Month: October 2016

Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save The Children, Meets Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Carolyn Miles, the President and CEO of Save The Children, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

CAROLYN-MILES-BIO-IMAGE-2011-SMALL2.JPGDenver: The work of international aid organizations has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, as we’ve reported here on The Business of Giving. There is greater concern about how the money is being spent, and whether we’re getting adequate returns for the size of the investments being made. But one organization that is universally acknowledged by both experts and the public as being among the very, very best at this kind of work is Save The Children. And it’s a great pleasure for me to welcome to The Business of Giving their President and CEO, Carolyn Miles. Good evening, Carolyn, and thanks for being here this evening.

Carolyn: Good evening, and thanks for having me.

Denver: My goodness, Save The Children is fast approaching its 100th anniversary, your centennial!  Tell us a little bit about the history of the organization and the current work in which you’re engaged.

Carolyn: Sure. Really interesting history. The organization, as you said, is almost 100 years old, 1919. So really came about after World War I and was started by a woman– her name was Eglantyne Jebb. She did not have the right to vote.  She did not have the right to own a bank account, but she had this idea that children actually had rights. And that is the foundation of the organization, and it’s very basic:  the right to survive, to have health, the right for an education, and the right to be protected from harm. And today, those are still the foundation bedrocks of the organization.

Denver: Well today, one of the greatest problems we have is the refugee crisis.  Often when you’re trying to bring greater attention to an issue… or to maybe get some new insights around it, it’s useful to reframe it and look at it through a new lens.   Save The Children has done exactly that by looking at all the refugees as if they were a single nation. What does that country look like, Carolyn?

Carolyn: We really did want to reframe this issue because Save The Children has been working on the refugee crisis and refugee crises around the world, by the way, for decades, and this particular one around Syria for five years, going on six. So, when we looked at this mythical country, we said: “What does it look like, particularly for children?” A couple of interesting things came out.  One is:  if we had all refugees, there are 65.3 million refugees and displaced people.

If they all lived in one place, we’d be the 21st largest country in the world. The really shocking thing when we look at this–to me–was that it is the fastest growing country in the world. So, every day– 34,000 people become displaced or become a refugee. If that growth continued, by 2030, this would be the 5th largest country in the world. That underlines this urgency that we have got to solve this issue for people– not only in the Middle East, not only from Syria, but from North Africa, from Afghanistan, from other places around the world where people are fleeing every single day.  And half of them are children.

Denver: So, and one of the youngest nations in the world as well.

Carolyn: It is one of the youngest nations in the world.  We also dug in, and we looked a little bit at some statistics around education. Sadly, it would be the 4th worst country in the world for primary education…so kids getting enrolled in primary school, elementary school. It would be very high on the scale in terms of child marriage.  That’s something that’s happening– a big issue for Save The Children–marrying girls off at age 14, 15.  And families are making that decision because they think it’s actually the best thing for their girls–to protect them from sexual violence, to give them some economic future.  This is not true; we know that girls that get married at 14 or 15 have much tougher lives going ahead.

Denver: What would the economy of that country look like?

Carolyn: So the economy… I always like to end on this note.  Here is the hopeful piece– that these refugees and displaced people have tremendous opportunities, and they are assets. And if we put them all together, they would actually make up the 54th largest country by GDP. This is the good story… and the story that we like to tell about refugees and displaced people.  They have tremendous skills, and Syria is a primary example–very skilled people who are fleeing Syria.

Denver: Well, at the end of this report which is entitled “Forced to Flee: Inside the 21st Largest Country,” you put forth an action plan which you called the “New Deal.”  You’re asking world leaders to embrace it. What is included in that New Deal?

Carolyn: We’re spending lots of time on pushing world leaders on this New Deal. Couple of things; one, it really focuses on education, and we believe that this is absolutely the future.  Half of the refugee children in the world– which is about 30 million– do not go to school at all. So, 50%, that’s 15 million children.

We can’t go forward with that. Our call is that every child should be in school within 30 days of being displaced. Now, this is hugely ambitious; it’s hugely difficult. We’re getting push-back all over the place.

