The Power Of One: Food For Thought 2011

Flying to Greenville, South Carolina and taking time away from my family wasn’t on the top of my list of must-dos, but Food for Thought, an event produced by Erwin Penland, was an amazing experience to fuel the mind. From the opening speaker to the closing performer, it was a marathon of inspiring learning opportunities. Speakers with world-changing stories moved the mind in every direction while Southern hospitality was served in unique venues with an intimate guest list of 80.

The underlying and most compelling thought I walked away with is that no matter one’s background or station in life, every one of us is a walking possibility. The power of one person can make a significant difference in the lives of many if we put our minds and hearts into it.


Education was a thread expertly woven throughout the two-and-a-half days. Jeffrey Canada, the visionary social activist and educator, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York, kicked off the first night. Every bit as passionate and convincing in person as he was in the documentary, Waiting for Superman, Jeffrey’s determination and vision for how to positively impact the lives of thousands of struggling children in Harlem was clearly evident.


Fighting Absolutely Average

Doc Hendley, founder of Wine for Water and global clean-water crusader, spoke about building water wells and providing a path out of poverty for thousands. But what stuck with me about Doc was not the cause, but his determination to overcome a life-long battle with insecurity formed through his battle with confirming to grades in school. Doc’s been fighting against the “average” label all his life. Out of school, he found his passion in life accidentally, despite the school system making him feel absolutely average. The power of possibility in this one man could have been unlocked deliberately rather than by accident had the education system be designed to build up his self-esteem.



Finding Value in the Worthless: Love, Hope and Opportunity

Listening to and watching Leigh Anne Touhy, the no-nonsense powerhouse played by Sandra Bullock in the movie The Blind Side, hold the audience captive with her magnetic energy was a privilege. It was uncanny just how well Bullock played her. Touhy filled in the live details about her love and concern for the hopeless Michael Orr. She took major risks and crossed racial, cultural and emotional boundaries to love Michael. She made it very clear that her and her husband did not give Michael money but, rather, an opportunity; one filled with love and hope for a better future. There are Michael Orrs in every hopeless community throughout the country and she challenged the audience to look in the challenged blocks of their own communities rather than in Africa and the third world and reminded us that there is hope in the hopeless on our doorstep if care to engage.

Connected: Love, Death & Technology

Tiffany Shlain, Internet pioneer and acclaimed filmmaker, illustrated the power of digital connectivity and access to knowledge as she introduced her new documentary, Connected. In the middle of making the film, Tiffany’s father passed away, so what began as a project to examine connectedness between major issues like the environment, consumption, technology, human rights, and the global economy became a personal journey of discovery about connections in her own life. The film shows the beauty and tragedy of human endeavor and champions personal connection and how the “power of one” has become digitally exponential.


Fearless Bogusky Talks About a Brand For All

The fearless Alex Bogusky known for his innovative advertising work talked about his belief in commerce and capitalism as the most powerful force for change on the planet, but how it’s in crisis. To help remedy this he talked about Common–an open-source “living network for a new brand of capitalism” that he’s recently launched. The service will be part-community, part-incubator, part-media channel and provide a new model for creating value for all stakeholders.

What Did Racing BMWs Have To Do With It?

Joe Erwin, the founder and president of Erwin-Penland, and the visionary behind Food for Thought, navigated the two days artfully weaving in the story of Greenville and how it evolved from a city in decline to vibrant and thriving with a community of passionate business leaders, including BMW USA (we got to race M-Series BMWs at their performance driving school all afternoon on day two) and Michelin, who collaborate for the greater good of Greenville. But what inspired me was the story of Max Heller, the Holocaust survivor who became the transformational mayor of Greenville, and Joe’s reverence for this man’s vision.


Can We Fix the Education System, Please?

With Greenville’s baseball diamond as the back drop, Sir Ken Robinson challenged the attendees, in a live workshop, to develop ideas in small groups to fix the problems of the current education system. Robinson outlined the significant challenges we face on this planet, from the environment and our ability to sustain the planet’s exploding population to the education system. He made the case that education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed. And transformation is not about standardizing education, but personalizing it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.

Great Food. Big Thinking.

Thanks Joe, your team at Erwin Pentland put on an amazing three days that fed the mind and the belly. I’ve always believed in the power of the individual, the potential of one to make a difference in the lives of thousands and this conference underpinned that belief with every speaker.


About the author

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision