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Nicholas Kristof shares five lessons on how to change the world

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist spoke in Victoria as part of Capital Daily’s speaker series

By Jolene Rudisuela
June 28, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Nicholas Kristof shares five lessons on how to change the world

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist spoke in Victoria as part of Capital Daily’s speaker series

Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Nicholas Kristof shares five lessons on how to change the world

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist spoke in Victoria as part of Capital Daily’s speaker series

By Jolene Rudisuela
June 28, 2022
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Nicholas Kristof shares five lessons on how to change the world
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

On Monday, Capital Daily hosted two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and long-time New York Times political commentator Nicholas Kristof for our latest Capital Daily Live, presented by United Way Southern Vancouver Island.

Weaving in stories from his decades of covering war, genocide, and poverty, Kristof detailed five lessons he has learned on how we can all change the world—in big ways or small.

“The most important forces of change go beyond leaders,” he said, adding that while leadership matters, so do a lot of other social forces.

Lesson 1: Education changes everything

Kristof spoke at length about the importance of education—a theme throughout the talk. Education, he said, puts people on the right path and slows the cycle of poverty and addiction in disadvantaged communities.

The gap in education in some parts of the world—especially between girls and boys—is striking, but it is not quite as pronounced, or at least as visible, in North America.

Kristof recalled a school in an impoverished Chinese village that received funding for educating girls thanks to an article that he wrote. At the time, many families were sending their sons to school, but not their daughters because of the cost of tuition. Looking back at the impact of that funding years later, the well-being of the village as a whole had increased more than any of the other communities in the region. More people were able to return and support the village.

Lesson 2: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not

On the theme of education, Kristof emphasized that it is often circumstance that leads to poverty and addiction.

He pointed to working class communities that are tied to industries subject to unpredictability or that are being phased out. Members of these communities often struggle with unemployment and poverty due to a lack of opportunity. Some may self-medicate.

More opportunities and grants to retrain workers and get them back into the workforce are essential, Kristof said, to give opportunities back to these communities.

Lesson 3: Side by side with the worst of humanity, you find the best

The thing that has kept Kristof going through decades of reporting on human rights and social issues is the human strength of people who have been challenged in ways that we have not.

While we often focus on the negatives, there are countless stories of people advocating for change and of real progress around the world.

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Globally, nearly half of humans died in childhood as of 1950. As of last decade, that statistic has dropped to 4%.

Fewer than 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty as of 2015, versus 42% in 1981.

There has been a 60% decline in teen pregnancies since the recent peak in the ’90s.

There are good things happening, and we shouldn’t get lost in the negatives.

Lesson 4: For solutions, don’t think silver bullets; think silver buckshot

Complex problems can’t be solved with one easy solution; it takes a coordinated effort with various approaches to address issues like homelessness and addiction in communities.

Kristof listed off ways to address each of these issues that have worked in other countries and cities that could be applied locally. To reduce homelessness, more housing is needed, and long processes to build that housing slows down progress and raises costs. Everyone who is unhoused should be accounted for and helped individually to help meet their specific needs, and long-term issues like education and job training need to be addressed to ensure everyone can afford housing.

Addressing mental health and addiction is also important to reduce homelessness, but that also needs a multifaceted approach. Kristof spoke of the importance of having accessible treatment and long-term programs. While he thinks that decriminalizing drug use does help get people into treatment, far more treatment options need to be available. Currently, there are treatment options for opioids, but no good options for meth. Finally, he expressed that addressing the things that can lead to self-medication, like childhood trauma, loneliness, and despair, need more focus.

Lesson 5: Don’t scoff at drops in the bucket

Sometimes it can feel like individuals don’t have the power to create change, but Kristof argued that, in fact, we do. We don’t have to solve a larger problem to make a difference; while a small donation won’t solve the education disparity in the Middle East, it can send a girl to school for a year.

Help us plan our next Capital Daily Live event. Take our events survey here, regardless of whether you attended the Kristof lecture.

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