#6: David Beckmann
“People like me who want more money to help reduce poverty in the world ought to be also doing our part to insist that the systems work well. I think we need a stronger development agency, some voice in the U.S. government, a strong voice that can speak up for poverty reduction, global development, and carry that out in an effective way.”
As president of Bread for the World, David Beckmann realized early on that he couldn’t advocate on behalf of world hunger on his own. Frustrated by the chronic political inaction that constrained progress, he decided to take matters into his own hands, forming a grassroots organization he has called “an organized ‘give a damn.’”
In recognition, Beckmann was the recipient of the 2010 World Food Prize, an award honoring individuals—who have included political giants Bob Dole and George McGovern—who have worked tirelessly toward increasing the availability and quality of food in the world.
Beckmann, a Lutheran minister and economist, became president of Bread for the World in 1991. His tenure has brought the organization exceptional success: over the past 10 years, through engaging local church congregations, his army of activists has increased by 30,000 people, and now numbers 72,500.
His achievements have been irresistible to politicians. Today, his coalition has representatives in each of the country’s 435 congressional districts. When Beckmann pushes for legislation and policy reforms, he’s often successful: since 2000, Congress has tripled its development assistance, doubled funding for domestic food programs and nutritional awareness, and quadrupled U.S. aid to Africa.
Recently, Beckmann lobbied for two pieces of legislation: one to fund agricultural science and technology, another supporting economic development in impoverished areas of Africa. He is an advocate for policy research into long-term solutions that, he hopes, will decrease hunger at home and abroad. “We can’t food-bank our way to the end of hunger,” he told the Huffington Post.
Beckmann’s greatest skill may be his ability to humanize the issue in a way we can all understand, through stressing the devastation caused by continually missing meals:
All of us know it. If you miss lunch, you’re not very productive in the afternoon. If you haven’t had enough to eat and you’re a landless laborer, you kind of do a calculation at the beginning of the morning. It’s not [done] consciously, but you figure, “What’s my chance of getting a job today?” And if you walk to five or six farms, is it gonna be worth … burning up those calories to get work?
So, people who are hungry chronically look lazy … because they don’t have the kind of energy that God meant them to have. And then the damage on children is terrible. They can’t learn. If they don’t eat … they can’t behave in school.
To Beckmann, there is simply too much at stake to sit idly by. There are charities he’ll recommend—Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Save the Children—but the most powerful way to give your time and money, he says, is simple: “Put pressure on our elected officials.”
He would know.
The Top 10 Good Men of 2010
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage