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Believe in People: A Conversation with Charles Koch and Brian Hooks

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Believe in People: A Conversation with Charles Koch and Brian Hooks

10 Blocks podcast December 23, 2020
The Social Order

Charles Koch and Brian Hooks join Howard Husock to discuss better approaches to solving America’s social problems, how to help social entrepreneurs foster more resilient communities, and why Koch is now focused on building bridges across the political divide. Their new book is Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World.

Audio Transcript

Howard Husock: Hello and welcome to another edition of 10 Blocks, the City Journal podcast. I'm Howard Husock, a contributing editor to City Journal and a fellow at the Philanthropy Round Table in the American Enterprise Institute. I'm joined today by the co-authors of a very important new book about American civil society and philanthropy and their relationship. It's called, Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World. Its co-authors are Charles Koch, the president of Koch Industries, and one of America's most important philanthropists and public voices is coauthor, Brian Hooks, chairman and CEO of Stand Together, a philanthropic community that works with more than 700 business leaders and grassroots social entrepreneurs. Brian's also the president of the Charles Koch Foundation. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining me.

Brian Hooks: Thanks.

Charles Koch: Thanks for having us, Howard. Looking forward to it.

Howard Husock: Let me start with you Charles if I might. The book has gotten a lot of very well-deserved attention. It's a fascinating read. It's a guide to how to run a successful business. It's a guide to how to think about philanthropy on large scale. And it's a kind of a memoir as well about your own life in ways that I think will surprise some people. It's gotten some attention though, and I'm going to start off with the hot button, which is at one point you say, talking about your involvement in public life in these United States, we really screwed up. Now, I think that some people are going to infer from that that Charles Koch has changed his philosophy, changed his ideals, has a different worldview, and is somehow going to confession. Tell me how I should think about that.

Charles Koch: Well, here's the way you should think about it, Howard, and everyone I would hope would think about it. I've been engaged in philanthropy, what we call social entrepreneurship, social change for nearly 60 years. And so this book is the story of my life and yes I change, but everybody needs to change as they learn how to do better, but I have not changed my fundamental principles. And so let me start there if I could and explain why I wrote this book because it was to address this and other similar questions. And most fundamentally, it was to help everybody benefit from the principles, these principles I've just referred to, the principles of human progress that transformed my life and has transformed the life of so many others.

So many we work with today, which we'll talk about. But also those through history who, particularly those who use these principles to become social entrepreneurs and transform societies. And when they did, they transformed the world. And these basic principles end up moving societies toward never perfectly, never fully principles of equal rights, mutual benefit where everyone can succeed by assisting one another and more and more people have the opportunity to realize their potential. And when I say that it changed society, I think most of us know that up until the 1800s, some different times in the 1800s, society was totally top-down and no one had those basic fundamental rights that we think of today. And as a result, more than 90% of the people in the world lived in dire poverty. And as these principles started applying, that has been reduced by 90%. So today it's only like 9%, which is in my view, 9% too many.

Howard Husock: That is to say that the engine of free markets, free peoples that classical liberals would say drove that reduction in poverty, those are things that Charles Koch still believes in.

Charles Koch: Absolutely. And what we write about in the book is there are many, many of these basic principles of human progress. Including the principles you're talking about. And we employ at Koch industries and what's made us successful, we use over 100 of them regularly, so we are totally committed. It's a source of everything I've done that's worthwhile in my life. But they start with, and they started in history with the beginning of those in top and others starting to believe in people, starting to believe in others. Starting to recognize that everyone has a gift, that everyone has something to offer when they're empowered. And when they're empowered, everyone can contribute and succeed. And that's what drives progress.

Now, I'm not implying that that's easy. The problem is it is difficult to go through that kind of personal transformation, particularly when there are all the external obstacles we've seen in history people doing that. And it wasn't easy for me. I was blessed to have learned like at age seven or start to learn what my gift was, which is for math and other abstract concepts. But I was lost for 20 years. I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know how to apply it. I didn't know how to use it in a way that I could believe in myself. But what changed my life is 20 years later, I became committed to understanding and applying the principles of human progress. And I applied them not only in business, which they said, what made us successful there? I applied them in my family to raise my children. I apply them in philanthropy and social change, everything I do. So these principles are my whole life.

