David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, a member based organization advocating to "strengthen U.S. political commitment to overcome hunger and poverty in this country and globally." He spoke on February 28th as part of the Albers Executive Speaker Series, with the theme, "Exodus from Hunger." His talk was co-sponsored with the College of Arts and Science, School of Theology and Ministry, and Campus Ministry.
In his opening remarks, Beckmann noted it was not typical for his talks to be sponsored by a business school, but SU is where he would expect it to happen!
One of the points Beckmann made was that when it comes to improving living standards, we are making progress globally. He used an example of Bangladesh, where he worked 35 years ago and recently returned to visit. In travelling to the remote village that he lived in, the improvements in the quality of life there were quite striking - ranging from the quality of housing stock, to flood control construction, to paved roads, to better nutrition, to cell phones. The example shows that when measured over decades and not year to year, we really are making progress in fighting poverty.
As for our own country, Beckmann said our progress against hunger and poverty basically stopped in 1974, and we have not moved the needle since. He attributes this to simply not trying to address the issue. The agenda of his organization is to restore the political will to address poverty in the US.
In terms of advice for students, he noted that when you are young and have fewer commitments, you have more flexibility and should use that freedom to work on really important issues. He also observed that it is a good time to take chances, and he observed that we are often too risk averse.
Beckmann also said that students should not underestimate what advocacy can accomplish, and even small changes do add up and positively affect people.
To illustrate that, he told the story of his adopted son, Andrew. When Andrew turned 18 and looked up his birth mother, they learned she had been a struggling student and used the WIC program to insure she was adequately nourished during her pregnancy. It was during those same years that Bread for the World was battling to protect the WIC program from cut backs, so the work of Bread for the World had a very palpable impact on Beckmann and his family. He added that the birth mother became a member of Bread for the World shortly after being contacted by Andrew because she understood the importance of the WIC program and thus the importance of the work of Bread for the World.
As a school offering a specialization in International Economic Development, it should not be surprising that we would want to host the President of Bread for the World. Of course, when Beckmann describes himself as a "Lutheran Jesuit," there is all the more reason to have him visit campus!