One Small Idea

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Wonderful things can happen at the most surprising moments.  Even when studying for the SAT. 

In the fall of 2007, John Breen, a computer programmer, was helping his son Ben prepare for his upcoming Scholastic Aptitude Test.  The two sat at the kitchen table in their southern Indiana home, dutifully going through a stack of vocabulary flash cards.

It was worse than boring.  Progress was slow and unrewarding.  And whenever Ben flubbed a word definition, little brother Casey taunted him.

There had to be a better way. 

Breen decided to put his programming skills to use.  He designed a game that would make preparing for the SAT significantly more enjoyable.  And then he had another idea.  Why not combine the experience of learning with an opportunity to feed hungry people?

Breen was transfixed by the challenge of eliminating global hunger.  “It’s very doable,” he said.  “It’s not like curing cancer, where you have to have a big breakthrough – just people having the will to end it.”

The result was  Breen’s idea was novel:  Visit the website and take a vocabulary quiz, and every time you click on a right answer you automatically donate 10 grains of rice to a hungry person through the United Nations World Food Program.

Sponsors agreed to pay for the rice in exchange for advertising on the site.  The UN agreed to distribute the food.  And so a revolution was born.

Visit the website and see for yourself.  Warning:  The combination of improving your learning and helping people in need can be addicting.

At least 100,000 people visit every day.  Available quiz subjects (there are now more than 50) include multiplication tables, chemical symbols, vocabulary for a half dozen languages, geography, world landmarks, famous artwork, and human anatomy.

Does it work?  

On its first day of operation – October 7, 2007 – 830 grains of rice were donated.  By Labor Day of the next year the cumulative total exceeded 42 billion grains, or approximately 3 million adult meals.  Over the past 15 years has donated tens of millions more.    

Breen is modest about what he has accomplished: “It’s not what I did.  It’s about all the people who take a leap of faith that if we all do a little bit, combined, it will be a big hit.”

The world is so big.  And problems like hunger seem impossibly beyond our ability to make a difference. 

But Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a way of converting our paralysis into action: “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.”

John Breen used his entrepreneurial instincts to help us make it happen.  As puts it: “Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide.”

Sometimes all it takes is just a small grain of an idea to change the world.