But it does make people think differently about: if I was gonna do this, what would it take to actually do this? So we’re sticking to our guns.  It calls for more financing for education in emergency situations. About 1% of financing in emergencies goes to education. It’s considered a “luxury.”  We really are pushing on that. We’re obviously trying to change mindsets around refugees. Part of this New Deal is really attacking this issue of : “Refugees are dangerous; refugees are worthless; refugees and displaced people are just trying to get services, and they have nothing to give back!”… trying to really change that attitude. That’s part of the New Deal..

She said their life was just horrible!  Every day there were bombings. All they knew was terror; they cried all the time. They weren’t allowed to go out and play; they couldn’t go to school.  The 5-year-old never got a chance to go to preschool. And the mother said: “We just had to leave. We couldn’t sit there and watch the future for our children just slip away.”


Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


Denver: The presidential campaign trail–no matter what side of the aisle you may be on– can be a microcosm of changes that will eventually take hold in the broader society. For instance: rapid response to events–never letting a news cycle pass without responding to a charge– started with political campaigns, and is now embedded in the DNA of most every corporation and organization. My next guest served as the Chief Operating Officer of Obama for America in 2008, did a stint in the White House as Deputy Assistant to the President, and is now helping young people navigate the new strategic landscape driven by rapid change. He is Henry DeSio, the Global Chair for Framework Change at Ashoka. Good evening, Henry, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Henry: Thank you, Denver. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

I see social entrepreneurs as everyday citizens who are essentially society’s corrective force. They’re the people who see the gaps in our communities and work to position their leadership, bring their talents, and bring others around those problems… or potential opportunities that can have such a great impact in the world. They are everyday citizens who apply their leadership and their talent to make the world a better place.

Denver: One of my very first interviews on The Business of Giving was with Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka. He is, to many, the father of social entrepreneurship. So, let’s start by having you tell our listeners about Ashoka and its work.

Henry: Ashoka is best known for defining and building the field of social entrepreneurship over the last 40 years. Some people don’t know what a social entrepreneur is, so I’ll just very quickly explain. I see social entrepreneurs as everyday citizens who are essentially society’s corrective force. They’re the people who see the gaps in our communities and work to position their leadership, bring their talents, and bring others around those problems… or potential opportunities that can have such a great impact in the world. They are everyday citizens who apply their leadership and their talent to make the world a better place.

Denver: Before we get to your current work at Ashoka, let’s start with your career in politics. You got the bug, Henry, for politics by watching the Watergate hearings. So tell us how you went from watching Sam Ervin and Howard Baker to becoming the Chief Operating Officer of the Obama for America presidential campaign.

Henry: Well, I grew up in a very rural part of California in the foothills of Sequoia National Park, so you had everything available to you – tennis, baseball, hiking, all kinds of different activities. But in the middle of the day—this is, I guess, 1974—I remember coming in from the hot sun to watch my first reality TV show, and it was the Watergate hearings. And in those days, and particularly where I lived, you had a small black-and-white TV, and the White House just seemed so far away.

And in that moment, I saw  a government and a leadership fail in action, but I also saw a good result for the country. We worked through this; we got through this challenge. But it was in that moment, two of my passions came together. One was leadership, which my dad I think drilled into me, and the other was politics– and later, the political campaign.

I think those two passions seemed to stay with me throughout my life. I was always interested in citizen candidates. I wanted to see everyday citizens break into politics, so I started working on helping everyday people get the skills to build that startup organization that could lead to real change… and could actually unseat the other person. Eventually, that flowed into politics on a national scale… and eventually to joining the Obama campaign

Self-definition: giving yourself permission to solve problems; pursue opportunities; go after the things you’re passionate about; and then delivering on those things — those are all things that are at work in our daily lives.


Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Fruchterman, the CEO of Benetech and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

jim_fruchterman_portraitDenver: In the late 1990s, I remember quite vividly speaking to my colleagues in the nonprofit sector about the philanthropic potential out in Silicon Valley– from those making billions of dollars in what we now know as the internet bubble. And the response was pretty universal. “Everybody out there is so busy making money that no one is thinking about social good or giving any of it away.”  But that “everybody” did not include my next guest who was there, and was always thinking about how technology could be used to best serve humanity… long before it became fashionable or was considered the right thing to do. He is Jim Fruchterman; the founder and CEO of Benetech. Good evening, Jim, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jim: Delighted to be here, Denver.

Denver: So many great enterprises start with the flash of insight. Yours occurred in the 1970s when you were a junior at Caltech, doing quite well in the coursework, but a little frustrated that you weren’t coming up with any original ideas. But then one day, in Modern Optics class, a light bulb went on. What was the idea that you came up with, Jim?

Jim: So, we were learning about optical pattern recognition– the idea of having a machine actually recognize something in the real world. And since it was the 1970s, and all the jobs were in the defense establishment, the example the professor used was “How to make a smart missile.” It would have a camera in the nose, and it would have in its memory a representation of a tank. The idea was: if you fired this missile, it would look around with its camera until it spotted a tank, zoom in, and blow it up–Boom! And I thought: “Gee, what if there’s a more socially beneficial application of this technology?” And then I had my one good idea  in college, which was: “Hey, instead of recognizing tanks in the battlefield, what if you could recognize letters and words, and read to blind people!”

Denver: Oh, wow!

Jim: So I kind of figured it out;  I  sketched out a design.  I ran to my professor next day. He said: “Well, Jim, it has been invented, and the National Security Agency uses it to process Soviet faxes… recognizes that, routes it to a human to read.” And I thought: “Wow, okay! So it costs millions of dollars each…not very practical.”. But it was that one idea that I kept with me as I continued with my career.

Denver: How did you pursue it?

Jim: Well, pretty much, my professor told me it wasn’t going to happen. And so I went on, went to Stanford, started a PhD program, started an entrepreneurship talk series.  The second speaker was the President of a private rocket company, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Denver: And you actually had the right answer to who his favorite science fiction writer was, right?

Jim: Yeah! And I didn’t even know that was the interview question.  But he’d come and given a talk; we had him over to a cafeteria and fed him a sumptuous dinner, and he asked: “Who was my favorite science author?”  And I said: “Paul Anderson.”  Bingo! I was hired. And so, anyway, I took a leave from the PhD program and joined one of the first private rocket companies.

Denver: And the rocket blew up, and you moved on.  You met a guy from HP who basically was able to take this idea pattern recognition and reading for the blind,  and Lo and Behold!  You started or became involved in a company that was going to build readable machines.

Jim: That’s right. His idea was to make a chip that could read anything, and I went: “Hey, that’s my one good idea from college!  You can help blind people with that!” Now, we didn’t sell it to the venture capitalist though based on the blindness application. We sold it on routing the mail and scanning in forms for insurance companies. But that idea of helping blind people was still in the back of my mind throughout years of getting this company off the ground.

Denver: And you got your venture capital, about $25 million worth, if I recall. But this idea didn’t really have much of a market potential for your investors. So what you did, if I understand correctly, is you spun it off into your own nonprofit organization?

Jim: That’s right. We actually pitched it to our board to actually be a product for our company–a new product. And when they heard it was a $1 million/year marketplace, they vetoed it on the spot. And so when I said: “Well, what if I start a side nonprofit and not distract the team?” They said that was no problem. So we actually started… the joke was a deliberately nonprofit Silicon Valley company because, of course, we all had been working for  accidentally nonprofit high tech companies.

The goal of Benetech is to develop tech solutions for communities in need…the kind of people that Silicon Valley would say: “We can’t make enough money off of human rights activists or disabled kids.

Denver: And so tell me how that company worked, what you did, and what you were able to do for people who were blind.

Jim: We went out there with the idea of making a reading machine for the blind.  We thought we’d have volunteer engineers in every city helping people get it. Turned out, we talked to blind people who said: “No, we can’t get jobs.” So we ended up making blind people our dealers and so they sold the reading machines, and they made a living.  We made enough to keep ourselves going. And it turned out that it was the only high tech company I have ever been associated with that exceeded its business plan. It was $5 million a year and slightly profitable within three years. But just a tiny bit of profit… because we weren’t in the business to make the money; we were in the business to keep it going.

Denver: And the price of the machine kept going down, but then the number of people who bought it kept going up… and you did this for about 10 years. And after about 10 years, you were a little tired of doing it, and wanted to broaden out some .  So, is it right that you actually sold your nonprofit company?

Jim: That’s right. Some guy came and said: “I want to buy your reading machine for the blind business, and I told him to go away… I was running a nonprofit. He came back three months later and said: “Jim, tell me your aspirations.”  I said “Oh!”  I’m a nerd… I didn’t recognize that that was a negotiating ploy. So I told him! I said: “I’ve got this idea for helping human rights groups, and I want to have other things for people with disabilities…” And so he said: “How about I pay you $5 million…” Not me personally, my nonprofit. …”and you and the engineers can stay in the nonprofit… and you can go off and basically do anything!” And so we did that. It was about this same time, the dot-com bubble popped. So, right as the bubble popped, we had $5 million…not for me personally… but it was a budget to do new things.  And that was a blast!

Denver: I bet it was. And this new nonprofit you started is Benetech.

Jim: That’s right. The nonprofit I run today.

Denver:  Tell me exactly what the mission and goals of Benetech are.

Jim: The goal of Benetech is to  develop tech solutions for communities in need…the kind of people that Silicon Valley would say: “We can’t make enough money off of human rights activists or disabled kids.” And so we build products, and our goal is that they be sustainable.  But again, we’re a charity; we’re not trying to make money; we’re just trying to break even. We keep spinning up new tech projects. When we started Benetech, we probably looked at… I’d say, 50 ideas, invested in 15 different ideas, and then 4 turned into world-changing social enterprises.  That’s our goal– to keep doing that. Be a factory for new tech applications that helps society, helps the other 95%.

It’s all about using information to advance the cause of human rights.

Denver: Well, let’s talk about one or two of those. One of them is around human rights, and it was inspired by something that came out about El Salvador in the 1990s… about an occurrence that took place in the 1980s. Tell us what that was, and how it informed you to begin to pursue human rights.

Jim: So,  there was a New Yorker article about the El Mozote massacre. It turned out that this massacre happened in the early 80s, hit the front page of the New York Times.  The US government, the Salvadoran government said it didn’t happen. The reporter was fired.  Then 10 years later, a forensics team– after the civil war was settled– went, excavated, and found more than 500 bodies in this location.

I went brainstorming with one of my long-term buddies, saying, “How can we defend peasants from being murdered en masse?” And we’re nerds; we said: “Gee, defensive force fields, if we could invent them. Oh, nuclear power plant per village, not very practical.” So we came away from that with the idea that information is the only asset that human rights groups have beyond their activists, right? How could we make sure that they wouldn’t lose the information, and they’d used it for advocacy.  And when we have a lot of stories, that’s data!  We can actually make a case for patterns; we can help convict former dictators. It’s all about using information to advance the cause of human rights.

Denver: So, essentially what you did is…  you built some software.  What’s it called, “Martus?”

Jim: Yeah. The magic technology is cryptography, right?  To scramble it so that repressive governments can’t read who’s testifying against a corrupt colonel… or whatever it might be. So the idea was encrypt it, scramble it,  so it can’t be read, back it up in the cloud (as it’s now called) so it doesn’t get lost, and then use it for current advocacy.

“Let me tell you a story… about someone…”  and more powerful data analysis. “Here’s one person’s story, but we have 10,000 women just like Maria.”  So you can’t attack Maria as being not representative of this pervasive problem of gender-based violence, or whatever it might be.

Denver: So, if information and truth are the only weapons that these populations have… until you came along, most of this information was really being lost. People would come; you’d write it down; you stick it into the computer.  But probably a number of years later, it was all… someplace… but not in front of you.

