Greg Lisovoy, “The Borgen Project is an innovative, national campaign that works with U.S. leaders to improve their response to the global poverty crisis”
The Dallas Telegraph sat down with Greg Lisovoy, Regional Director for The Borgen Project, to learn more about the organization that is a major advocate for the world’s neediest.
– Can you tell us what The Borgen Project is all about? What is the goal of this organization?
– Absolutely. The Borgen Project believes that leaders of the most powerful nation on earth should be doing more to address global poverty.
The Borgen Project is an innovative, national campaign that works with U.S. leaders to improve their response to the global poverty crisis. We fight extreme poverty with the intention to end global poverty and hunger. The focus of our advocacy is on newborn, child, and mother survival, global food security, and access to clean water. From ending segregation to providing women with the right to vote, nearly every wrong ever righted in history has been achieved through advocacy. The Borgen Project addresses the big picture. We operate at the political level advancing policies and programs that improve living conditions for those living on less than $1 per day. The Borgen Project averages over 100 high-level meetings per year with U.S. Congressional offices and has quickly become an influential voice for those struggling to survive.
– What is the history of the organization?
– In 1999, while working as a young volunteer in refugee camps during the Kosovo War, Clint Borgen recognized the need for an organization that could focus U.S. political attention on extreme poverty. In 2003, after graduating from Washington State University and interning at the United Nations, Borgen began developing his organization. In need of startup funding, Borgen took a job living on a fishing vessel docked in Dutch Harbor, Alaska (the same location from “The Deadliest Catch”). From humble beginnings in one of the most remote regions of the world, The Borgen Project was born. One man with a laptop and a budget that came from his Alaskan paychecks has evolved into a national campaign with volunteers operating in 220 U.S. cities.
– Can you tell us how you got involved with The Borgen Project, and what exactly you do for The Borgen Project?
– I have been working in the corporate world my entire career. As a career consultant, most of my time is spent helping customers become more efficient to generate more revenue. In my line of work I spend a lot of time advocating for a solution and finding its value for business. So when I started to look for a non-profit organization with which to get involved, I found that a lot of my skills and experience lends itself well to advocacy. The Borgen Project really stood out.
What really piqued my interest in The Borgen Project to the point of getting involved were two main factors: how far we have come in 20 years in reducing global poverty, proving to me that we can actually end it entirely, and how much reducing global poverty impacts our everyday life. I find that the grassroots approach is where it all begins. We must keep our congressional leadership accountable to drive change and that starts with getting behind the issues and funding the U.S. Foreign Aid Budget. So I got involved with The Borgen Project as a Regional Director. We are all volunteers at The Borgen Project. As a Regional Director, I am responsible for mobilizing people in my community to contact their congressional leaders to support poverty reduction legislation. I also meet with local congressional leaders and lobby for legislation that improves living conditions for those living on less than $1 per day. Finally, I manage and implement fundraising campaigns and build a network of people engaged in the cause. As you know, all politics is local, so our intention is to have high-impact advocates in each congressional district in the country.
– A lot of our readership is either of Russian (or the rest of the former Soviet Union) descent or closely related to someone in a Russian community. Why should our audience care about The Borgen Project or get involved?
– This is a great question! Let me answer the second question about involvement first. For each of us there should really be 3 main reasons to care about world poverty: humanitarian, security, and economic. Let’s work our way backwards. From an economic standpoint, 95% of the world’s population – all potential consumers of U.S. goods and products – live outside of the U.S. For our farmers and businesses to prosper, we must be globally engaged in helping transform poor regions into consumer regions. It just makes pure economic sense. From a security standpoint, improving conditions for the world’s poor is a cornerstone of the United States National Security Strategy. The Pentagon’s “3Ds” for protecting the U.S. are Defense, Development and Diplomacy. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” It is a well-known global phenomenon that poverty breeds fanaticism and the desire to revolt. It also breeds impressionable young people. This is a deadly combination. So, I’m convinced that lifting people out of poverty is the most strategic long-term investment we can make for our families’ and our country’s security and prosperity.
Now from the humanitarian standpoint. The number of people suffering from hunger is greater than the population of the U.S., Canada and the EU combined. 1 billion children are deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development. My favorite quote on this subject is by Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. ”I learned that we are much more interconnected than we want to admit, so our actions globally affect us locally and vice versa.
