I had the incredible fortune of reading Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. It's a book written by the son and grandson of legendary investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet. Of course given Buffet's fame, his son and grandson are relatively less known in most of the world but I urge readers to Google Howard G. Buffet (HGB) and Howard W. Buffet (HWB) who have done some amazing work and lived very interesting lives.
Unlike the children of many well-off and accomplished people, Buffet's children lead comfortable but never elite lives. None of the children actually even completed colleges (a theory on life most assiduously propounded by Peter Thiel, but that's a topic for another day), but went on to lead very fulfilled lives.
The title is premised around the the concept of forty chances in agriculture - the belief that each farmer has approximately forty good years at farming and hence forty tries at improving his yield. HGB is a farmer owning more than 1500 acres in America's bread basket, the midwest, and Warren Buffet in his annual letter to shareholders has even called his investment in that farm one of his greatest investments ever. HGB translates that same concept to all arenas, believing that we all have about 40 chances to improve upon our ideas and goals. Of course it's always about perspectives, and this way of thinking creates a sense of urgency of making each day count.
HGB and HWB tell 40 stories throughout the book detailing various experiences they've had in their experiences both globally and at home, and the books gives some incredible insight on global hunger crises and the role that sustainable agriculture needs to play to feed a growing population with farmland and top soil around the world becoming increasingly strained. There are 1 billion hungry people throughout the world. Think about that for a second. One billion! The world also needs to increase agricultural productivity by 70% in order to feed the entire population. HGB has had many adventures which he recounts, from being a volunteer deputy sherif to globe trotting photographer to soup kitchen volunteer.
I also really liked Howard Buffet's challenge to N.G.Os and not-for-profits around the world to have a plan to end their very existence. Sir Michael Barber in his report on Pakistan's education sector delivery says something similar, providing aid with the aim of reaching a stage where it would become wholly unnecessary (essentially a midpoint between the famed Sachs vs. Easterly debate of the two schools of thought on aid; it's highly desirable and we need more of it vs. it's wasteful, skewed and promotes corruption and hence the taps must be closed). The Sir Michael report was also endorsed by the World Bank President and public health expert Jim Yong Kim (or "Stinky Pete" as Conan O'Brien called him in his profound graduation address to Dartmouth). For HWB this means that his foundation (for which Warren Buffet gave $2 Billion) has a mission to distribute, quickly but smartly and wrap up its very existence within 40 years of its founding. Now that's a fascinating idea!
At the end of the book, I have been wishing that more people took the time out to volunteer in soup kitchens (and that more soup kitchens existed esp. in Pakistan) and understood the complexities of malnutrition and hunger in their respective societies. I for one, consider myself deeply blessed after reading this book (the concept of the "ovarian lottery" espoused by Warren Buffet in his introduction to the book really hit a chord), and also very inspired to abet change around me and do something before its too late. I hope to use my Forty Chances wisely!