Interview by Annie Bergman, Heifer International global communications manager
Chelsea Clinton is no stranger to tackling tough problems. As vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, she’s helped advance opportunities for women and girls, looked at ways to curb childhood obesity and raised awareness of the effects of climate change. She started this work more than two decades ago, after she read a book about how kids could do small things to help save the Earth. Now she’s written her own book for would-be world changers: It’s your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! The book takes wide-reaching global issues like the environment, women’s rights and poverty and turns them into actionable items for the up-and-coming generation.
WORLD ARK: Why did you decide to write specifically for young people age 10 to 14?
CHELSEA CLINTON: I wanted to write this book for the 10-14 age group because that’s the age I was when I thought I could make a sustainable and sustained dierence in the world. It’s when I read 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Change the Earth. That’s the age you can really engage and be empowered to engage in whatever way feels right to you. Clearly, there are a lot of kids who are even younger who started making big differences when they were 6 and 7. It’s not to say you have to be 10. There are kids who are changing the world who are a lot younger. That’s just the age I was when I started to really engage and the age I find kids to be when I talk to young people who are thinking along the same lines.
How did you convince children’s book editors/publishers that the topics you discuss in the book were accessible enough for your audience? Did anyone give you pushback on that?
I’ve been really lucky to have a remarkable editor who has been tremendously supportive and who reached out to me to see if I would be interested in a project like this. I was already thinking about something like this, and it was such serendipitous timing. From the beginning she’s been supportive of treating kids seriously and talking about serious issues. I hope that it doesn’t feel only serious because so many of the kids who are tackling these serious issues are so joyful when they’re doing it. So I hope that comes through in the book. That even though these are big issues and changing the world is hard work, it can be fun work because it is so important and inspiring.
How can young people keep from getting overwhelmed by the issues facing the world?
I purposefully end each chapter with the “Get Going” section so that hopefully it’s very clear that lots of small things matter. And small things add up to big change. There are so many dierent ways to make a difference. If every family ate differently and every family recycled, we would not have the environmental challenges we have today or the chronic disease challenges we have today. So I hope that that is clear. That small changes add up to big changes.
You deal with pressing global issues every day. How do you keep from getting overwhelmed yourself?
I just don’t find it very productive, and I don’t say that flippantly at all. Sometimes I get discouraged for a day. And then I think, “Well, that wasn’t very productive.” I think because I feel such a responsibility and am so grateful to have an opportunity to work on issues that are important in the world, I think it’s going to be more productive for me to take time in my head and heart to be thinking about how to solve a problem or support work that is already solving a problem than being depressed about a problem.
This age group is so motivated and has such a capacity for changing the world. What would your advice be to an organization like Heifer to keep them engaged?
I would ask kids. I really would. I would see what is the best way to help them continue to support your work. It’s also OK if kids come in and out of supporting your work. I think that is OK because what we care about changes and evolves. You and I know what we care about now and that’s probably not going to change, but it probably changed from when we were 10 to when we were 15 to when we were 20. So I don’t think you should feel badly if there are some kids who feel passionately about Heifer when they’re 12, and then when they’re 15 or 16 they realize at that moment in their lives they feel passionately about campaigning against drunk driving, for example. But I think there are other kids who still want to be involved in Heifer if there are ways to be involved.
One of the challenges with kids, and one of the reasons why kids start their own organizations, or have variations on organizations, is because often kids don’t want to be doing the same things at 16 as they did at 10 because it feels like they haven’t grown or evolved. Ask them, “What more can we do to make you feel connected to us?”
Why Some Countries are Poorer Than Others
The following is an excerpt from It's Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, and Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton.
Where You Are and What You Eat
Most historians, economists and social scientists—academics who study people and societies over time—agree that geography matters. Places that have more extreme climates and more extreme weather events—like hurricanes or droughts—are more likely to have more people living in extreme poverty. This is partly because extreme climates, particularly very hot, dry places, and places with frequent extreme weather events, like hurricanes, make it harder to grow crops. They get washed away if there’s too much water one year, and too much salt water from storms can change what, if anything, farmers can grow. All of that makes it more difficult for families and communities to have a reliable source of healthy, nutritious food, which is particularly important for kids.