Now back to your first question. I can tell you why I am doing what I am doing and hopefully it resonates with your readers who share my background. I have lived half of my life in Russia and the other half here in the States. I have also been fortunate to travel around the world considerably. When you have lived and traveled abroad, the world suddenly gets smaller and you begin to realize how our actions here affect someone half way across the world and vice versa. While I can’t compare my upbringing in Russia to growing up somewhere where people live on less than $1, my parents came to the U.S. in order to improve the conditions of our family’s life, and it was because of that I have been able to thrive and prosper to the degree that I have. Also, I can somewhat relate to what it’s like to live in a country where there is a very recent history of an enormous gap between insanely rich and insanely poor, and not much in between. Now that I’ve been welcomed into this country and able to build lasting prosperity and financial security for my family, and have been able to see things from both sides, I want to encourage our leaders to do more than admit a quota of immigrants to thrive inside our borders, but to think and act more broadly by working to improve conditions throughout our shrinking world. Then, instead of patting our collective selves on the back for admitting a token number of the world’s “tired, poor, huddled masses,” we could actually help them and instead of admitting those needy people, we could admit their revenues and products.
Global poverty and hunger are such major issues in the world. How do you know they can be solved? Do you have any evidence that past efforts have had any impact? This may be the most important point I can make during this interview. World poverty and hunger are huge problems, but the solutions are actually easy, affordable, and proven to work. The FAO estimates that $30 billion a year is needed to implement the methods for cutting hunger in half. To put the figure in perspective, the United States gives more to its largest military contractor and spends over $663 billion a year on defense (more than the rest of the world combined). As for the success, here are some statistics that we gathered at The Borgen Project that shed some light on the good news in the war on poverty:
– Over the past 20 years, the number of the world’s chronically undernourished has been reduced by 50%.
– Life expectancy in the developing world has increased by about 33%.
– Smallpox has been eradicated worldwide.
– More than 3 million lives are saved every year through USAID immunization programs.
– During the 1990s, hunger was cut in half in China.
– 43 of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products were once U.S. foreign aid recipients.
– Between 1990 and 1993, US exports to developing and transitioning countries increased by $46 billion.
– In the past 50 years, infant and child death rates in the developing world have been reduced by 50%.
– What are some of the success stories of The Borgen Project and the impact they have in the world?
– In January of 2007, The Borgen Project joined several U.S. leaders and organizations to help save $1 billion that Congress planned to cut from global health funding. The amount might seem minuscule compared to the $120 billion that was allocated to the Iraq War that year, but $1 billion in global health funding accomplishes the following:
– Provides treatment for 1.5 million people with malaria.
– Provides 6.3 million people with bed nets to prevent malaria.
– Provides 3.7 million people with HIV tests.
– Provides 110,000 people with AIDS treatment.
– Provides 800,000 people with treatment for TB.
In 2009, The Borgen Project met with over 100 congressional offices while building support for Global Food Security initiatives on Capitol Hill. The Borgen Project also reached over 100,000 people through public awareness campaigns and helped mobilize thousands of people to contact their congressional leaders in support of legislation addressing global food security. As a result, in 2010, with momentum for Global Food Security on Capitol Hill, the Obama Administration established the Feed the Future program and allocated $3.5 billion in the budget proposal to help poor nations feed themselves. This program would provide the resources for 60 priority countries to develop the strategies to become self-sufficient and prevent future food crises.
– What would you say to people who think “I’m not a politician, I’m not the right fit for an organization like this”?
– Those involved in The Borgen Project have an array of backgrounds. Current participants are doctors, lawyers, bankers, students, entertainment industry people, US Army Veterans, political gurus, and many more! The individuals involved in The Borgen Project truly represent the global nature of the world we live in and the diversity of voters to whom our political leaders are supposed to answer.
– How can our readers learn more about The Borgen Project and where would they go should they want to get involved?
– Our website offers a wealth of information about the cause, the impact of our work and much more at www.borgenproject.org. There are many ways to help the cause and I encourage everyone to check out the 30 Ways to Right a Wrong on our website. Also, we are always looking for proactive and passionate individuals to be a part of our Regional Director Program. As I mentioned, this is a volunteer position that promotes the development of advocacy and fundraising skills.
Check out the openings on our website http://borgenproject.org/volunteer-opportunities/.
By The Dallas Telegraph
Photo by The Borgen Project