Dr. Scott Todd is Compassion’s Senior Vice President of Global Advocacy and is often called on to represent us in various networks focused on children, development and poverty eradication. Throughout his career at Compassion, Scott has also been instrumental in developing our AIDS Initiative, a program that provides health care and counseling to HIV-positive children and their parents or guardians, and he has served as the Director of our Child Survival Program. Prior to coming to work for Compassion in 2003, Scott was an award-winning scientist, winner of multiple grants in medical research, and senior author of more than a dozen scientific articles published in biomedical journals. He brings this great compilation of knowledge and experience to his new book, Hope Rising, which is all about mobilizing the Church to eradicate extreme global poverty* in this generation.
Here are a few excerpts from a recent conversation I had with Scott. I hope you will be encouraged and inspired to even greater action by the challenging message of Hope Rising.
*Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as a per-capita income of less than $1.25 per day, per person.
Recent research has revealed some pretty amazing signs of progress in the fight to end extreme poverty. Were you surprised by these results?
The scope of the research is staggering. For example, in 1981, 52 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, but that is now down to 21 percent. If we were still at the prior percentage, there would be 3.5 billion people in extreme poverty, but instead there are 1.2 billion. This shows that extreme poverty has already been cut in half in a generation! The same type of progress can be seen in child mortality. Today, 18,000 children under age 5 die each day from hunger and preventable disease. As heartbreaking as that number is, it’s down 50 percent from where it was 20 years ago. We’re also seeing radical progress against malaria, measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. We’ve nearly eradicated polio. Waterborne diseases are dropping. We’re seeing incredible progress in pretty much every indicator we look at. We now have decades of unarguable data supporting the fact that we are making real strides in combating extreme global poverty, but the majority of people simply don’t know. We are much closer to eradicating extreme global poverty than most people realize!
You called your book Hope Rising. I love that title because that is exactly what happened inside me when I heard these statistics of progress. Hope did rise up in me to say, “All right, we can do this thing!” I know you feel deeply about the nature of hope and how it is much more than just being optimistic about the future. Will you talk to us about that?
Hope is much more than optimism. It certainly is not wishful thinking. It’s a thing of grit and substance. Hope is what people cling to when they face the harsh realities of an unwelcome diagnosis. Hope is what gets that unemployed person out of bed to try again on his 20th job interview. Hope is something we all need. And, it’s what kids in extreme poverty need more than anything else. I think hope is made up of three key things. First, it has a clear vision of the better future. Second, it has at least one path to get there. And third, hope has guts. It has that internal courage and will to give that path a try. Wishful thinking or optimism doesn’t lead to change, but hope ignites the muscles of action. When those three things come together, that kind of hope can change the world — your personal world and entire societies. So, I don’t believe hope is just a nice, soft idea. Hope is one of the toughest motivators around.
I love that you make things really practical for people in this book. You talk about how we can all get involved in doing our part, as God is calling us, to eradicate extreme global poverty in our time. What can we do as individuals?
There are a lot of options, a lot of good causes, and a lot of things that really need to be done. But I think the most important thing is to begin with prayer and personal reflection about entering into the realities of the world’s suffering. Then, I believe the Holy Spirit will guide people into their unique calling.
After that reflection, I had a series of realizations that led me toward an even greater commitment to Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. I was aware of the benefits of addressing issues of infrastructure and the needs surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene. I knew that we need to address policy and justice issues. All of those things deal with the circumstances that surround poverty and are important. But I believe the heart of overcoming poverty lies in developing people, and with people development you get the most impact during their childhood. Compassion’s program contains the core components of really good child development — it’s comprehensive in a child’s life, it provides long-term involvement, and it points kids to the only true source of hope, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the tactical value of all these things really hit me, I understood that this Compassion thing that I was already involved in wasn’t just a cute thing to do to help out a kid. A Compassion sponsorship is actually a profoundly strategic approach to dealing with poverty. You enter into children’s lives with the message that “you matter,” you introduce them to Jesus, you give them protection and opportunity, and then you watch them flourish. Then those kids grow up to be the kinds of people who change their nations. When the poor themselves become the solutions to the problems they face in their societies, that is sustainable development. So for me, the simple and practical step toward tackling poverty is to sponsor a child through Compassion.