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The global state of Washington state

It’s natural to become a bit self-centered when times are tough and uncertain.

Yet times are tough all over (for most, the 99 percent?, of us anyway) — and a lot tougher and uncertain for those living in the poorer parts of the world.

Today is the kick-off of an event by Global Washington aimed at counteracting our natural tendency toward self-absorption (and even good old American isolationism) — by celebrating, and fostering, the growth of Washington state’s global development community.

The global state of mind in Washington state, says Global Washington executive director Bookda Gheisar, is needed now more than ever.

“I think most people understand generally that a healthy global economy is good for all of us,” said Gheisar. “But many people think we spend something like 20 to 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid and development when it is really less than one percent.”

The Seattle area has a long history in international commerce, involving items such as airplanes, timber, coffee or software. Because of that, people here may understand better that assisting the poor overseas benefits us, she said.

Washington state has a case to make that assisting others around the world isn’t about charity so much as it is about common sense, she added.

“It’s just stupid for people to be arguing about homelessness here versus hunger overseas. It’s not a competition.”

Global WA’s conference kicks off this morning with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn declaring Nov. 1 as Global Action Day. Here’s the video version of the Mayor’s proclamation:

Washington: The Global State from Incite on Vimeo.

The context – a growing “industry” or a “hodgepodge”

At Humanosphere, we do our best to document the vibrant, innovative and exploding community of enterprising humanitarians locally.The planet’s largest charitable organization, World Vision, is based here as is the world’s largest philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But it’s much more than the big guys. There are hundreds of smaller organizations, many of them run by young people.

There are many businesses doing “social enterprise” and efforts to coordinate that as well.

The once sleepy field of global health, thanks largely to the Gates Foundation’s local investments in mostly local non-profit organizations like PATH and Seattle Biomed, has even been designated an emerging industry for the region. I have some problems with calling it an ‘industry,’ but that’s another one of those semantic challenges we have trying to describe these things. Moving on ….

There’s no question this part of our community — whatever we want to call it — is big and getting bigger. But it is still a bit of a hodgepodge since many organizations tend to operate in isolation, doing their own good thing.

That maybe didn’t matter so much when times were good and everyone was feeling generous. But times are not so good. Some are beginning to think locally and ignore or refuse the globally part.

Bill Clapp

Global Washington’s meeting this year is entitled “Opportunities and Obstacles in Turbulent Times” largely for this reason. The call to action is more than some symbolic gesture, says Bill Clapp, one of our region’s leading philanthropists and with his wife Paula the founder of Global Washington.

“The collective work of our member organizations has tremendous impact, economically and socially, at home and abroad,” said Clapp. “At a time when our nation’s foreign assistance budget is at risk of being cut, it is all the more important that we rally together to make a difference in the lives of others around the world and right here in Washington state.”

Clapp believes, like many here, that this region has an exceptionally internationalist perspective — and one that is under increasing threat due to the political dialogue and the economic hardships that (as noted) tend to make us focus on our own problems rather than others in need elsewhere.

Want to attend, or watch the webcast?

Anyone is welcome to attend the conference, Gheisar noted, which runs through tomorrow in Redmond on the Microsoft campus. Speaking after Mayor McGinn today is Victoria Hale, founder of the world’s first non-profit drug company, One World Health, and now CEO of a similar venture called Medicines360.

On Tuesday, travel writer Rick Steves talks about how to make travel a ‘political act.’

If you can’t attend, you can still watch some of the speakers today and tomorrow on a webcast at Global Washington’s website starting at 8:30 a.m. with McGinn’s proclamation of Global Action Day.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.