Howard Husock: I think that would surprise a lot of people that Charles Koch had hard times as a kid, whether it was economic hard times, not so much, but psychologically hard times, finding yourself wasn't easy. And one of the reasons that your public image, let's say has changed in the last few years is your commitment to criminal justice reform, to making sure that people don't go away to jail for small offenses and don't stay in jail or prison for too long without the chance for a second chance. And it occurred to me in reading the rather emotional portion of this book that part of you resonates with those who are not getting the kind of backstop and second chances that you had. Have I got that right?

Charles Koch: Well, I'm sure that's part of it. But I think to really understand me, you have to understand that what causes me to do things are the fundamental principles I've learned and applied, and seen work through history. And those are of justice. So when I look at the criminal justice system, I look at the parts that are injust, that what the system should be is one that keeps violent, harmful people from harming others, but then try to bring about redemption. Now, with all you can't, but when you do and what we find when you do and you treat these people justly, and you orient the prison system to helping those who want to be helped, convert them from being negatively motivated to being contribution motivated, and get them out to be productive. That's what we want, a society where everyone can contribute.

And if you can't, and we find, we don't believe they can, then yeah, they need to be separated. But the whole thing is kind of backwards in that regard. Once somebody makes a mistake, they're condemned forever. Now, if it's a big enough mistake, okay. And you think they're irredeemable, but most of them aren't. Most of them are in there for petty offenses.

Howard Husock: Brian, you ought to add here. You've been involved in this as much.

Charles Koch: Let me just follow up. I'm going to bring Brian in in a moment because I want to talk about the kind of philanthropy that you're supporting that's in keeping with the principles that you've just enunciated. But when we talk about progress since 1800, there's also been pushback that came rapidly with the benefits, economic benefits of the industrial revolution. We saw the rise of Marxism. There's been this tension that's been with us as well as the increase in prosperity. Today, we see a group of young philanthropists. Most of them heirs to big fortunes rather than the makers of big fortunes, such as yourself, who are saying they believe in socialism. How do you think about that?

Howard Husock: Well, I think... one of my set of principles are based on stoicism, that is grateful for everything and entitled to nothing. And somehow we didn't bring our children up that way. They are dedicated to helping others finding their gift and they struggle to find their gift, but they've found it and they are totally contribution motivated. And that's the way I am everyday. People ask me, "Why at 85, you're working harder than ever?" Because I'm more turned on than ever because I'm finding new ways. And we have more ability now to help more people and both in our company to empower them and using these principles to help empower them. And that's what we're working on in all of the institutions in society, communities of which criminal justice system is one, in business, in education, and in public policy.

Brian Hooks: Howard, on this front, I think it's instructive to look at history. Charles talks about the North Star of this country being a noble North Star. Think about it as the ideals that are captured in the Declaration of Independence, right? The notion of a society based on equal rights where everyone has the opportunity to contribute based on their gift. And as we talk about in the book, that has been our country's North Star, but right from the start, there were violations of that. We didn't live up to it. And the history of progress has been one of movements moving us closer and closer to that North Star in order to address some of the injustices. And I think what you see today, and it's certainly the case with some of the folks that you just mentioned. They see in our society instances where we are not living up to those ideals.

For instance, in the book, we talk about cronyism and corporate welfare, where government is picking winners and losers, putting their hand on the scale in the economy and there's businesses that are getting rich, not by creating benefits for their customers, value for their constituents, but by rigging the systems through government policy, corporate welfare subsidies, tariffs, that sort of thing. And so the inclination, I think that a lot of people have when they see that is something needs to be done. And that's the right inclination, something does need to be done. But the wrong thing to do is to double down in the problem, right? You don't solve corporate welfare and cronyism with socialism, which is basically just corporate welfare to the fullest extent, right? Government picking all the winners and all the losers.

