By Ermira Babamusta/
Clint Borgen is the founder and President of Borgen Project (www.borgenproject.org). In 1999, while working as a young volunteer in refugee camps during the Kosovo War and genocide, Clint Borgen recognized the need for an organization that could focus U.S. political attention on extreme poverty. In 2003, after graduating from Washington State University and interning at the United Nations, Borgen began developing the organization.
Now headquartered in Seattle, The Borgen Project has become an influential campaign platform aimed at reducing global poverty through public mobilization and political advocacy. (History of Borgen Project video: http://vimeo.com/20656769 ).
Interview with Clint Borgen
When you first began developing the Borgen Project in 2003, what were some key areas that the organization focused early on?
Clint Borgen: From the beginning The Borgen Project’s focus has been on getting U.S. leaders to do more to address global poverty.We believe U.S. foreign policy should center around improving conditions for people who are hit hardest by war, hunger and poverty.
How has the strategy about ending poverty and hunger come about?
Clint Borgen: In most cases I think poverty and hunger are symptoms of bad policies, so for me the strategy has been to address the political decisions that help or hinder efforts to lift people out of poverty. From my experience in Kosovo and Macedonia, it was apparent that the decisions of political leaders in the U.S. greatly impact the lives of millions of people outside of the U.S.
What are some success stories achieved with the help of The Borgen Project, either in a certain country or certain issue area?
Clint Borgen: Our work doesn’t generally target specific countries, but aims to get members of Congress doing more to address global poverty than they otherwise would. The organization has an amazing level of access to U.S. political leaders so we’re in a great position to reach and engage those who determine the impact the U.S. has globally We’ve been lobbying for the U.S. to develop a strategy to address the issue of clean water and sanitation in impoverished nations. Last year, the White House adopted large parts of that strategy. We’re currently working on Food Aid Reform and I think we’ll see some breakthroughs this year.
How do you go about funding The Borgen Project and how can others get involved?
Clint Borgen: Fundraising is without question the toughest part of running an organization. We really depend on individual donors and we’ve had a few big donors through the years that have been instrumental in elevating the cause. On our site (borgenproject.org) we list out lots of highly effective ways for people to help.
What critical decisions changed the way you deal with foreign policy and foreign aid?
Clint Borgen: We look for programs that will have the biggest impact for the most people per dollar spent. We also like programs that address by addressing one problem you can eliminate several other problems. Those situations where by addressing one issue, you can eliminate several other issues. For example, getting a village access to clean water can eliminate several diseases in the village, allow farmers to grow more food and eliminate the amount of time people spend walking each day to find fresh water.
What are some points that you believe are crucial in addressing global poverty?
Clint Borgen: Public opinion in wealthy nations. In the U.S., most people think that 25 percent of the Federal Budget goes to International Aid when in reality it’s 1 percent. The consequence of this is leaders primarily here from voters who want the U.S. cutting international programs and seldom hear from people who want it supported.
What solutions does The Borgen Project propose to end global poverty?
Clint Borgen: There’s an endless supply of methods for improving the human condition and various countries have used different tactics to drop their poverty rates. History has shown helping poor farmers improve their crop productivity is highly effective. Access to education and livable wage jobs can turn around any community.
What are your thoughts on how the current budget is being spent?
Clint Borgen: I’m a proud American, but our political priorities are often embarrassing. There’s a famous quote that goes, “don’t tell me what your values are, show me your budget and I will tell you what your values are.” The amount we give to our largest military contractor is more than the estimated cost to end world hunger. Most American’s would be outraged if they were aware of this and trying to inform the public is a big part of what we do.
What are the current priorities of The Borgen Project?
Clint Borgen: Growing our network. We want to have active, high-impact political operatives volunteering for us in all 435 U.S. Congressional Districts. We’re seeing amazing results in places where leaders are feeling pressure from Borgen Project volunteers and I want to make sure every member of Congress is feeling the heat.
What bills is The Borgen Project working on related to poverty?
Clint Borgen: Food Aid Reform and protecting the International Affairs Budget from drastic cuts. The U.S. can help millions of more people with the same amount of money, simply by improving the way we deliver aid.