Think of Washington state and you probably picture a rainy emerald region with an economy powered by airplanes, timber, software, and salmon, and a people powered through the eternal mist by coffee.
But there is one vital industry absent from this otherwise, pretty accurate understanding of my birthplace and home: hope.
It is arguably the state’s most important industry and export.
From the University of Washington, which regularly sends more of its graduates into the Peace Corps each year than any other American college, to Washington’s army of non-profit workers armed with professionalism and passion – working for the greater global good is in our DNA.
Call our corner of the US the “Corridor of Compassion,” or an “Idealist’s Silicon Valley.”
Washington state is home to the largest non-profit in the world – World Vision – and the largest foundation in the world – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And it is home to more than 300 other non-profit organizations of varying focus and size. From PATH, which over the last year ended meningitis A in three West African countries, to my organization, Landesa, which partnered with governments on reforms that, last year alone, gave more than 2 million poor families legal control over the land they till and the chance to literally grow themselves out of poverty, to Esperanza International, which is providing micro-credit, education and health care to poor families in the Dominican Republic, there is little doubt that Washington state’s pragmatic optimists are having a huge impact.
What we’ve discovered while trying to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems –polio, HIV, malaria, landlessness, generational poverty, malnutrition – is that poverty, sickness, and frustration abroad affects us at home. Addressing these problems is crucial because of the impact this has on human lives outside of our borders. But helping the needy and vulnerable far away helps all of us; making societies more healthy, prosperous, and stable is in everyone’s best interest.
With increasing need here in the US, the inclination among many is to scale back our generosity, shorten our horizon, take care of our own.
But Washington state, with its $4 billion global health sector that generates $143 million in annual tax revenue for the state and local government, offers a different model.
On November 1, 2011, the Mayor of Seattle, Mike McGinn, and a consortium of global development organizations united under the banner of the organization Global Washington, are calling on the state’s residents to learn more about our global development community and to support it. It is a sentiment worth noting for those beyond our state’s borders.
Washington state is the largest exporter in the nation on a per capita basis; one in three jobs here is tied to international trade and thus linked to development outside our national borders. We have the most globally connected workforce in the country. Washington state exports a total of nearly $40 billion worth of goods and services to every country on the planet.
Much of this is thanks to the hundreds of businesses, non-profits, academic institutions, and foundations across the state zealously working to better conditions in all 144 developing countries and developing life-saving vaccines and pro-poor technologies and programs.
Countries around the world, from Afghanistan to Uganda, would be less stable, less secure, and less sure of their future if we stopped our good work.
And so would we.