100&Change

Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change initiative is Sesame Workshop, teamed together with the International Rescue Committee to educate children displaced by conflict and persecution. And here to discuss their proposal with us is Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, and Sarah Smith, the Senior Director of Education at the International Rescue Committee. My thanks to both of you for being here this evening!

Sarah: Thank you!

Sherrie: Thanks!

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Sarah Smith and Sherrie Westin  © gt.foreignpolicy.com

There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: Let me start with you, Sarah. Give us an idea of the scope of the refugee crisis and that of displaced persons at it stands today.  And how many of those are children?

Sarah: Thank you. The scope of the refugee crisis today is unprecedented. There are 65 million people displaced around the world; half of those are children. Under 8, there are about 12 million. So it’s a massive, massive scale.

Denver: And if you would for a moment, what’s the difference—because we hear it used so much interchangeably—between a refugee, a migrant, a displaced person? What’s the distinction among them?

Sarah: The most important difference is that a refugee is somebody who has had to flee their country. So they’ve crossed an international border, and they have done so because they’re in fear of persecution, and they’re fleeing for their lives. A displaced person is somebody who has also had to flee their home, but they have not crossed an international border. So they have stayed within their country, but they’ve also had to flee because they are in fear for their lives.

On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years.

Denver: And whether you’re a displaced person or a refugee, how long on average do you remain displaced?

Sarah: It’s quite shocking and I think this is one of the most unbelievable statistics. On average, a refugee stays a refugee for 17 years, and somebody who’s been displaced in their country… for 25 years. So this is a long-term problem.

Denver: So this is not a short-term solution; this is their life. This is their way of life for a quarter of a century, in some cases.

Sarah: Exactly.

Denver: Sherrie, what is the impact of violence and neglect and these unimaginable hardships on children and their ultimate development?

Sherrie: Well, Denver, there’s been so much research and evidence in the last few years on how detrimental those adverse childhood experiences – what is often referred to as “toxic stress” – is on a child’s development, with long-term repercussions to their health, not just to their cognitive ability, but to their health, to their livelihood. So we know that if we reach children in those critical early years, that we can make a huge difference on children’s outcomes, particularly for children who have been subject to violence or trauma because they need the help to mitigate the damage from that experience. So when you think of refugee children, obviously, these are children who have had extreme experiences that can really alter their long-term opportunities. And this is an area we know we can make a difference.

Denver: Sherrie, if you look at the totality of this worldwide humanitarian system, what kind of emphasis is placed on early childhood development, emotional well-being, and education?

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Dr. Frank Richards, the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dr. Frank Richards, the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Dr. Drank Richards

Denver: And our semi-finalist for this evening in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Initiative is The Carter Center, and their proposal is to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria. And here to discuss that with us is Dr. Frank Richards, who is the Director of the River Blindness Elimination Program at The Carter Center. Good evening, Dr. Richards, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Frank: Good evening! It’s a pleasure to be here.

River blindness is an infectious disease, and it’s caused by a parasite. Actually, it’s caused by a parasitic worm…it’s also a very terrible skin disease, as well as a terrible eye disease.

Denver: Quite a few people have probably heard of river blindness, but not too many people fully appreciate or understand what it actually is. So tell us – what is river blindness?

Frank: River blindness is an infectious disease, and it’s caused by a parasite. Actually, it’s caused by a parasitic worm. You can imagine a very thin worm that measures about 13 inches long, coiled up into a clump, living underneath your skin. That is this parasite that we call onchocerca volvulus that causes river blindness. The interesting thing about this parasite is that it is transmitted from person to person by the bite of a small black fly. The black flies breed in rapidly flowing waters, rapidly flowing rivers and streams. So when you’re close to those streams, you’d find lots of these black flies, and so you find lots of these worms.

…people catch river blindness, but people also cause river blindness. So that if we can use the tools that we have, this miracle medicine Mectizan to eliminate the parasite in the human population, it’s gone once and for all, unless it’s reintroduced from outside.

Frank:  I think it’s really important to recognize that these black flies are not born infected with this parasite. The parasite doesn’t live in the rivers; it doesn’t live in other animals or in the environment. This is a parasite that lives in human beings only, and the black flies serve to pick up the parasite and transfer it to another person. So the black flies are not infected; new infections cannot happen, but the black flies must be infected by another person. So I like to say people catch river blindness, but people also cause river blindness. So that if we can use the tools that we have, this miracle medicine Mectizan to eliminate the parasite in the human population, it’s gone once and for all, unless it’s reintroduced from outside.

