Wesleyan associate dean Alice Hadler recently had a sit down with Ben Firn, a Wesleyan 2 Degrees campus director. Topics ranged from corporate social responsibility to the efficacy of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods. There’s a lot to learn in this interview. Enjoy!
Ben: So I have heard from Matt Gregory, Director of Operations and Supply Chain at 2 Degrees, that you and your husband have been involved with public health programs for a while. Do you want to tell me a little about your background?
Alice: Well public health is really his thing; I am more on the education side. As far as our involvements with public health go, we started out on the Navajo Indian reservation where Jim was one of the first people to implement what’s now called Directly Observed Therapy (DOTS) for tuberculosis treatment, working with a community health worker program (part of what Paul Farmer does). Anyway, so that’s where the interest got started. Then we worked in the South Pacific for a while on a World Health Organization project where I was the number one
volunteer. Eventually, we ended up back in Connecticut. We spent a year in a
medical college in China in the early 80’s, which was very interesting. Today’s China
is not even related to the place it was at that time. It has made about 150 years-
worth of change in the last 30 years.
Ben: There are currently over 160 million children under the age of 5 who are
malnourished. One solution that many organizations, such as Partners in Health, are
implementing is the use of RUTF packs (Ready to Use Therapeutic food packs). Do
you think these packs are an effective, permanent solution?
Alice: Well, apparently it is very effective. It seems to me it’s ideal for acute
situations rather than chronic ones. Take Kibera, for example. It makes sense as a
solution for people who need to get back to a reasonable level of nutrition so that
they can then continue to live. But if, after that, normal food is not available, then I
Ben: I had a debate in an anthropology class last semester. We talked
about how Coca-Cola started an initiative to save polar bears. I don’t know if
you have seen polar bears on Coke cans or the Superbowl advertisements. The
general question was: can a capitalistic, for-profit organization genuinely promote
Alice: In theory, they can. In practice, they generally don’t. Sometimes you have to
embarrass them into it, and maybe that’s ok.
Ben: So what do you think is the best way for a college student to give back to the
community or to an organization without donating or writing checks? Because, most
students are obviously not in that financial position.
Alice: Well, I think the kinds of things you guys are doing. You are in a position
to be able to sell these things here and people here are in a position to buy them.
There are a lot of Wesleyan foundations out there, and hopefully some kind of
collaboration can be achieved.
Ben: Yeah. As you were saying earlier it is so hard to start an organization or to start
a successful company with a mission. It is better to join forces, especially if there is
any common interest between 2 groups.
Alice: Exactly. There is no point in pretending you are the only ones doing
Ben: So, as you know Chris Law and I have succeeded in selling 2 Degrees bars
to Bon Appetit [Management co. at Wesleyan]. We have made a video and recently
got interviewed by the Argus, but do you have any creative ideas about how the bars
and mission can be further integrated on campus?
Alice: Hmm. I think you need to show up at everything. Are you coming to this
Wesleyan Forum on International Development?
Ben: Most likely. I got a Facebook invitation but still need to look further into it. So what is your favorite 2 Degrees flavor?
Alice: Probably Chocolate-Peanut.
Ben: We have a new flavor, Chocolate-Banana. It’s made for people with nut
allergies. This is yours to keep. Try it and tell me what you think.
Ben: As you know 2 Degrees works with Partners in Health. What are your thoughts of them as an organization? Do you have any particular experiences you want to share?
Alice: They’re the best. I don’t know. They are getting so big that I no longer feel
like I have a real sense of what they are like. I met Paul Farmer a few years ago
when he came to Wesleyan. He is so amazing. Not too long after Tracy Kidder’s book
was published he was here speaking. He had just moved his operation to Rwanda
from Haiti and it was so inspiring. This guy literally doesn’t sleep. So amazing and
charismatic. Have you read Mountains beyond Mountains? I read it with a class, and
get to re-read it every fall. This is an extreme example of a person with a clear vision
of the public good. His public encompasses the world. He pulls it off. Sometimes
in class we talk about a sort of “moral envy.” You know, “we can’t all be like Paul
Farmer.” We don’t all have to be like Paul Farmer. You just have to do what you do
in the spirit of what he does. And Partners in Health is just an outgrowth of that
vision that he has.
Ben: Well said.
Alice: I think you guys are on the right track.
Ben: Thank you very much for your time, shoot me an email and tell me how you
like the new Chocolate-Banana bar.
Alice: It was fun. I will.
(Wesleyan Dining Services loves 2 Degrees!)