Meeting American Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn: Finding Hope in a Hungry World III by Prof. MK Othman

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Mr. Howard G. Buffet is a humanitarian per excellence and a first class photographer, a realist whose spoken and unspoken messages are strong enough to move “mountains”.  He wrote in his famous book: “I have found once I witnessed unnecessary death in our world, complacency is no longer an option. Once I met children who were drugged and turned into killers, I couldn’t pretend it should be someone else’s problem. And once I saw an entire generation of children in a refugee camp who had their future stolen, it changed me forever. I couldn’t just go home and forget they exit”.

Mr. John Ruan

His altruistic, charitable work took him to 130 countries working and living out of comfort zone, sometimes in life threatening circumstances, witnessing many things that continue to hunt him – “small children with shackles around their feet, slaves both to hunger and those who captured them”. He met many individuals who struggle on daily basis – a victim of human trafficking, forced prostitution, HIV, yet remain determined to press onwards in life – “hopeful that things will get better”.

The Buffett’s book, “40 chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World” is a book with real-life pictures that speak laud and clear messages on the sturdy need for the world to address human tragedy. A tragedy of “sleeping on empty stomach” in the midst of plenty, a tragedy of questioning the “humanity in us”, deliberate creation of conflicts to serve human ego and many similar antecedents. In those 44 years when he crisscrossed 130 countries in six continents, Buffett’s defined moment came, he was faced with sardonicism of lifethat malnourished people could be seen anywhere even at his backyard, West Virginia where he spotted Everett in 2001. “We visited Everett for a long time, and learned of his service in World War II and his love for his country; but also learned that his country had forgotten his sacrifice. He was old, tired and hungry”. The Everest’s case might be an isolated one in a developed country like USA but it is a most common casein our countries. One can vividly remember the case of retired men and women who littered the streets of Abuja some years back. They were dejected, homeless, and hopeless; in miserable condition with no gratuity or pension and ignored by the society. They were symbol of national disgrace. Thank God that the situation is changing. Another defining moment when Buffett met Dennis Avery; “sometimes in life someone makes a statement that changes your thinking, may be even your direction in life…in 1992, I had focused my philanthropy on conservation initiatives such as Cheetah preservation and mountain Gorillas… but Dennis’ statement that ‘no one will starve to save tree” became a clarifying moment’. It made him to understand that “maximizing agricultural production on well – suited land can meet the food needs of people while preventing the conversion of important ecosystems into farm land”. These defined moments made Buffett to invest millions of USD in philanthropy to create hopes to hopeless while protecting the world’s most endangered species and natural habitats. The phrase “no one will starve to save a tree” has made him to accept that the world contains some people who have little choice in how they treat nature but there are millions with options who must demonstrate the will to stand “our ground to put the future of our planet ahead of our own self interest” as failure will disrupt life’s delicate balance with severed consequences.

This was the story of one of the four men of fame, the pillars of World Food Prize Foundation at Des Moines, Iowa State, USA.

World Food Prize Building, Des Moines

Mr. John Ruan is the last but not the least in the four men of fame as mentioned in the first part of this article. He was an important pillar to the Foundation, in fact, he was acclaimed to be the founder of the World Food Prize Foundation and a longtime sponsor for its annual Prize. In 1997, Ruan endowed the World Food Prize with a $10 million gift. Since then, the Foundation had grown from strength to strength and became a global symbol for the creation hopes for the people down the ladder, looming in abject poverty and misery across the world. Ruan was born in 1914 in Iowa State, had his university degree in Business Admiration, Northwestern University, and was a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School. He was a consummate business icon who established his business outfit at the age of 18 during his undergraduate program. Ruan started his company on July 4, 1932 when his University tuition money ran out. He traded in the family car for a truck and quickly found success, growing to three trucks hauling coal within a year. At the time of demise, Ruan employed more than 4,700, operated 3,300 power units, 5,400 trailers and managed over 550,000 logistics shipments annually with revenues exceeding $860 million. Of course, his business empire was built over many decades through dint of hard work, dedication, acumen and destiny. John Ruan was driven by grit and determination during the period of economic depression, he ventured a one-truck business into Ruan Transportation Management Systems that became one of the American leading trucking, leasing, and logistics companies. The trucking business made John Ruan one of the wealthiest and most influential personalities in Iowa. That was the foundation for his vast fortune, which included interests in insurance, banking, financial services, international trade, and real estate. In the 1970s and 80s, Ruan led Des Moines’s renaissance with the construction of the 36-story original Ruan Center, the Marriott Hotel tower, and the Two Ruan Center office complex. In addition to successful management of Business Kingdom, Ruan sought out ways to help the less fortunate, privilege people.He recognized hunger and poverty as a major challenge in the world, Ruan set up the World Food Prize Foundation in 1990. Each year, the organization awards the international World Food Prize to acknowledge individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. His humanitarian mien made him established other philanthropic outlets.  The John Ruan Multiple Sclerosis Golf Exhibition is one of the largest charity fund-raising events in the United States. Ruan used the fund raised from the event to support ongoing research at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Lukes MS Clinic in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Ruan also sponsored the Ruan Neuroscience Center at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa. One of the top-ranked facilities of its kind, the Center provides quality care for people around the globe. Mr. Ruan passed away on February 13, 2010, at the age of 96.  More than 600 people paid him tribute at a Celebration of Life ceremony held on February 18, 2010.  He left his wife, Elizabeth; son John III, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. His daughter, Elizabeth Jayne Ruan Fletcher, and son Thomas Ruan died before him. Accolades on Mr. John Ruan are the testimony of a life a great man whose legacy outlived him.  “John Ruan was a recognized leader in business, education, and community, he was the visionary who formed the World Food Prize. But most importantly, he was a man of courage and conviction, a leader who made others stronger and better because they knew him.” said Thomas Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who was quoted by an online publication. “John knew what the Prize could become. He knew it would be the centerpiece to help solve world hunger and bring glory to Iowa,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of The World Food Prize Foundation.

The collective breakthrough by the four men of fame is inspiring with many lessons for us in Nigeria. The major lesson is how four men with diverse professions; two accomplished business men (Buffett and Ruan), a renowned scientist (Borlaug) and a retired diplomat (Quin) linked by personal desire to fight hunger and poverty at global level, built the world food prize foundation to its current efficacious status. Nigeria is blessed with men and women who excelled in their various disciplines at global arena. These distinguished personalities could come together to establish a joint foundation for the facilitation community development programs, conflicts resolution and promotion of unity in diversity. I hope the Dangotes, Adetolas, and many others are hearing me.The history can start today.

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