“It is a complex world we live in today. While one man orbits the earth in a space capsule, another man squats for hours besides an Asian rice paddy, trying to catch a fish only as big as your thumb. While some men manufacture computers, other men plow with sticks.”
Our Quote of the Week shines a light on the imbalances that exist in economic development and resources in our society. With technology advancing more and more rapidly, and without intentional efforts to invest in underserved communities, these imbalances will lead to greater and greater levels of inequality.
On October 18, 1962, Sargent Shriver gave a Speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC. He was Director of Peace Corps at the time, and the speech was intended to provide a status update on the Peace Corps as well as to show the value of the organization. The speech focused on the importance of every community having the resources it needed for its own development. Making a reference to an international conference on human resources he had just attended in Puerto Rico, he recounts a conclusion that the participants had reached:
”... the Peace Corps is not just a nice experiment in brotherhood and goodwill -- it is a major breakthrough in economic theory and practice [...] And so the Peace Corps -- this vague thing we thought just might work a year and a half ago -- has been seized by these nations as a way to weave human capital into the fabric of economic development. “
Sargent Shriver implemented the notion of mobilizing skilled human resources to meet the needs of communities not only with the Peace Corps, but also with the War on Poverty -- this was the model behind Americorps VISTA (formerly Volunteers in Service to America or VISTA), for example. A key feature of this model is that the community defines the resources that it needs -- and then requests those resources on its own terms.
In 2021, the imbalances in economic development and infrastructure between wealthy and poor communities are stark, as crises from COVID-19 to climate change continue to make economic divides and inequality more acute. The importance of serving and investing in disenfranchised communities is arguably more urgent than ever. We are in a moment when the scenario that Sargent Shriver describes in our Quote of the Week is eerily familiar. Indeed, we have individuals wealthy enough to “orbit the earth in a space capsule” with their own funds, while, according to UNICEF, one billion children are “multi-dimensionally poor” and 356 million “live in extreme poverty”.
Let us recommit to serving and investing in struggling communities, whether they are a few miles down the road, or on the other side of the planet. By doing so, we can create a more prosperous, sustainable, and therefore more just world.