What you do is you recognize that injustice, in this case, the injustice in the economy that's based on government favoritism, and you push further towards that North Star, that idea that no, we've got to get rid of that favoritism and realize this vision of equal rights. And so this conversation that's happening right now in the economy about economic inequality and those sorts of things, it can be a healthy conversation if we can use it as an opportunity to show people a better way, but that better way is informed by the principles of human progress, the principles of a free and open society, not by doubling down in a bad solution like socialism. But that's our opportunity as people who have to carry that mantle of progress forward towards that North Star, towards those ideals from the Declaration.

Howard Husock: That's very well put. And does this focus on the, in terms of the philanthropy of the Koch Foundation, on social entrepreneurs, on community groups, on the minions of social entrepreneurs, the small battalions as some have called it, does that mean that you're going to stay out of politics, once burned twice shy?

Brian Hooks: No. No. No. Not at all. To clarify, in the book, what we talk about is that in order to really make progress towards that North Star, towards those ideals and help benefit everyone, we need all of the institutions in society that we rely on to empower people to be doing that, to empowering people. So we talk about four key institutions. Education helps to empower people when it's working well. Communities, strong communities that deal with so much of, Howard what you've worked on through the Philanthropy Round Table and in other roles, such a critical part of empowering people. Businesses that are doing the right thing, that are creating value for their customers and not seeking favors from government. And you need good public policy. And you can't solve a problem unless you've had all of those areas of society working well.

And so at Stand Together, we work across all of those areas, including public policy. But it's in its place. It's balanced relative to the role that these other institutions play. And so what we talk about in the book is not you need to get out of politics, it's that when you're engaging in politics, you have to do it according to these principles of human progress. You can't pursue a partisan strategy and expect to produce good policy. You've got to pursue a policy first strategy and then work to bring diverse people and diverse coalitions together to pass good policy despite the challenges of a partisan environment. And that's what we see in criminal justice reform. That's how we helped to get the first step passed in 2018. It wasn't about betting on Republicans or betting on Democrats. It was about betting on good policy and then supporting anybody who was willing to get behind it.

Howard Husock: And Charles, I guess that's what you meant by the, we screwed up is that you were too partisan?

Charles Koch: Yes. We were partisan and as being partisan, we were supporting people who on balance were moving us toward this society, this free and open society of equal rights and mutual benefit. They were for protection against trade, for certain types of cronyism. And so on balance, they weren't moving us there. And so we don't expect any politician to be perfect in this regard, but on balance, if we're going to support them and help them get elected on balance, we have to believe they're moving us toward this North Star, not away from it.

Howard Husock: Right. So the new strategy is a combination of issue by issue and being more selective in terms of whom you support.

Charles Koch: Absolutely. And not what party label, because there are Republicans who aren't moving in this direction.

Howard Husock: Brian, let me ask you this-

Brian Hooks: And so, partnership with these diverse coalitions, really, that can be a better way, not just for how we engage in politics, but how everybody can engage in politics. Who have you met recently that's happy with the political system? There's got to be a better way. We think we found a very promising way to move forward and get good things done in policy.

Howard Husock: Well, I'm guessing Joe Biden is okay with it right now. But let's see after January 20th.

Brian Hooks: Yeah. That's right.

Howard Husock: Let me ask you this, Brian, in the book, you celebrate a number of the organizations that Stand Together supports. Could you illustrate, what do you think is the paradigmatic example? I know it's hard to pick one, but I'm going to press you on it. A paradigmatic example of a grassroots social entrepreneur whose support you feel really good about.

Brian Hooks: Well, Howard, we put forward three big ideas in the book, and I'll give you an example of somebody that I think really exemplifies all three. The first is that lots of problems in the country, so they'll require a lot of different solutions, but all the solutions that will work well will have this common commitment to the deep belief in people, the idea that everybody can contribute based on their gift. That's number one. Number two is this notion that bottom up solutions tend to work better than top-down one size fits all approaches.

