By Gail Neuwirth of Elanco
I’ve been in China for seven days. I came here to celebrate our Heifer China project, and to actually see it for myself – and I had high expectations for both. Traveling halfway around the world, participating in an event at the Great Hall of the People with the presidents of Elanco and the Lilly Foundation, and visiting our community in rural China is all pretty heady stuff. My trip exceeded all my expectations, but more than that, it made me really really understand our cause and our commitment. And it touched me deeply.
Listening to Jeff Simmons speak about the Three Rights (the human right for food, the consumer right for choice, and the environmental right for sustainability) in a room full of eager young Chinese faces at an Ag school makes the statistics about growth, hunger, and the looming food security challenges much more real and urgent. These are the leaders who must work together with us to close the food gap.
Talking candidly with Chinese friends about where we come from on a personal level helped me understand the obstacles and prejudices we have to overcome and how easy that is when we get to know each other. My Elanco colleague talked about being taught to fear and look down on westerners while growing up. My Heifer International colleague talked about growing up in southern China with no shoes. I talked about the loss of manufacturing jobs in my hometown of Flint, Michigan and how low-cost labor in Asia impacts families in the U.S. Sharing those stories helped me see that we’re all members of one global community, trying to care for our families and striving for a better life.
Watching a confident woman describe the transformation in her Heifer project village in front of photos and bar charts gave me hope. Photos that showed dirt roads and isolation at times when they were unable to cross the river in 2008 and photos of paved roads and a brand new bridge today. Charts showing that In 2008 the whole village sold only 50 beef cattle, cattle from inferior stock, poorly fed and cared for. In 2012, they sold 5 times as many healthy cattle and family incomes soared. Pictures of barren landscape then and lush green vistas now because they built cattle barns to house their cattle and protect the environment. The 3 year business plan for a new community cooperative that will ensure access to markets for the things they grow. Now when I explain that Heifer and Elanco enable families to lift themselves out of poverty, I get it.
Listening to the Heifer Asia Director coach members of the cooperative made me see that I’m not thinking big enough when I set my goals. He challenged them to make an additional business plan, one focused solely on social responsibility. He suggested for example, they commit to collecting all the plastic bottles strewn throughout their community and sell them for a small profit. And that they think big by educating the entire county about caring for the environment and then collect all the plastic bottles in the county for recycling. And then think bigger again by sharing that vision and process with counties throughout China.
It’s simple. There are hungry people that need to be fed. We all need to work together to make it happen. It can be done. We need to act now and think big. Simple. Profound.