The way that the worms cause blindness is that the curled up clump of worms living under the skin that I mentioned produce baby worms, which we call microfilariae, that get underneath the skin and also get into the eyes. These tiny little worms, about the size of a period on a printed page of paper, get into the eyes and cause inflammation and visual loss and in many people, ultimately blindness. It also gets under the skin and causes terrible, terrible itching and skin discoloration and depigmentation of the skin, and so it’s also a very terrible skin disease, as well as a terrible eye disease.

Denver: Boy, it certainly sounds horrific. How long is it before somebody would go blind?

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Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Founder and Co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Founder and Co-director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

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Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Denver: And we have reached the midpoint of featuring the eight semi-finalists of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. And tonight, it is a great pleasure to have with us Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Founder and Co-director of Rice University’s 360°: Institute for Global Health. Good evening, Rebecca, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Rebecca: Thank you so much.

Denver: Your life was changed forever back in 2006 when you walked into a two-room ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi. What did you see there, Rebecca?

Rebecca: You know, it was such a life-changing moment for me to walk into that neonatal unit,  and I was struck by, first, just the number of babies that were in a very tiny space. There were probably 50 babies, many of them sharing beds because they didn’t have enough bed space for each baby to have its own bed. And there were just a few nurses, all of whom were really busy trying to take care of babies that were quite ill.

But as an engineer, the other thing that really struck me was the lack of technology. When you walk into a neonatal intensive care unit in the United States, it is just full of big pieces of equipment, and that equipment has made a huge improvement in rates of survival, especially for babies who are born too soon or who born small. In this neonatal unit in Malawi, there was none of that equipment there. And just the contrast of all that made such an impression, and it made an impression both for me as a mom and for me as an engineer.

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Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of Human Diagnosis Project Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of the Human Diagnosis Project and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

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Jay Komarneni

Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist is the Human Diagnosis Project, also referred to as Human Dx. And here to tell us about it is their President and CEO, Jay Komarneni. Good evening, Jay, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jay: Denver, thanks so much for having me!

Denver: Congratulations on being named as one of the semi-finalists of the 100&Change competition. Give us an overview of the Human Diagnosis Project and what you hope to achieve.

Jay: Absolutely! Thanks. Denver, I think what the Human Diagnosis Project exists to do is to answer the essential question of human health and well-being which is: When you or someone you love isn’t well, what should be done? This is a question that every single person on the planet struggles with many times during their lifetime, and our goal is really to help answer this question for all and forever.

Denver: What was the impetus for you to start this, Jay?  And were there any platforms that inspired your model?

Jay: The story of the Human Diagnosis Project actually starts with the day I was born. I actually was born with a congenital heart defect and was able to get access to the best care and the best specialists when I was a teenager and had to have my heart defect corrected with open heart surgery. If I didn’t grow up in a family of physicians in one of the richest countries on earth, I wouldn’t have had access to that insight. We really believe as a team that everyone in the world should have access to the world’s collective medical insight in order to get better answers to those questions.

Denver: And this is not really just a  “safety net”  for those people who need to go to an emergency room. A lot of this is focused around specialty care. Would that be correct?

Jay: The proposal that we had put together for MacArthur in conjunction with the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the American Board of Internal Medicine is specifically to use the Human Diagnosis Project to improve specialty care for the nation’s underserved. That being said, the system that we’re building ultimately can help every single person on the planet with both primary care and specialty care. As you may know, a billion people on earth lack access to even basic health care, and a hundred million people are put into poverty as a function of their health care cost. So this is a much bigger problem than just the problem we seek to serve here in the US, but we think that this is a tremendous opportunity to help begin building the system, and using it to help the people who need it the most.

If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care. So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it. And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help.

Denver: Let me see how this might work. Let’s say I’m an attending physician, and I come across a challenging case, and I’m not exactly sure what it is or what I’m looking at, but I’m a bit concerned. What would I do?

Jay: The way that this works typically is one of three things happens when you’re a primary care physician and you’re trying to get a better answer to your case: (1) you actually do what’s called a curbside consult, so you ask other physicians what they think– who you know and are done in person; (2) is you do something called an electronic consult where you actually ask someone through your existing electronic health record or system; or (3) you do a referral. So the issue becomes that when you’re uninsured, you’re really making a choice between two tough places;  you’re deciding whether or not to delay necessary care… and potentially get sicker, or potentially pay for care that may not be needed and go into poverty as a function of your costs. There are 10 million people in this country who are in poverty because of their medical costs.