Howard Husock: So quite local.

Brian Hooks: Well, quite local, but that doesn't mean small. And so let me get to that. The third idea in the book is that we will succeed to a much greater extent when we unite with anyone to do right. And so a great example of that, one that's near and dear to my heart is a organization called the Family Independence Initiative. We talk about this in the preface of the book. A great group out of Oakland, California, a small but scrappy group. They've been around for almost a better part of two decades. And they address families in poverty and they have a success rate that is off the charts, especially relative to, say baseline programs. You stay in this program for average of two years, you're going to increase your income by about 27%, which is a lot. And more importantly, you stay out of poverty, which is always the difficulty.

Howard Husock: What's the secret sauce there that makes it different from the programs that you would disparage?

Brian Hooks: Well, the secret sauce is that when the Family Independence Initiative looks at families in poverty, they don't see problems to be solved. They see the source of the solution to poverty. And so they're investing in those families and trusting them. They're believing in those families that with some help, those families will help to chart their own course. And they will also help others to chart their own course. So the way it works is Family Independence Initiative puts cohorts of families together, four or five families, all struggling in poverty. And then they provide them the two things that we all need to succeed. Some financial capital, relatively modest, about $3,500 over two years, not a lot of money, but enough to make a difference. And the second thing they provide is social capital, right? We all need others to help us to realize our potential.

So by putting these families together and giving them some basic tools, they're helping those families to make better decisions and have the kind of resources that are required to chart their own path. And so they don't just solve poverty, which is their proximate problem, but they help to empower them to develop the skills and the values, and ultimately the ability to be successful throughout their lives.

Howard Husock: I can just imagine reporting back to this cohort and saying, "This got better in my life this week." And having somebody say, "Well, that's great rather than operating in a vacuum." Is that the kind of thing that you're talking about?

Brian Hooks: You got it. And people closest to the problems tend to know best how to solve those problems. So rather than you or me coming in and saying, "Hey, what about this? What about that?" To a family whose experience we have a hard time relating to, those families can say, "You know what? I was in a similar situation before. Here's what didn't work for me. Here's what I tried that did work." And it's that kind of personal knowledge that is at the heart of this notion of bottom up solutions.

Howard Husock: I want to toss it back to Charles if I might and follow up on that. I'm going to throw you a slight curve ball here, if I might. And I want to ask you, what philanthropy, besides your own, do you admire in this country?

Charles Koch: Let me finish this on the Family Independence Initiative. The other thing that these collections of families who find they can work together, they assist each other. They may be doing babysitting for them. They may be providing groceries. They may be lending money to one another. They may be doing other things together to fix a home, fix a leak. So they become a self-help community. That's what I mean by a society where people succeed by assisting one another. This is a perfect example of it.

Howard Husock: Do you worry, and I'm going to come back to my hard question. Do you worry that by investing your dollars from outside that community, you might diminish the likelihood that the independence initiative itself will be independent?

Brian Hooks: Well, I think that's a question of how do you invest your dollars? And when we go in with a group like FII, we're very, very clear. We are not here to tell you how to do your job. You know how to solve poverty much, much better than we do. We've got capabilities that can benefit you, right? We can help you to scale your organization for instance, because we've done that a lot in a lot of different areas, but you're the people that know best about how to help people in poverty. And we're going to listen to you. We're going to learn from you.

Charles Koch: Yeah. Everything we do is applying these principles of human progress. And one of the basic ones is division of labor by comparative advantage. We all focus where we can really create value and then exchange for others. And that's who we partner with. We partner with groups who we share vision and values. We share principles and we have complimentary capabilities. So we don't go into like groups, we help urban specialists who keep kids from going into gangs and getting sucked into violent lives. And we don't go in and tell them how to deal with gangs and gang members. I wouldn't last a day doing that, but we help them become better organized. And we provide capital. We help them scale and help them celebrate, like Antong Lucky, who founded the Bloods in Dallas as a teenager, spent time in prison and found his way, like I did, I didn't find mine in prison, learned some of these principles. And now he's a leader in that.

