I live in an affluent college town in a beautiful mountain setting. We have gorgeous bike paths and organic cafés and university lectures on social and environmental issues. We also have a big homeless population, which has grown since the recession, and it’s something that can weigh heavily on my mind at times.
A Path to Finding Solutions to Social Problems
As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalists who have traveled to remote parts of the world to report on communities and people facing crises, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn recognize this feeling, which is why they have sought out the best examples of real change—positive momentum—for their latest book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity (Knopf, 2014).
A Path Appears points out solutions, offers hope, and suggests that we can find our way through problems that seem impassable—if we each take a little time, a little money, and seek out ways to participate in solutions. In each chapter of the book, Kristof and WuDunn tell stories of specific people and organizations, and exactly how they create the conditions for improvement here in the US and abroad.
"[The examples in this book]... are all part of a revolution in tackling social problems, employing new savvy, discipline, and experience to chip away at poverty and injustice. On many issues ranging from failing schools in America to intestinal parasites in Africa, there are fascinating new approaches to making a difference; in some cases, the progress is startling."
One Person Can Make a Difference
All twenty chapters, totaling over 350 pages, are chock-full of examples of organizations and individuals (some still just children themselves!) who are making impressive change, each investigated and rendered beautifully in words by the husband-and-wife team.
For example, there is the story of Rachel Beckwith, a nine-year-old from the Seattle area, who wanted to raise money for water wells in impoverished areas, a cause that she had heard about through her church. She initially raised a few hundred dollars, but her wish to help went viral, inspiring over $1.2 million in donations to provide clean water to over 37,000 people.
Spotlight on Philanthropic Organizations
A Path Appears gives the spotlight to organizations that help philanthropically minded individuals evaluate the effectiveness of the charitable institutions we choose to support. One such group is GiveWell, with a focus on international charities. Founders Elie Hassenfeld and Holden Karnofsky met while working as financial analysts at a hedge fund in Connecticut.
“The information we were looking for was not available to individual donors like us who want to give a few thousand dollars,” said Hassenfeld... So [they] started GiveWell, which uses rigorous evaluation of the kind that is common in the financial sector but applies it to charities... GiveWell is part of a movement called “effective altruism,” an attempt to bring more analytical rigor to charitable donations so as to have the greatest possible impact.
Support Charities & Organizations That Truly Make a Difference
Rather than suggest that we each should strive to become one of these changemakers, Kristof and WuDunn suggest that we will get closer to our shared goals through supporting the right changemakers by volunteering, offering support financially, or simply by helping to spread the word.
We started our married life together as foreign correspondents for the New York Times, and we have wondered for years how we can do a better job addressing the needs around us... Like many Americans, we have day jobs we need to keep, and we have been busy raising our children; that has left us looking for great causes and people to support in modest ways... So we investigated how one can do a better job of making a difference, how one can help institute effective change. This book is the fruit of our labors.
A Path Appears accompanies a three-part PBS documentary of the same name, starring actor-activists such as Mia Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Judd and Eva Longoria as they travel across the US and to communities in Colombia, Haiti and Kenya to uncover issues of oppression and vulnerability—and the effective solutions proven to alleviate suffering and change such circumstances. Preview the film here.
“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally, there is nothing—but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears,” wrote Chinese essayist Lu Xun in 1921. Kristof and WuDunn open the book with this powerful metaphor. Truly two of the most gifted storytellers of our time, Kristof and WuDunn are the kind of compassionate journalists and true world citizens we need in this day and age—to stay positive and focused on the path.
To learn more about A Path Appears, volunteer opportunities, and a number of hand-vetted causes and organizations, visit www.apathappears.org.