some newer global plagues like HIV/AIDs; and dire poverty that means children dying of diarrhea and pneumonia that could be prevented or treated for a few dollars, 57 million children not in primary school, insidious chronic undernutrition that leaves people physically and mentally stunted for life. We are at the point where we are no longer just working to make it a little less bad, to mitigate the suffering, but can actually see our way to the end game, the defeat of AIDS and tuberculosis, the end of preventable child deaths, getting every child in school and learning, and the eradication of extreme poverty.
There is enormous power in envisaging the end game, and in setting the expiration date. Once we can see that end, imagine it and map it out, it moves us from an unspoken but sometimes deeply embedded assumption that these things will always be with us to hope, ambition and creative solutions. It is deeply related to the strength that RESULTS and our partners bring to this work—at our best we have worked for audacious targets and bold action—and then mobilizing resources and political support to make it happen.
I keep picturing these curves—the curve of child deaths at 40,000 a day in the late 1980s to 18,000 a day now—despite population growth. Cut by more than half but still needlessly far too many. But now there is a plan to get to zero. The curve toward the eradication of severe poverty—extreme poverty cut in half since 1990 but still one in five people on the planet but aiming toward nearly zero by 2030.
I keep envisaging us, this band of folks, with our advocacy, literally grabbing hold of these curves and pulling them down so that we got to where we are and so that we can reach zero child deaths even faster, zero deaths from AIDS and TB even faster, no one living in extreme poverty even faster. Because how fast we move, how quickly we bend these curves toward zero is far more dependent on political priority than on scientific breakthrough. It is most often not about if we can do this and needing to wait for some new scientific or technological magic bullet to make it possible, but rather if we care enough to make doing what’s possible a bigger priority.
It’s an image – but I also mean it literally—the people in this room—probably more than almost any room on the planet (and I thought about this before I said it) probably more than just about any room of people on the planet—are responsible through your advocacy, your media, your meetings with members of parliament and congress, for raising much of the over $30 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria invested over the last decade.
That helped scale-up AIDS treatment in the poorest countries 100 fold changing HIV from a death sentence to a chronic disease, reduced AIDS treatment costs 100-fold, and cut malaria deaths by more than half in a dozen African countries. Just this last year so many of you in all of the countries represented here helped raise more than two thirds of the over $12 billion pledged for the next three years for the Global Fund because you pushed your governments.
In Canada, the government actually asked our RESULTS Canada partners if the government could announce their pledge at the RESULTS Canada conference which was happening at that time. And, RESULTS Canada, being really good advocates said, “Yes, you can announce your pledge at our conference, but only if it’s an increase.” And, it was! A 20 percent increase!
Over the next 8 months, in nearly all of our countries, we’ll be working to mobilize funding for the GAVI Alliance to make lifesaving vaccines available to 300 million kids between 2016 and 2020, including the poorest kids in the poorest countries–to save 5-6 million children’s lives. 5-6 million lives. Collectively, three years ago we helped mobilize over $2.5B for GAVI from our countries and that’s saving a child’s life every 40 seconds.
And just a few weeks ago, the Canadian government, with strong engagement by our RESULTS Canada partners pledged $3.5 billion to child and maternal health efforts—committing more than was even expected. On Monday, you’ll also hear the head of our U.S. aid agency, Raj Shah, tell us about the major summit they are convening with the governments of India and Ethiopia and UNICEF this coming Wednesday to map out the next steps toward ending preventable child deaths. He will also talk about the major reforms the government is making so that U.S. funding for child survival can have even more impact.
At this conference, we’ll explore with World Bank President Jim Kim:
- How we can accelerate progress toward the 2030 target of ending extreme poverty and the 2020 target of cutting poverty from 20 percent down to 9 percent;
- How we can measure movement out of poverty from the bottom up and not just the top down. How we can ensure resources and policies benefit the poorest people;
- How the microfinance movement , led by the Microcredit Summit Campaign housed at RESULTS, can drive this goal even more aggressively and how we can collectively build the movement.
Last year and into early 2014, RESULTS U.S. anti-poverty advocates waged a heroic and ultimately successful battle to fight back $40B in proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp program) that would have thrown nearly 4 million people off of the program. More than one-in five American children live in food insecure households and most SNAP beneficiaries are children, elderly or disabled. You played a critical part using all of your advocacy tools to impact the process. We had a record year on media and more face-to-face meetings than we’ve had in the last 10 years, and those don’t count the thousands of e-mails, letters, phone calls and other contacts you made.
This year we’re working to build support for the EITC and the CTC, refundable tax credits that except for Social security are the most important programs moving low-income families over the poverty line. We’re working to extend these programs to more individuals and to make prior expansions to the programs permanent. Right now, expansions to the EITC and CTC expire in 2017 and if that happens—12 million people nationwide, including 7 million children, would fall into or deeper into poverty
We’re also working on legislation in the House (and we expect soon in the Senate) to create incentives to deposit these tax credits in savings accounts—and get matching savings—because we know that poverty is not just about lack of income now but also lack of assets for the future, lack of any cushion to protect families against an illness or other emergency or life shock. We know that assets help reduce intergenerational poverty.
We have a unique moment right now with regards to building the movement to address poverty in America. One of the consequences of the “Great Recession” is that many more people if not in poverty themselves, know someone in their family living in poverty. The Center for American Progress and Half in Ten poll: 54 percent of Americans say that someone in their immediate or extended families is poor. Many people know they are vulnerable – just a paycheck away from falling into poverty.
In the context of this economic recession many more people have come to understand that poverty has structural causes. In this poll, 64 percent agreed more that poverty is primarily the result of a failed economy rather than the result of personal decisions and lack of effort.
This shift in thinking, understanding of our vulnerability to poverty creates an opening to mobilize more people for our work and engage more people in political advocacy to ensure the resources and tax benefits and other policies are enacted that address poverty and inequality. But 50 years after President Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty in America, we are being forced to play a defensive game—fighting back cuts to programs that have proven over decades to reduce poverty and hunger in this country. We have set a goal of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030, but we don’t yet have a similar goal to end poverty in this country— to catalzye a renewed war on poverty and hunger and pull us toward the endgame. We need the ambition of a similar goal for the U.S., the galvanizing force of that. That is why I’m excited that in a few minutes we’ll be strategizing on this with author, broadcaster and advocate Tavis Smiley—because of his commitment to reignite the conversation and the action to end poverty in America.
I’d just leave you with two requests:
First, we need more of us to build the movement and finish this job, to take advantage of this moment. Help us expand into new communities across the U.S. and around the world. We want to be in at least 20 new cities in the U.S. this year. We have target cities and communities we are aiming to reach with new RESULTS chapters and we need your help with contacts or to work with many of you after the conference to build new chapters in your communities.
Last, as you talk to policymakers this week and people in your community, share the bigger frame, what we are working to create together. Pull people toward something. This is not impossible, intractable. What we have done shows us what we can do. To generate change we also need to keep generating hope. And, just remember that hope is a decision and not a feeling (most of us don’t wake up and jump out of bed feeling hopeful). We generate hope through our action and through understanding what we have already achieved and what we know is possible.
I want to leave you with a note on hope from author, Howard Zinn: “TO BE HOPEFUL is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live is itself a marvelous victory.”