Famed author and speaker Sheryl WuDunn spoke to students, faculty and staff about the growing global wealth gap and the solutions for bringing about change around the world during a campus-theme convocation event held in Neely Dining Room on Wednesday.
WuDuun is the first Asian-American Pulitzer Prize winner and is the co-author with her husband Nicholas D. Kristof of two best-selling books, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. The latter work investigates the art and science of giving by determining the most successful local and global aid initiatives, evaluating the efficiency and impact of these charities and fundraising approaches. She currently works with entrepreneurs in new media, technology and social enterprise at a small investment banking boutique in New York City.
During this convocation, WuDunn discussed individuals and organizations that are making a difference both locally and globally in income inequality and other human rights issues. She explained that no individual can single-handedly solve all the world’s problems, but there are many solutions that can bring about change and a number of ways the public can get involved and support these notable organizations.
WuDunn mentioned Charity Water, a non-profit organization that strives to provide clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world, as one of the most entrepreneurial organizations making strides to equalize the quality of life for everyone around the world. The organization ensures that 100 percent of their donations go directly to the field to fund water projects.
The Birthday Project allows individuals to campaign for their birthdays and pledge all of their gifts to Charity Water. WuDunn told the story of nine-year-old Rachel Beckwith who participated in this project, but passed away before she could complete it. Word spread around the world, and Beckwith raised more than $1.2 million to help build wells in Africa.
In addition, WuDunn cited statistics about the global income inequality explaining that the richest 85 people on earth have more wealth that the bottom half of humanity. While she explained that these statistics are important to understanding the severity of the situation, the real solution is improving education and the environment in which these impoverished individuals live.
“Poverty is more than inequality. It’s more than numbers and money. Poverty is about the terrible ecosystems that surround these individuals. It’s about lack of opportunity,” WuDunn said.
WuDunn discussed that research in education and childhood development has shown that through education, it is possible to break the cycle of poverty and improve not only these children’s futures but the lives of their families as well. She explained that strength of character and the ability to delay gratification for a larger reward is the formative factor for success with impoverished children and what will lead to their escape from poverty. She refers to this practice as “grit.”
“Grit is 80 percent of success. It is what is making the next leaders of these communities, and it can be instilled around the world through educational practices.”
At the end of her presentation, WuDunn offered practical advice to students, faculty and staff on how best to donate and get involved and how they will personally benefit from being effective global citizens.
“Are you going to get engaged or continue to be a bystander?” WuDunn asked the audience. “I challenge you to get involved.”