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Social Capitalists: Heifer International

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner

Heifer International

Little Rock, AR
Year founded: 1944
CEO: Jo Luck

Heifer provides livestock to poor families in developing nations to use for farming, food production, and fertilization. In addition, we teach animal husbandry and skills for flexible and sustainable rural farming. The idea: empowering communities with resources and education toward self-sufficiency is a better long-term solution than handouts for fighting hunger.

Heifer's signature value, "Passing on the Gift," requires recipients to share offspring of their animals along with resources and skills with other farmers, creating an ever-expanding network of hope. And since 1944, 45 million people--about 8 million families--have benefited from Heifer's services. Heifer's Hope for the Future Campaign has the ambitious goal of helping 23 million families move toward greater self-reliance during this decade.

Today, because of Heifer International, millions of people who were once hungry will be nourished by milk, eggs, meat and fresh vegetables. Families who have known only poverty for generations will be building new homes and starting businesses. And their children, who once headed out to the fields to do backbreaking adult physical labor, instead will move into schoolrooms to learn to read. People who never thought they would be in a position to help someone else will be experiencing the joy of charitable giving by "Passing on the Gift."

Heifer emphasizes community involvement and long-term results, working with people who are living hand-to-mouth doing subsistence farming, unlike the victims of wars or natural disasters that form the backbone of global emergency relief organizations' efforts. Yet often after emergency relief organizations have left the site of a disaster you will find Heifer staying to help restore lost livelihoods, as in Thailand in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, where Heifer is still working today, or in Guatemala, where victims of Hurricane Stan around Lake Atitlan are rebuilding their small mountain coffee farms.

Heifer seeks to help people lift themselves up to a position where they will not be subject to the hardships of disasters so they can continually improve their economic lives through holistic community development. Many years ago Heifer realized that unless economic development projects happen in a way that protects and conserves the natural environment, long term success will be compromised. So Heifer trains project recipients in sustainable agricultural production methods that protect and cherish the earth and their livelihoods.

"My family and I suffered so much. When we received our four goats and learned about the passing on the gift, I could not imagine it was I who would help end the suffering of another." --Alves Mangagao, project partner from Mozambique

Alves Mangagao is one of the 45 million people impacted so far by Heifer's work. For years he and his family foraged for a living in the forest while avoiding contact with the armies fighting for control of his country. When at last peace came and he got some goats from Heifer International, he realized that instead of just being a recipient of aid, he could help others restore their lives.

It is just this spirit that motivated Dan West, an Indiana farmer doing relief work in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s who began seeking a new way to help refugees besides giving them powdered milk. "A cow, not a cup," became his mantra, and by 1944 he was helping send high-quality dairy cows abroad, first to impoverished people in Puerto Rico, then by reconditioned troop ships to Europe after World War II. Today Heifer is a $100-million-a-year operation, supported by hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans whose gifts serve thousands of communities in more than 50 countries.