Worldwide, an estimated 165 million children under five are malnourished and suer from stunting, meaning their bodies and brains are not developing at a normal, healthy rate because they don’t get enough food and enough of the right kinds of food to eat. Their physical and intellectual growth is stunted because of a lack of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients every child needs to grow and develop (think of all the things you see listed on a cereal box, like Vitamin A, Vitamin D, calcium—many kids don’t get any of those, much less all of them, in the amounts they need). Poverty and stunting are deeply intertwined. Parents living in extreme poverty are more likely to have children who suer from stunting. Children who are stunted generally grow up less physically and mentally strong, less able to learn and succeed in school (if they’re in school) and less able to work as productively as people who were not malnourished as young children. Adults who were stunted as children are more likely to be poor later in life.
Notice how similar this map is to the earlier one of the developing world. It’s also arguably another depiction of the cycle of poverty. A country’s economy is the sum total of all activity that involves money and resources. This includes what individuals and companies make, what consumers buy and what people are paid. A strong economy depends on the strength of all these parts. The more money people earn from what they make or do, the more they can later spend. If someone has more money to spend at the market on her neighbor’s paper, that neighbor will then have more money to buy food. The farmer whose food she buys will have more money to invest in seeds for next year’s crops and to send her children to school and so on. If an economy has a lot more stunted workers, or workers held back by illness (that they may have gotten from dirty water) or illiteracy (because they likely never went to or stayed in school for long), none of that can happen on a large scale. Countries with fewer educated and healthy workers and fewer healthy kids in school are less likely to see their economies grow and poverty shrink.
It’s also hard for a country’s economy to grow if it’s persistently battling extreme weather or earthquakes, and not just because of the eects on crops. Imagine if you lived in a place where hurricanes, floods or landslides occurred regularly, washing out roads and bridges, wrecking your home, your school and where your parents work and knocking out power lines (though there probably isn’t power—more on that below). You’d miss days of school waiting for the damage to be repaired. Your parents would miss days of work, needing to restore your home and waiting for the roads to be fixed so they could get back to work. It’s hard to build for tomorrow if you constantly have to repair damage from yesterday.
It’s impossible for a country’s economy to grow if there isn’t enough healthy food available that people can aord. This too is not just about crops. It’s also about milk, eggs, meat, fish and more. Heifer International is an organization that provides animals to poor families around the world. Not just any type of animal, but animals like cows, buffalo and goats. Why those animals? Because they—like the goat with the boy in the photo at the start of this chapter—provide both food and a way to earn money. All produce milk that can help strengthen a family’s nutrition, and excess milk that can be sold to increase a family’s income and help the families who buy it improve their nutrition too. Heifer also gives families animals like chicks, ducks and geese, which produce eggs families can both eat and sell. Critically, Heifer provides families with the training they need to properly care for their animals. And Heifer asks families who receive animals to give their first female ospring (because she’ll later produce milk or eggs) to another family in their community; Heifer calls this “Passing on the Gift.”
My family has a few ties to Heifer. In the last few years of her life, my grandmother Dorothy gave Heifer animals to all of her grandchildren for Christmas. Well, not the actual animals, but a certificate saying our grandmother had given animals to families in need in our names. Although I wondered why I always seemed to get a buffalo (and my cousins goats), I thought the life-giving gifts were the perfect Christmas presents.
My mom wrote the foreword to a wonderful book called Beatrice’s Goat, which tells the story of Beatrice from Uganda. Heifer gave a goat to Beatrice’s family that Beatrice helped take care of. After less than three months of selling the goat’s milk, Beatrice’s family had saved enough money to send Beatrice to school (before, they couldn’t aord the school fees, a challenge we’ll talk more about in "Time for School"). Beatrice worked hard and did well in school, and as a result, received a scholarship to go to college in the U.S. She went on to graduate school at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service (started by my dad). And Heifer is based in Little Rock, right across from the Clinton Presidential Library. I am proud my dad’s library is Heifer’s neighbor.
There are lots of ways for kids and families to participate in Heifer’s work, including by giving a goat to a family like Beatrice’s. For $10 or $20, you can help send a goat, cow or flock of chicks to a family like Beatrice’s. Another way to participate is through Heifer’s Read to Feed program. You find a sponsor for yourself or your class who pledges a set amount of money for each book you read in a defined period of time (you can even do it by chapter or page if you want). However many books you’ve read at the end gets multiplied by the amount pledged and then donated to Heifer to support their work. For more on Heifer, including Read to Feed, visit www.heifer.org.