Monday, December 29, 2008

Power of One

In the winter of 1991, Nora Gross, a 4 yr old and her father were walking down the street in their neighborhood when we passed a homeless man. For some reason, this man struck her differently from all the other homeless people she had seen on the streets of her neighborhood. Perhaps it was the way he shivered in the cold winter air, or the friendly smile he gave her as they passed. Whatever it was, she felt particularly compelled to help him–to do more than put the dollar her dad would normally pass to her to put into his cup. As they walked by, she asked her dad, “Can we take him home dad?”

The story goes that later on; she went on to collect over $1000 in the form of pennies with her father’s help which she donated to various organizations. She also along with her father, Teddy Gross, founded the nonprofit organization Penny Harvest. She and her dad came on Oprah show and her story inspired Oprah to launch her own charity organization in 1997.

There are lots of problems in this world that need attention, but we all think that we are powerless and wonder what we can do when big governments are not able to do much. But we forget about the power of ONE. No, I am not talking about Bryce Courtney's novel, "The Power of One", I am talking about the power that lies within each one of us. There are many examples in the world where one person or a group of people did not wait for the government or the appropriate organization to change things. They took it upon themselves to take actions and drive a change which then turned into a huge movement making a paramount difference to the society. I would like illustrate my message through few stories

Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai is an environmental and political activist who became first African woman to receive the 2004, Nobel Peace Prize for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement which organizes poor rural women in Kenya to plant trees which combats deforestation. In Africa by the way, trees are their main source of fuel for cooking. So this process not only sustains that source but also prevents soil erosion Since Maathai started the movement in 1977, over 30 million trees have been planted. Over 30,000 women have been trained in forestry, food processing, bee-keeping, and other trades that help them earn income, while preserving their lands and resources. She has come to be affectionately called "Tree Woman" or "The Tree Mother of Africa."

I have another story on power of one. Now few individuals choose to walk away at the height of their corporate career to dedicate their life to a social cause. At age 35, John Wood did just that - quitting his position as Microsoft's Director of Business Development in order to found an organization called Room to Read.

His story goes this way…In 1998, John took a vacation that would changed his life. Trekking through a remote Himalayan village, he struck up conversation with a school teacher, who invited John to visit his school. There, John discovered that the school had 450 students and there were fewer than 20 books available which were considered so precious that they were kept under lock and key - to protect them from the children!

What started with a simple email requesting friends to donate used books has grown into an award winning non-profit organization called “Room to Read”, that over the past 8 years has established over 5,100 libraries, done several other things like publishing millions of books, build schools, fund thousands scholarships for girls, impacting the lives of over 1.7 million students worldwide. Again all this, because one person decided that he is going to change something that struck a chord with his heart.

So there are lots of problems in the world like I said. To throw out some statistics…there are over 800 million people who are starving, 1 billion people who lack clean drinking water, 2 billion with lack of sanitation, 2 million dying from AIDS each year, 940 million illiterate adults and several billion people who will be affected by global warming.

I know 2009 is going to be tough year from an economy perspective, but I still consider many of us who live in the developed and the developing world as very fortunate beings. Life has provided us with the opportunities to make a good life for ourselves, but there are vast majority of others who never got that chance. So you need to think among the various tough challenges that this world faces, which one, whether it is climate change or communicable diseases, conflicts or hunger, education or sanitation and drinking water, is close to your heart to use your power of one to contribute and make a change.

Oprah Winfrey wrote on her website, after hearing about Nora Gross, she started thinking, if a 4 year old girl could do that, she wondered what she could do? So a little girl’s deeds inspired a very influential person in this world to start her own charity organization. And Oprah is doing so much good in America as well as in Africa.

You could be doing something that you think is small, but never doubt the power of one. Even a small difference is a change and who knows your deeds might inspire a hundred more to do the same. Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist once said: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So I urge, all of you who are reading this to use the power of one which is in you to make a difference in this greater world that we live in.

PS: I would like dedicate this posting of "Power of One" to Guy Kawasaki who has been constant inspiration and encouragement to me. You can check out his blog at

Update 12/30/08: Guy Kawasaki tweeted this blog post on twitter!


  1. The Power of One is probably the most underutilized resource on the planet. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Awesome! My favourite quote is: if you think small is insignificant try sleeping in the same room as a mosquito

    Small can be very mighty and indeed every change starts with just one person really


    Al (@altepper on twitter)
    @altepper on twitter

  3. Wow! The story of Nora Gross is really inspiring. Thanks for posting.

  4. Fantastic examples of what commitment of an individual to philanthropy can do. Couple of days ago I posted an article about integrating giving into DNA of the startups, so there is no excuse later on.
    Would love to hear some examples from founders of companies about their commitment to give back to society.

    Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius

  5. This is a fabulous post, which I have just plattered across my internet world :) Thanks for taking the time to articulate the concept so well.

  6. This is a powerful post. An excellent reminder to all of us. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. Fantastic post! It is scary to think what we could do if we all made an effort to give back. I think many adults want to help in some way, but are afraid or discouraged by the enormity of the task ahead. Children, like Nora, don't see the impossibility of helping, but only the possibility, and don't delay in taking action, but instead move ahead with a sense of purpose and urgency. We could all learn from Nora.

  8. Thank you Mike, Al, Rahul, Apolinaras, Soren, NotAMeanGirl, Gretchen, Top Surf and Melissa for your supportive comments. Special Thanks to Guy Kawasaki and Soren for spreading my post on the internet.

    I wrote this piece a while back for a speech that I gave in front of a small group of people. But when I wrote the speech, I realized that the message was so powerful that it needed to be shared with wider audience. So my hope is even if you don't forward my post, please spread the message. You and me, each one of us can work to make this world a better place one step at a time.