So, imagine that you’re making that decision. Well, as a primary care physician who’s helping people in the Safety Net, 90% of those Safety Net centers cannot get access to specialists. If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care.  So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it.  And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help. So the opportunity here– and the way that Human Dx works to solve this problem– is when a primary care physician goes to the system, they basically can encode and organize the major details of the case, post it to the system, and then have other specialists pontificate on that case. Then they can get insight much faster than they otherwise would’ve been able to by doing a traditional referral or e-consult.

Denver: How many of these cases can be addressed through electronic consults?

Jay: Well, I think what’s exciting is that the literature shows anywhere from 30% to 50%. (more…)

Beverley Postma, CEO of HarvestPlus, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Beverley Postma, CEO of HarvestPlus, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

 

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Beverley Postma

Denver: And it’s indeed a pleasure for me to welcome to the show the Chief Executive Officer of one of the eight semi-finalists of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. She is Beverley Postma, the CEO of HarvestPlus. Good evening, Bev, and congratulations on being named one of the elite eight! 

Beverley: Good evening, Denver! It’s great to be here.

It really is a super program that starts with science; it mixes in some nutrition and food; it applies some economics; and it comes out with a very, very simple way of helping to solve malnutrition. 

Denver: Tell us about HarvestPlus and the mission of the organization. 

Beverley: Well, HarvestPlus is the most remarkable program. I had the honor of joining it just six months ago as CEO, and it’s just the most wonderful, simple idea that is going to save hundreds of millions of lives in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America. It really is a super program that starts with science; it mixes in some nutrition and food; it applies some economics; and it comes out in the end with a very, very simple way of helping to solve malnutrition.

Denver: Part of that malnutrition you talked about, Bev, is something which is called “hidden hunger” — something that impacts about 2 billion people across the world. What is hidden hunger?

Beverley: Yes. This is something that shockingly today is still one of the world’s biggest problems. We’re reasonably familiar with images about malnutrition.  Fortunately, we’re making good progress around the world in tackling both poverty and malnutrition. But one of the more hidden and more sinister types of malnutrition is still very prevalent. And that’s when people are getting enough food on their plates—they’re maybe getting a good meal or two meals a day of big, starchy food like rice or wheat, or maize/corn—but they’re just not getting enough micronutrients– the vitamins and minerals. And this is what we call “hidden hunger.”

Denver: So, when they’re not getting those necessary vitamins and nutrients, which ones are typically missing from their diet?

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Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director of the MacArthur Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

With all the discussion in philanthropy about “Big Bets” for social change, the biggest “Big Bet” of them all just may be the initiative of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This competition, announced in June, will award a single $100 million grant to a nonprofit or for-profit entity that comes up with the best proposal and plan to solve one of the world’s biggest problems.

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Cecilia Conrad, Managing Director of the MacArthur Foundation

This interview has been edited for clarity.

In this transcript  from The Business of Giving, Dr. Cecelia Conrad, Managing Director of The MacArthur Foundation, traces the history of this idea and outlines the process for the competition. She also offers us a behind-the-scenes look at the MacArthur Fellows Program and shares her mixed feelings about it being dubbed the “Genius Grants.”

 

Denver: There is a foundation out in Chicago that shook up the world of philanthropy and beyond by announcing recently that they would award a single $100 million grant to a nonprofit or for profit entity that could come up with a proposal and plan to solve one of the world’s biggest problems. That foundation, also known for a program that has been coined by the media as the”genius grants,” is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. And with us this evening is their Managing Director, Dr. Cecilia Conrad. Good evening, Cecilia, and welcome to the Business of Giving.

Cecilia: Good evening, and thank you for including me.

Denver: Before we delve into the two programs I just mentioned, tell us who were John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur. How did they make their money? And tell us a little bit about the history of the foundation.

Cecilia: Well, the MacArthurs made their money in real estate and in insurance. Actually, they did quite a bit of work in Florida real estate. When they passed away, they decided to set aside their estate as the MacArthur Foundation. And what’s unusual about them is that they did not give specific directions about how the money should be spent or on what issues. They basically said, “Here’s our gift. Go and make the world a better place.”

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