So says John Hussman, a philanthropist, economist and financier who has saved and changed thousands of lives along Myanmar’s borders through his generous long-term support of education and health programs run by community groups working with Partners Asia.
Through the John P. Hussman Foundation, John and his wife, Terri Hussman, last year contributed more than half a million dollars for community programs led by and for the people of Burma. They support schools that give migrant children and vulnerable youth a chance at escaping poverty, and they fund critical pilot health programs in malaria control, reproductive health, tuberculosis and lymphatic filariasis.
“For us, we go back to the idea that we’re part of a much larger world,” Hussman says. “If you put yourself in the place of any of the children we’re helping, then it‘s not so hard to help somebody you’ve never met. It takes that extra step of compassion to imagine what their life is like.”
The Hussman’s philanthropy aims to make a dramatic difference in survival and quality of life at low per person cost. “In the US, you can spend a great deal of money to make someone who is relatively well-off even better-off,” Hussman says. “In developing countries, you can make a life-changing impact at a small cost.”
The Hussmans choose to work in Burma – Myanmar because their efforts aren’t likely to be duplicated by larger organizations or governments; because they support the vision of Partners Asia’s Executive Director, Therese Caouette; and because they believe in Partners Asia’s model of international aid which trains local partners to care for their own communities, share skills, and build support networks—“knowledge that doesn’t go away.”
“That goes to the core of sustainability,” Hussman says. “If you drop ex-pats in by helicopter and set up systems dependent on foreign individuals and external money to maintain them, they can vanish at the drop of a hat. . . . We’re pretty proud that we’ve helped all these schools and they’ve started talking and organizing among themselves and expanded services far beyond what we would have been able to provide.”
Growing up, Hussman says, “I just knew that serving others is the point.” Hussman earned a PhD in economics from Stanford, initially planning to advise developing countries, but becoming disillusioned because many “political systems don’t allow the freedoms and various rights that are necessary for their own citizens to prosper.”
He turned to finance as a way to serve the less fortunate. As the President of Hussman Funds, he believes his $8 billion mutual fund company is successful because he uses his management income to help others.
“We’re not meant to be just vessels that accumulate the gifts we get in life,” Hussman says. “We’re meant to be channels of those gifts. My favorite prayer is the Prayer of St. Francis: Make me a channel of your peace.”
Hussman is also deeply influenced by Buddhist leader and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh who teaches about compassion, love and “inter-being,” the concept that “you and I aren’t separate individuals, but rather, connected by much deeper commonality.”
Terri adds, “Justice and fairness are very important to us. These kids come into a world in a time and place where none of that has been given to them. When somebody comes along side of them to help create opportunities to live safely, gain an education, and find a purpose, it prepares them to go out and make a difference with their own lives too.”
Caring for a son with special needs keeps Hussman close to home, so he may never visit Myanmar. But it’s not hard for him to imagine the challenges children there face, be it disease or exploitation. “What I envision in my head is a child or young person having two courses. One is that they have the ability to get an education and be self-sustaining and make choices about their own lives well into adulthood.”
The other? “They weren’t fortunate to have resources and protection placed around them when they were vulnerable,” Hussman says. “I have a hard time talking about, you know, the vulnerabilities of children and sometimes terrible outcomes. . . . If there’s no one there to give them a hand—what happens?“