We teach our management framework, Koch Industries called market-based management, which is based on these principles of human progress. And I was asking him how it was going, did he like them? Well, he said, "At first we were skeptical because we were organized like a gang, but it was kind of limiting. So we said we'll try it." And then we went through how in all the different aspects they were applying it. I said, "Antong, you've learned market-based management faster than the executive of any company we've ever hired."

Howard Husock: Gang life at that point, right?

Charles Koch: No, this is what you find when you start bottom up, there are talented people everywhere, and some person, because he has a PhD somewhere isn't smarter, doesn't know more to go solve everybody's problem and tell everybody how to live their lives.

Howard Husock: We're not going to criticize PhDs. We don't want to be partisan here. I do want to ask you this, Charles, who do you admire in American life? What other philanthropists, what other business leaders do you see following the kind of principles that you're enunciating?

Charles Koch: Well, my hero is Frederick Douglas, my role model. And I'll tell you why. And most people think, well, it's because he overcame so much to accomplish so much. But as a role model, what he did in his autobiographies is articulate these basic principles of personal transformation. I'll just give you a few quickly so we don't take all the time.

Howard Husock: No, go right ahead.

Charles Koch: He was born in slavery, and an eight-year-old, he learned that he wasn't a slave because he was an inferior, he was a slave because he was being kept ignorant. So what did he do? He secretly taught himself to read. And then at age 16, he got the opportunity to teach Sunday school. And he didn't just teach Sunday school, he taught the other slaves to read. And he said, here's what he said about it. "At last, I found a way to contribute." He was contribution. Can you think that? You're a slave, you're being beaten and what you want is a way to contribute. And then when he was beaten and everything, he beat up the slave breaker who was supposed to break his will. And he says, "At last I'm a man. I'm going to escape. I'm not going to put up." Then he escaped and he supported himself.

He developed the skills to support himself. And he says, "I'm not just a free man, I'm a free working man." And then he started going to abolitionist rallies and there he was at one with Garrison and all the leaders, the best orders. And they asked him to speak and he was the best of them all. So he found his gift and he didn't use it to get vengeance for all the horrors he and the people he had known experienced, he did it to eliminate injustices, not just for black Americans, but for everybody. Now, that is my role model. And that's what I aspire to be. And not that I could ever measure up to Frederick Douglas, but just directionally, that's a kind of a North Star for me.

Howard Husock: Well, I suspect a lot of people will be surprised by that because I don't have to tell you that you and your late brother, David, for whatever reasons were vilified by many people. And I just have to wonder, was that hard to take?

Charles Koch: Well, no, as I say, I've got a story and I apply the Popper's theory of, well, his scientific method, which is to develop a testable proposition and then go find what's wrong with it. So we have in our company, we have a challenge culture. If you're a supervisor at some level, any level and your people aren't challenging you, you're not empowering them. You're not helping them self-actualize. You shouldn't be a supervisor. And so that's the way, and I do that for me too. Everything I come up with, at first I want challenges. I want our people to show me what's wrong with it. And every time we come up with a better idea than I started with. And so when I look at the criticism, I like to think, okay, what are we doing that causes that?

Where are we screwing up? We're making mistakes, but anybody who innovates is going to make mistakes, is going to have failure. So I accept that, but I want to learn from these attacks. And then on some of them, I have learned... Well, the first thing we try to do is try to find common ground with these people. Like we did with Van Jones. Now he's a partner with us.

Howard Husock: This is criminal justice, right?

Charles Koch: No. Well, it's in, but we're working on broadening that, finding other areas that we can work together to empower people. And then I learned those who are doing it because what we're advocating threatens them, they're a power base or they make a living in ad hominem attacks. And so we happen to be an easy target for them. So that's the way they do. So I can just dismiss that. But the main thing is not, I'm not here to run a popularity contest except for one person, myself. And that's where all this starts for all of us. We have to believe in ourselves or we're not going to accomplish anything. So what I have to do is what I believe is the right thing. As Maslow said, what enables me to realize my potential to self-actualize, and that's what keeps me going every day.

