Saturday night I had the chance to listen to a speech by a good friend (and also OU advisory trustee) Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Heifer International. You know Heifer, I hope. At the holidays, I suspect a number of you have given or received a Heifer gift: a cow, a yak, a gaggle of roosters, perhaps, sent on your behalf to a family in a rural village in one of the 52 countries they work. Pierre is an Atlanta guy. Worked at Coke. Chaired the Board of Ben and Jerry’s. One of the most interesting and endearing men I’ve ever met (and he happened to marry quite brilliantly too; yay Kimberly!). Heifer is based in Little Rock, right behind the Clinton Presidential Library, on the Arkansas River — in a beautiful platinum LEED building.
Pierre was asked by the Istanbul Center here in ATL to be the Saturday night keynote speaker at their annual friendship dinner. The topic — hunger and starvation. The setting — a five course meal at the Westin Hotel. Yup. Not an easy setting to deliver the story Pierre was about to share, but, in another way, maybe the perfect setting. After all, half of the food in America is wasted at the plate. Something for all of us to think about. For a CEO of an NGO, Pierre is quite a numbers guy. Nothing squishy about him. In Pierre’s world, it’s all about how to increase the efficiency of the services Heifer delivers; how to double the productivity of the smallholder farmers with whom they work; how to scale up the number of families they touch from 400,000 to 4 million.
I bet you didn’t know that 70% of the world’s food is grown by smallholder farmers — people working on less than 10 acres of land. There are 650 million of them. And if we could help double the productivity of these farms, they can feed the world. All seven billion of us, including the more than one billion who go to bed hungry each and every night. In Somalia alone, close to 750,000 will die of starvation by the end of 2012. Most of them will be children.
Heifer does amazing work. Their secret? Animals reproduce. In one village in Morocco, they are experiencing the 32nd generation of livestock from the original Heifer gift. Goats, I think he told us. All over the darn place. In return for the gift of an animal, each family promises to pass on the gift to another family. There are two secrets actually. The livestock multiply but so do the opportunities to become economically self-sufficient through the passing on of the gift. Last spring I was able to visit a Heifer site high in the mountains of Guatemala. One of the most amazing parts of the adventure was just getting there. The road came to an end and the remainder of our long journey was on foot, climbing and climbing with each step. You see, the poorest of the poor live in the remotest of the remote areas and that’s where Heifer does it work.
Over 90% of Heifer’s revenue comes at the holidays. Here’s your chance to pass on the gift.