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Teaching the world to fish

Forty years ago, Lee Valkenaar was a young man meditating on how to end global poverty. Today, he is making more than good on those dreams as co-chairman of the board at the Whole Planet Foundation, the private, nonprofit established by Whole Foods Market. I had the good fortune of sharing a table with Valkenaar last night during the 18th annual Organic Harvest Benefit in San Francisco. Put on each year by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), the event brings together an inspiring bunch of people like Valkenaar who care about food, farmers, the environment and communities around the globe.

Valkenaar, who is the newest member of the OFRF board, joined the Whole Planet Foundation in 2008, after a long career on “the profit side” (as he put it) of Whole Foods Market. The mission of the foundation is to provide microloans to people in Latin America, Africa and Asia. From the woman in East Timor who used her loan to start a produce stand to the rural baker in Nicaragua who was able to expand her tortilla business, the foundation is giving underserved entrepreneurs around the world the financial support necessary to jump-start often life-changing community enterprises. The work is akin to the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Listening to Valkenaar talk about the foundation’s work and how it is enabling Whole Foods’ customers and employees to help make a difference in the world reinforced what I love most about the natural and organic industry: People care. But more than that, they make good things happen—and that is something we all can support.

What are you or your company doing to help bring about positive change in your community or communities around the globe? I would love to hear and share your stories.

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