Jim: And we did market research, right? We actually figured out what they needed.  Yeah, we found out that… our estimate was 95% of the stories that went into a human rights group weren’t there five years later. And they never got used for advocacy, for justice.  Sometimes it was because the government shut them down; sometimes it’s because their office is burned; their computers got stolen. But a lot of times, they ran out of money. There was one group in Sri Lanka where five years of files were eaten by termites, and that just annoyed me. I know about scanning documents!  We could do something about that! So,let’s make sure it’s not lost, and every story should be a tool for advocacy, for justice.

“The idea is that we’re making David more powerful in his battle… or her battle, with Goliath.”

Denver: One of the places you’ve done an awful lot of work over the past decade or so has been Burma. Tell us what you’ve done there.

Jim: A dozen Burmese groups got together about 10 years ago and said: “We all represent different segments of the Burmese community: women’s groups, different minority groups, different political groups.  But they all agreed that the military government in Burma was committing human rights violations. So, over a lengthy period of time, these group members collected more than 30,000 stories.

After a while, they trusted us more.  We found an analyst and said: “What are the most common human rights abuses going on in Burma?” Out of these 30,000 stories, the most common ones were torture, land confiscation and forced labor. And so now, there’s a new government in Burma; the human rights movement now has the stories in the last 10 years; they’ve got the patterns of abuses and now they could be advocating: How do we reform the police forces so that they don’t abuse ethnic minorities? A problem in Burma, and maybe a few other countries…

Denver: Another place you’ve done an awful lot of work in human rights has been in Africa, particularly in the LGBT community. Tell us what you’ve been doing in Uganda.

Jim: So we actually are helping the LGBT movement in Africa, Uganda being one of the countries. Document that human rights abuses are going on. So they’re now starting to issue national reports of how police forces beat up lesbian and gay people. And now they’re actually using that to advocate for change. Sometimes they make change in their own country; sometimes they have to go through a UN process. But the idea is that we’re making David more powerful in his battle… or her battle, with Goliath.

Denver: Yeah. And in relation to these stories, in this particular case, you’re also keeping offsite membership lists, correct?

Jim: We didn’t expect that.  We went there to do human rights documentation, but then we heard from people that they were actually backing up their membership lists. As a matter of fact, we had a phone call last year…we’re checking in with one of our groups… and they said: “Oh, we’re in the backyard!”

   “What are you doing?”

“We’re burning all of our documents!”


They had actually scanned and backed up all their documents into our secure cloud, and  they were burning them because they were expecting a police raid. They didn’t want to have any records on hand in case the police found them.

Denver: Very smart. Are there any places in the world where your software– which is open source, and is free– is being used in human rights abuse cases, and is not really getting the kind of coverage or attention that it really warrants?  Instances where it is under the radar right now?

Jim: We are hearing about a lot of human rights abuses against people with disabilities. Sexual violence against women with disabilities, people in prison without any chance of getting out…

Denver: This across the world or in any particular places?

Jim: We think it’s across the world, but we’re talking to groups in Latin America, Asia, Africa. I mean, there are people in Africa where you’re chained to a log for a year, right? And that’s not very human rights respecting!


Jake Porway and the Power of Data

The following is a conversation between Jake Porway, the founder and  Executive Director of DataKind and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


Denver: There is growing consensus that the time to use data for social good has arrived. And as much as people acknowledge that, they often don’t get too excited by it because a messenger–frequently, a data scientist–can get us a little lost in the weeds of what they’re trying to do. But we have no such worries this evening because my next guest, aside from being an exceptionally gifted data scientist, is also an equally gifted messenger for this revolution. He is Jake Porway,  the founder and Executive Director of DataKind. Good evening, Jake, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jake: Good evening, Denver. Thanks for having me.

Denver: Before we dig in too deeply about what you do and how you do it… First, give our listeners a brief overview of the mission and objectives of DataKind.

Jake: DataKind–we seek to harness the power of data science in the service of humanity. And what that means is that we team up data scientists–these statisticians and programmers– to volunteer alongside social organizations—to co-create solutions that are going to maximize their impact.

Denver: Great! Before we get into the work that you do, let me start with the very basic question: What is data? What is data to you as a data scientist? What is data to someone working in the social sector?

