“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
This post accompanies my most recent youtube post:
I think I’m better at writing than I am at making coherent 20 minute video stories. That said, I spent 3 months on and off working on this vlogblog and I’m really happy with how it all turned out. I hope this post is meaningful for you and I hope you get a kick out of the video.
Once Upon A Time…
I remember a few years ago I ran across the report that stated plainly: “solving world hunger would cost $30 billion annually”
Then I remember comparing that figure to the multi-trillion dollar annual defense & entitlements budget for the United States.
This realization made me feel all sorts of ways. Now, some people may be unsurprised by this.
Some people are already convinced of the wholehearted corruption of the entire world, so to them maybe it makes sense that we’re not solving world hunger when we could be.
But, I try to keep myself grounded in the evidence that things are better than they ever have been, and they keep getting better. So to my otherwise optimistic worldview, this new information presented a strange challenge.
I’ve learned since then that there are some rather significant challenges to helping the world sustainably feed itself. These have far less to do with our unwillingness to throw money at the problem, and far more to do with the fact that throwing money at the problem often causes lots of other bad things.
This doesn’t lessen the sting of the fact that we somehow manage to unwittingly waste $20 billion in food annually, or spend 10x that on one nation’s military when we could be trying to feed the world.
It is perhaps because we don’t think it can be done. Everyone who learns this “$30 billion to solve world hunger” figure (including you, just now) probably comes to some point where they just accept the following train of thought so they can live with themselves: “Well, there must be a good reason why we’re not spending that money and feeding the hungry, I just don’t know what it is.”
But there is not a good reason. This goes without saying. If I asked you to come up with a good reason why a perfectly capable world should let millions die of hunger every year, you wouldn’t be able.
And so the problem continues simply because we think we can’t solve it. On top of that, the billionaires & government leaders don’t think they can either (which seems silly to us, but then ask yourself: why don’t you feel like you can? Because you don’t have that kind of money? What would you do if you did?).
What’s really going on here?
One of the many road-blocks to solving world hunger (again, perhaps obviously) is that other people’s hunger is not urgent. It doesn’t keep us up at night. It is not visible in the day-to-day lives of the wealthy and well-fed. It is like many problems we face as an entire planet of people.
Perhaps worst is that people who are hungry don’t feel like they can solve their own hunger either. I promise they would if they could, wouldn’t you? Don’t you?
The reason I bring that up is that people who are in positions of power have tried throughout history to help those in need. And to their dismay, sometimes it hurts more than it helps.
But when people who are not in positions of power are given the tools (or develop the tools, or realize they already have them) to solve their own problems, those problems actually get solved surprisingly fast.
People aren’t good at solving other people’s problems. It’s like when your friend gives you unsolicited advice on how to live your life (useless and annoying, right?), except on a much bigger scale.
Humans do really well with urgent problems. And what problems are more urgent than our own? None. So we do really well with our own problems.
Instead of turning to billionaires and government leaders and asking them “Why aren’t we solving world hunger?” perhaps we should instead focus on how we can empower the hungry to sustainably feed themselves and their families. They’ll do a much better job implementing a solution than we would have, too!
Now, that’s all pretty dang hypothetical, but it makes sense, right?
Let’s get practical.
Give people the power to improve their own lives, and they will.
The real question is: How do we apply that to our lives?
We need to start feeling like we can solve our own problems.
And to our surprise, we can solve so many more of our own problems than we imagine.
Think about this for a second.
It’s easy to get mad at people who are well-off and think that they have it easy. I promise, they don’t. No one has it easy.
How do I know? I’m unbelievably rich – and so are you. Whether you think of wealth as power or as potential, you and I have more power, freedom, autonomy, and access to resources than just about any single human ever had up until the 20th century. What do I mean?
I call myself rich even though I’m still a struggling art school graduate because I think that illustrates our responsibility as the beneficiaries of staggering changes in the world economy thanks to new technology.
Frankly if you’ve had a hot shower this month you’re doing pretty damn well financially by any global measure, but if you have a computer or smartphone you’re a freakin’ emperor by comparison.
Did you know you can get an iPhone for free if you sign up for a two year contract!? So becoming a monarch with access to a global audience and unlimited potential is now essentially a realistic ambition for anyone who is willing to sign up for a two year telecom contract. How crazy is that? The realization of how huge this shift in access to a global audience truly is has yet to hit most people.
So even though you may not feel rich, if you’re on this side of the digital divide (meaning you’re reading this post online on your phone or computer) you really do have many of the same resources and opportunities that the world’s elite enjoy. So even if you don’t feel rich, perhaps it’s just because you haven’t thought about it this way.
Now, I may not be one of the top 10 richest people of all time (which is a fascinating and terrifying read, by the way) but I am (in most cases) smarter, more well-connected, and more powerful and influential because of the technology at my disposal than they ever were.
So if I don’t feel like I can solve any problem I come up against, I’m just being purposefully dense.
Not only was 2015 the single best year ever to be human, it’s only going to get better. Average humans were statistically healthier, safer, and happier than they ever have been, and we’re on track to be even better off as a planet next year.
So if you’re reading this, no one else is better equipped than you are today with tools like the internet at your disposal. Building literally world-changing businesses, social movements, or schools has never been easier. Your peers have done it over and over again, and you can, too.
Let’s take a specific example.
I was surprised when I recently discovered that I had essentially started the exact study abroad company the international education field needed (one that helps students find scholarships, get social support, and take advantage of opportunities that already exist but are going un-used). I now know that I had three distinct advantages that let me solve that particular problem better than it has been solved before:
- I had just personally struggled with the issue I was focused on solving.
- I was open to feedback from others who had experienced variations on that same problem, or hadn’t experienced the problem at all (and the differences between them).
- I was willing to pay attention to and learn from the unsuccessful efforts of people like me (and people in positions of more power/influence) who had tried to solve the problem before me but had failed.
These three things worked brilliantly in my case because unlike millions who go hungry every year, I genuinely do have the power to solve many of the problems I encounter in life (like the fact that it seems extraordinarily difficult and expensive to study abroad when it isn’t.)
You have this power too, whether or not you realize it.
Whatever problems you face, people all around you probably face similar versions of those same problems.
If you’re willing to take your experience, refine it with the experiences other people have had, acknowledge those who have unsuccessfully tried to fix problems like yours in the past, and then build a solution, you can probably help many, many people just like yourself.
How do you become a billionaire? Help a billion people. And this is how you start: Solve your own problems.
The Solve-Any-Problem Playbook
- What frustrates you about your own life? What do you wish was different? Easier? More obvious? What should be clear, but isn’t? What decisions in your life are most difficult to make?
- Who else feels that way? Have they been able to get past it? Are there people like you who don’t struggle with this problem? What do they do differently?
- Have other people tried to solve this problem for people like you before? Did it work? Can you use that solution? What if it didn’t work? What could be done better that would actually fix things?
There you have it.
And that is how the world gets better. One person at a time, each solving their own problems in collaboration with people around them who agree that the future would be just a bit brighter if things were slightly different.
Go Get ‘Em
All you have to do is believe you have the power to solve your own problems.
Oh hey, and since you read the whole thing, I should probably mention all the good news. Global poverty has been halved in my lifetime (1990-2015, mostly due to the economic growth of China) and we’re on track to solve world hunger in the next 15 years. You can check out that and other delightful facts in my article “How good do we have it, really?” – which you can access at any time and send other people to by typing youare.global into your browser. Because you are.
If you haven’t already, watch this: