02 Jun 2015
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Pointing the Way to a Better World

New book reveals the pathways for anyone hoping to effect social change
by Margie Kelley

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“As a journalist. I can’t be an advocate,” insists Sheryl WuDunn (MBA 1986) about the subject matter of her latest book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, which she coauthored last year with her husband, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Advocacy aside, WuDunn has no problem in presenting facts that lead to change. An in-depth look at proven, evidence-based strategies, A Path Appears is a kind of primer on how anyone—indeed, WuDunn hopes, everyone—can help to make the world a better place.

By telling the stories of people and organizations that are doing just that—whether it’s building wells in an Ethiopian village, improving educational opportunities for girls in Kenya, or stopping the cycle of violence in American cities—WuDunn and Kristof aim to show the profound impact that even one person can have in elevating the circumstances of another human being’s life. Then the authors go much deeper—analyzing the roles of both nonprofits and for-profit companies in making significant impacts, and offering conclusive data-supported proof of the approaches that are working.

“We’re simply telling the story of what is happening on the ground—about the problems and how people are coming up with solutions,” WuDunn says. “We invite everyone to learn and act in some way.”

WuDunn, also a former New York Times reporter, and Kristof won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on China’s Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. They are no strangers to encouraging people to get involved in global issues. The pair have coauthored three other books: China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power; Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia; and the 2009 bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which focuses on the daily brutality faced by women and girls around the world and offered dozens of ways for readers to take action to help improve these women’s social, economic, and educational conditions.

Half the Sky sparked many readers to act, and it also led WuDunn and Kristof to explore the other side of the equation—the people and organizations working on the solutions. The couple spent a year reporting on the ground, from around the world, and then compiled their conclusions for A Path Appears.

The result, says WuDunn, is a hopeful guide to helping solve even the thorniest of problems via multiple proven approaches—through charities, social enterprises, philanthropy, and public policy, and perhaps most critically, the efforts of individuals.

“I think Half the Sky and A Path Appears have both had quite an impact,” she says.

“What we’re really saying here is that we need to have a lot of people involved and to show they care in order to bring about change It’s not going to work to assume there are people in this or that nonprofit saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to lift people out of poverty.’ It’s not going to happen that way. We need to have a groundswell of public opinion that says we care about these issues.”

WuDunn and Kristof won’t deny their role in inspiring action through their extensive reporting on poverty, oppression, and the lack of opportunity faced by millions of people worldwide. Just as they did with Half the Sky, the pair spent a year filming a three-part documentary for A Path Appears, which premiered this winter on PBS. The film follows a variety of notable public figures as they travel with WuDunn and Kristof to learn about the crushing effects of poverty; the underground world of sex trafficking; and the struggle to provide every young child with a strong start in school. They then show how these problems are being met with innovative solutions that can be supported by everyone.

WuDunn took time away from her “day job” as managing director at Mid-Market Securities, a small New York investment firm specializing in new media and emerging markets, in order to research and write the book, film the documentary, and promote both projects on a speaking tour last fall. While she returns to her financial work this year, she knows the book’s work—to inspire change—is far from over.

Whether it’s fighting for access to early childhood education or ending poverty, she says that A Path Appears gives every person the power to make a difference. “We want the responsibility to rest with each individual—there are no leaders in this.”

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