Jake: That is such a great question, and one I love talking about because most people that we talk with hear the word “data” and think of spreadsheets… or the matrix… or anonymous zeros and ones. It’s a really foreign, impersonal kind of thing. It’s unfortunate that people think of it that way because data is actually so much more exciting!  Data is really anything that is digitized, and it’s anything that is recorded. So, that means: not just your spreadsheets!  But that’s all of the information coming off our cellphones, about everything we do there!  It’s about everything on our laptops– like what position the marker is right now in this podcast.  That’s digital information!  That’s data!   It’s satellite imagery; it’s all your Fitbit data. And so we’re facing this arrow coming into you now– where data that you used to have to go out and hunt…it used to have to be a scientist to go out and record data about the world with your tools and your microscope…  Now, it comes burbling up out of every activity that we do that’s digital!  And so there’s now just this endless trove of digital information about our activities and lives that could show us new patterns about ourselves, about our world, and about our communities.


Dr. Larry Brilliant Discusses His Latest Book, Sometimes Brilliant

Larry Brilliant has had a career that lives up to his name. In the 1970s, he played a key role in work in Bangladesh and India to eradicate smallpox, personally witnessing the end of “an unbroken chain of transmission that went back to Pharaoh Ramses.” He then co-founded the Seva Foundation, which helps prevent and treat blindness in the developing world. He was the first director of tech philanthropy, and today he chairs the Skoll Global Threats Fund, tackling issues such as climate change and water security that, like smallpox before them, pose an existential danger to enormous swaths of humanity.

In his new memoir, Sometimes Brilliant, the physician and philanthropist details that remarkable journey, from his youth in Detroit and early medical career, through immersion in the ‘60s counterculture and Eastern philosophy, to his work today with tech moguls like eBay co-founder Jeff Skoll to achieve social change on a truly massive scale. In this edition of the Business of Giving, Dr. Brilliant walks us through some of his adventures as a civil-rights marcher, radical hippie doctor, meditating mystic, and groundbreaker in global health and Silicon Valley giving.

The following is a conversation between Dr. Larry Brilliant, author  of Sometimes Brilliant, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


Denver: Back in July, Dr. Larry Brilliant joined us to discuss the launch of an HBO movie he had produced called Open Your Eyes, a compelling story of a husband and wife in Nepal whose sight is restored as result of the work of the Seva  Foundation founded by Dr. Brilliant and his wife. Well, he’s been good enough to come back and join us again… this time to discuss his memoir that will be released on Tuesday and aptly entitled Sometimes Brilliant. Good evening, Larry, and welcome back to The Business of Giving.

Larry: Nice to see you again, Denver. Thank you.

Denver: You have had a most remarkable life, so much so, it’s hard to know where to begin. But I think I’ll start with you sitting in Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan campus on November 5, 1962… listening to a speech. Tell us about that day and the impact that it had on you.

Larry: I think everybody who’s gone to college remembers the sophomore year. It’s a tough year, anyway. And for me, it was tougher because my dad was dying of cancer.  As it would turn out, my dad and my grandfather both died inside of five days.

So, it was a tough time, and I had no inner resources to deal with that. I sort of locked myself up in my room in South Quad in Ann Arbor, and I think I was gobbling down burnt peanuts and reading Superman. That was my high and exalted way of dealing with depression. And I saw a little note in the college newspaper “The Michigan Daily” that said  Martin Luther King was going to be on campus. Nobody really knew who Martin Luther King was. He hadn’t yet given his speech “I Have a Dream.” He didn’t yet have his Nobel Prize. The world outside was filled with the Cuban missile standoff. Bob Dylan was singing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

