It’s a curious thing that we, collectively, seem to admire (and sometimes) warship folks like Elon Musk. Nothing against Elon — he surely is a super-smart person who is pushing the boundaries and boldly goes where few of us go. But he is also the dude who gets wasted in public, carries personal vendettas out by calling people pedophiles, and notoriously treats his underlings like… well, underlings.
For me, it is an even more curious thing that we seem to be more fascinated by (and interested in) going to places like Mars — a destination which, to me, looks like a pretty inhospitable place. One which even Matt Damon didn’t seem to be too excited about after that whole “eating potatoes grown in your feces” thing.
I am all for pushing the boundaries, as I am for celebrating those who are making this happen. But I find it sad that we seem to pick our heroes exclusively from the high priests at the temple of entrepreneurship.
How about some alternative idols?
Let me introduce you to one (of many): In June 2013, on my then annual treck to Boulder, Colorado, to mentor for the Unreasonable Institute (now Uncharted), I met Mark Moore. Mark is the co-founder and CEO of MANA Nutrition. His organization tackles one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in today’s world — Severe Acute Malnutrition. Every ten seconds a child dies as it doesn’t have enough food. Mark dedicated his life to solve for this — and the solution is very well within humanities grasp: Give a child three servings of a paste made of peanut butter, milk powder and some vitamins & minerals for six weeks and the child has an extremely high chance of survival. It’s simple, it’s doable and Mark and his team at MANA have figured out some ingenious ways to bring down the cost to manufacture the necessary product (ready-to-use therapeutic food / RUTF) by a large margin.
And yet — as Mark, MANA and all the other organizations who are in this fight are doing remarkable work, the problem still exists. It is not lacking a solution. It is merely lacking collective attention. It would cost the world a mere $1BN USD to manufacture and distribute enough RUTFs to make Severe Acute Malnutrition a problem of the past. One billion US dollars and the problem is gone. And yet — we don’t do it. Rather we marvel about the latest record-shattering 0-60mph performance of Tesla’s newest model, merit of some random JPEGs being sold for some $60M as an NFT, or ponder the question if potatoes truly could grow on Mars.
Please don’t take this the wrong way. We need people pushing those boundaries. It is the plight of humanity — as Erich Honecker, former president of East Germany, mused: Vorwärts immer, rückwärts nimmer (Always pushing forward, never going back). But we also need to start celebrating all our other heroes. Those who are choosing to tackle the biggest problems we have right here, right now. Those who are dedicating their lives to making the problems go away.
Mark (and Samantha, Nithya, Daniel, Banks and everyone out there building what matters): You are my heroes!
Let’s all be a bit more like Mark, a little less like Elon and inspire those around us to follow into the footsteps of the Marks of this world…