Navigating the Charity World, Kristof and WuDunn Visit Hartford's Stowe Center

Sep 28, 2015

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, and Sheryl WuDunn were the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Their latest book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity looks at people with great ideas who are making the world a better place and calls upon all of us to do our part.

The authors write convincingly about the cost-effectiveness of doing good. They underscore that by helping others, you always help yourself.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center brings Kristof and WuDunn to Hartford's Immanuel Congregational Church on September 29, 2015.


On Pope Francis's recent visit to the United States:

Nicholas Kristof: I think that the excitement, the electricity about the pope’s visit, even among non-Catholics does reflect this kind of yearning for a sense of greater fulfillment or a spiritual connection for a purpose beyond ourselves. I think that there are so many Americans that are groping for that but are also a little put-off by what they hear about corruption or inefficiency or just failures of the social justice sector, and just a kind of a puzzlement about whether anything really will make a difference or whether the cause is hopeless.

Sheryl WuDunn: We do have a case where we have a new Pope who is changing the approach to being a Pope. And I think that's what we are trying to convey, that you can take any kind of traditional role and just look at it in a different way and you can just revolutionize the way you play out that role. Just the way Pope Francis is changing the role of Pope.

On how people who want to help but don't know where to begin:

WuDunn: What we tend to tell people is that [you should] pick an area that you care about. Pick a part of the world that you care about and then find an organization. 

Kristof: I think one of the problems with the way we give is that we tend to give to those that are good at asking, who aren’t necessarily the ones who are good at spending.

What we would suggest is, as Sheryl says, pick a particular cause and then just do a little bit of poking around. And we hope our book can offer some help on that front, to find an organization that is trust-worthy and that really does make a difference.

Orson: Is there a way to summarize any kind of common underlying denominators that you may have found in your wide ranging research to ideas that really work and make a difference what are the common factors.

On common denominators among organizations that succeed in making a difference:

WuDunn: The ones that have broader success are the ones that rely on evidence and data.

Kristof: There’s really been kind of a revolution in the last fifteen years or so going from self-evaluation and really kind of gut instincts to carefully measuring interventions as if they were pharmaceutical trials. And you learn powerful things from these.

One of the groups we write about is called Reach Out and Read, which costs $20 a year and gives low-income kids around the U.S. access to books and coaching from pediatricians to their parents about the importance of reading. And when you randomly assign some kids to it, those kids get read to more, they end up doing better in school, they have a bigger vocabulary.