It was a pretty complicated moment. It was raining and miserable weather, but somehow I took my sophomore ass out of the dorm and wandered into the auditorium.  And hardly anybody came. This huge auditorium that holds 3,000 people, it was hardly half-filled, or even less. The President was embarrassed, introduced Martin Luther King, and he looked out.  Instead of feeling bad, he laughed. He just laughed. And he said, “You all come on up here and sit on the stage; there will be more of me to go around.” And not everybody went up on stage…it kind of crowded the stage, and we all listened to him. And it was not like anything I had ever heard before. I had never heard someone talk about brotherhood. I had never heard anyone say, “We are all God’s children. We’re all in it together.” I had never heard anybody say that there’s a great movement for justice. I had never heard anyone say that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but you and I have got to jump up and help bend it.” I had never heard anybody say, “Join me, and make the world a better place.” He said things that opened up a space for me — a depressed, wonky, kind of pimple-faced kid — something I could do. I could kind of crawl out of my depression, and it wouldn’t all just be about me and the pain that I felt. And, of course, everybody that was on stage with him that day… that was in the auditorium, just began to march. Most went down that summer to Mississippi. Many had encounters that would change their lives. I stayed home with my dad because he was sick, but shortly afterwards I was marching in Chicago.

Denver: Got arrested, right?

Larry: Well, when I went to medical school and had a white coat on, the Medical Committee for Human Rights said, “Come on down to Chicago. Martin Luther King is going to make his march to the city. We want people wearing white coats with their stethoscopes dangling ostentatiously to form a cordon to protect him.”  I marched with Martin Luther King. We were all arrested together. And here’s a little secret: If you are ever going to be arrested — I tell my children — for a good cause, and there are some good causes, get arrested with 200, 300, 400, 500 of your best friends because then they put you in “pretend jail.” And you’re “pretend arrested.” And you can bring a guitar.

Denver: That’s great advice.

Larry: The cops were wonderful. This was not the kind of scene you think of when being arrested. They had to arrest us because we were blocking traffic. We had to go into Grant Park. They had to build a pretend jail, and Martin Luther King was there, and he just kept talking to us. I can’t remember the number of times I marched with him, but it certainly became the organizing principle of my life — the Civil Rights Movement, the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the movement itself. Because as it led into the ‘60s and the ‘70s, my generation, we thought we sensed that right around the corner was a better world… a world that had room for all of us, a room where black or white or male or female or tall or short or old or young… that we were all allowed into this great dream called America. And that was the magic that led to Haight Ashbury and the counterculture… and all rest of it.

Denver: And all the rest of it. Well, that day did have a profound influence on your life. As you noted, you became a doctor, I think, in part  because your father had cancer.  I know you had your own bout with it as well. So I’m going to move to the part of the book which really reads like fiction– not great fiction… because it’s almost too preposterous!  We’re going to start in 1969 at the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay, and it’s going to end in Bhola Island in Bangladesh in 1977. Take us on that extraordinary journey.

Larry: I was in pretend jail in Chicago. It was a real jail in Alcatraz, but I wasn’t a prisoner. I was finishing up my internship at what was then called Presbyterian Hospital; now, it’s called Pacific Medical Center.The treaties that the Indians had with United States of America were breached more often than they were upheld. But there was one treaty called the Laramie Treaty that said that if any land– having been taken from Indians, any federal land having been taken from Indians– is declared surplus, it must first be returned or offered to be returned to the Indians from whom it was taken. It seemed like a fair deal.

Alcatraz was Indian land, and it was seized and turned into a prison, and then the prison was closed in the early ‘60’s. And when the prison was closed, a number of Indians invoked the Laramie Treaty and said, “Give it back!” And the government didn’t want to do that. So, one night, undercover, several dozen young Indians from many different tribes — the Mohawk Indian Richard Oakes was leading, and a Lakota Sioux Indian named John Trudell was later one of the leaders — they occupied Alcatraz before the name “occupy” had much meaning. And they took over, and they would stay on the island for 18 months.  That became a big social drama. Every day in the newspapers and on TV shows in San Francisco, there would be interviews with the Coast Guard, who were ordered to put a ring around it and embargo and quarantine the island.  And somehow there’d be an interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie, who would fly out there, or Joan Baez who would go out there; The Grateful Dead would do a concert on Alcatraz. And they did a scorecard, and they asked people in San Francisco Bay, “Who do you want to vote for?” They loved the Coast Guard… I mean, we do love the Coast Guard of San Francisco. But it was 90/10 for Indians over the Coast Guard.