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Finding the Right Motivation to Join the Fight Against Hunger


Understanding the Hunger Space: Part 2
By Rick McNary

I’ve been engaged in the fight against hunger for quite some time and confess there are a few times I’ve wanted to quit; it can be overwhelming. Simply reading the staggering numbers of 25,000 people dying every day can make you run screaming into the night.

The most memorable time I wanted to quit was after I got back from a trip to the world’s largest refugee camp in Dedaab, Kenya. I had the honor of traveling with my hero, the legendary Ambassador Tony Hall and seeing 500,000 refugees was mind-boggling.

I felt myself getting more depressed as the weeks went by. My wife noticed my malaise and expressed her concern. I replied, “The problem is so big; there are too many people dying of hunger and I can’t help all of them.”

She responded, “At work, when we run into difficult situations, we put things in perspective by saying, ‘well, at least we’re not trying to solve global hunger.’ Yet, that’s what you do every day. No wonder you’re depressed.”

After some contemplation, I came to this conclusion; no, I’m not trying to solve global hunger; I’m trying to get as many people engaged in the fight against hunger as I can.” Now, that’s a more realistic goal!

Therefore, if more people like you get engaged in the fight against hunger, what kind of motivation should you use? Which ones are the best at engaging and keeping you in the fight? Finding sustainable motivations for the long haul is not easy.

Let me start with a few popular motivations that I don’t believe are sustainable:


When I was ten-years-old and refused to eat the spinach, my Mom’s response was the classic guilt motivator; you should feel bad because you have food to eat and starving people don’t. I can tell guilt is a popular motivator by the reaction I get when I tell people that I work in international hunger relief. Almost always, the person hangs their head and mutters something about how good they have it and how the rest of the world is suffering and that’s just not right.

I was raised in a tradition of religious guilt. Therefore, I can spot a guilt trip coming from ten miles away. Frankly, guilt only works one me for a little while. Guilt might motivate a person to give a few bucks to help the hungry, but it is not a sustainable motivation. I jump off any moving bus driven by someone taking me on a guilt trip.


Have you seen the commercial of the abused animals with In the Arms of the Angels song being played? Do you watch the entire commercial? That commercial is masterful and stirring up your pity. However, there are three problems with using pity as a motivator in the fight against hunger.

  1. Pity is not sustainable; you will not allow yourself to feel badly about something if you can help it; that’s just the way our minds are wired.
  2. Pity creates a dichotomy between those who have and those in need. The sooner we stop drawing lines and realize we’re all in this together, the sooner we’ll solve the problem.
  3. Pity focuses on short-term solutions.

I’m Scott-Irish so it doesn’t take much to trip the hair trigger on my temper. Some of the things I’ve seen (usually government corruption) can make smoke roll out of my ears like Yosemite Sam when he’s mad at Daffy Duck. When I’m in Africa and see grain going to waste because of government corruption, I get angry enough to do a WWF pile driver on a crooked bureaucrat.

Furthermore, there are some incredible people in the hunger space that write and speak about hunger in such a way that they can fire me up ready to do battle against all odds.

Anger is a good entry point; but it’s not sustainable. The problem with anger is that after I take a nap, I’m not angry any more.

These three motivators might get you into the fight, but I don’t believe they’ll keep you there. So what are the sustainable motivations for engaging in the fight against hunger? I’ll answer those next time.


Rick McNary is the Author of Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration & vice president of public and private partnerships for Outreach, Inc. He also serves on the Executive Board for the Alliance to End Hunger in Washington, D.C., and is a long-time friend of Universities Fighting World Hunger. Follow him at http://www.rickmcnary.me or connect via email at rick.mcnary@gmail.com.