Today, ONE Board Member Howard G. Buffett is launching his new book, “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.” The book captures his journey to put more than $3 billion over the course of 40 years toward ending extreme poverty. In this piece, he shares his inspiration behind the book.
Each of us has about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life. I learned this first through agriculture, because all farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. I had an “aha moment” when I realized that this applies not just to farmers like me but to all of us, because we all have about 40 productive years in our career to do the best job we can and create the change we want to see. For me, that change is eradicating hunger.
Embracing the 40 Chances mindset means that we must get outside of our comfort zones, that we have to break down barriers set up by others, and that we cannot always accept the status quo when it’s simply not working. Through my travels around the world and in my own backyard of Decatur, Illinois, I’ve learned and relearned this many times—I have found that once I had witnessed unnecessary death in our world, it meant that complacency was no longer an option. Once I had met children who were drugged and turned into killers, I couldn’t just pretend it should be someone else’s problem. And once I had seen an entire generation of children in a refugee camp who had their futures stolen from them, it changed me forever. I couldn’t just go home and forget that they exist.
I have spent more than a decade trying to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on earth, and they’ve taught me countless lessons. I have had both failures and successes (usually in that order, and with fewer of the latter than the former) while investing more than $300 million in development, traveling to 115 countries, and working and living in a variety of circumstances. I have witnessed many things that continue to haunt me—small children with shackles around their feet, slaves both to hunger and those who have captured them. And I have met many individuals who struggle on a daily basis—a woman named Mirna in Guatemala who fell victim to poverty, human trafficking, forced prostitution, and HIV. And yet, many of these individuals remain determined to press onwards in life—hopeful that things will get better. The memories etched in my mind are both difficult and encouraging, but they make up the experiences that drive me forward. Memories that I will be sharing with you in “40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World.”
I have worked with so many extraordinary people who have committed their 40 chances to improve the lives of the least fortunate in our world. Most of them are everyday heroes, such as Ed Price and Joe DeVries, who have put solving complex problems above their own interests and working with others above self-promotion. The challenges they face are tough, even seemingly impossible. But they are working on the frontlines of poverty alleviation and economic development, always taking smart risks through their 40 chances. And what they’re doing is working. Their success is invariably contingent on changing the way people think, building relationships across social and cultural boundaries, and bringing in new resources and expertise. But they’re doing it, and we can learn so much from their experiences. In “40 Chances,” I tell their stories and many others, and I hope that they will inspire you as much as they have inspired me.
Approaching life through “40 Chances” gives reasons to hope and actions to take, and it offers fresh approaches that our world desperately needs. On our blog, through the book, and via Facebook and Twitter, I look forward to sharing with you the stories of my 40 chances. I hope that they give you new ways of thinking as you accomplish your goals—wherever you may be and whatever you are doing to make a difference—to transform each of your limited chances into opportunities to change the world.