What gets me up in the morning is how can I contribute today? How can I help others? And that's the way our company is organized and what's made us successful in the meetings I go to and we see from the bottom up, people at all levels are coming up with ideas and improvements. And so we're improving more at a faster than we ever have. And we've invested heavily in technology and we don't use it to control people. We use it to empower our employees. And it is so exciting I can tell you. And this to me is exactly what Hayek was talking about when he said, "Probably the greatest discovery of mankind was that people can live together in peace and to their mutual advantage when they're limited only by abstract rules of conduct." That's not his exact quote, but that's paraphrased.

What he was saying, when people from the bottom up are empowered, they can all get along. But when you micromanage them from the top down, all you do is create conflict and turn people against each other. And that's why Hayek and Maslow are the ones I've gotten the most guidance from. And people see that as strange. No, when you read them carefully, they're saying the same thing from two different perspectives. And that's how we learn, drawing from different perspectives. But I think that the great truths through history, the great principles that advance mankind are those that in all the different disciplines come together. And I think Hayek... well, I knew Hayek. As a matter of fact, he taught me something. One of the first things I learned, my father took me to a meeting where he spoke in New York at Foundation for Economic Education.

Howard Husock: I'm just going to say, we're talking about Friedrich von Hayek and Abraham Maslow.

Charles Koch: Yeah, absolutely. And so at the Foundation for Economic Education, Hayek spoke there. My father had done a lot of work in the Soviet Union. So he was a very strong anti-communist and they were fighting communist conspiracies and that kind of thing. And Hayek said, "Look, you people cannot win exposing conspiracy. The only way to win is to deal with communism as intellectual error." And it needs to be combated at that level because if you expose communist conspiracies and people still believe that's the wave of the future and ultimately that will make people's lives better, they'll be 100 more right behind them. We have to expose intellectual error. It will not make people's lives better. It will destroy people's lives. It will make them worse. And that was like in the early '60s. And that is stuck with me to this day as so much of Hayek's teachings have.

Howard Husock: Let me just press you on that. And you talk about Schumpeter and creative destruction in the book as well. And people finding their contribution also implies change. People have to change with the times, they have to adapt. To improve, we have to change. Many people like security. They're comfortable doing the same job for their entire careers to retire with a guaranteed pension. That was part of the appeal of socialism and communism was security. How do you think about that tension between creative destruction and security?

Charles Koch: Well, there is no security. The only security is in learning and contributing, and that's the only way you're going to be secure. Look at communism, all the people who thought that would be security, that's security in misery. That's security in starving and being tortured or sent to the Gulag if you don't exactly match the party line. So that isn't what I call security. And as Maslow taught, what you can be, you must be. We all have a nature. We have a gift. We have to realize it. We have to fulfill it. And we need to contribute if we're going to believe in ourselves and feel good about ourselves. That's the only way. And there is no security for somebody working in a job the same way. Technology is moving faster than ever, and you're going to be obsolete.

And so you're going to have to be taken care of rather than contributing. And is that what you want life to be? That you're assigned to digging ditches and filling them up so you can be busy? And be given money and accomplish nothing, have no purpose. It's like Viktor Frankl said, "Ever more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for." If we don't have a purpose in our life, a meaning in our life, we're going to be deeply unhappy. And that's what we want, and that's all the societies that have thrived have been ones that gave people the opportunity to have a purpose in their life.

Howard Husock: I detect there's a powerful idealism in what saying, I detect perhaps a religious dimension to that, or am I reading too much into it?

Charles Koch: Well, I am not religious, but spiritual. Let me put it that way.

Howard Husock: Let me turn back to philanthropy for a moment. And I'll bring Brian back in on that in a minute, but I wanted to ask, you and your brother took different paths in your philanthropy. And I'm talking about your late brother, David, Jane Mayer's favorite villains in The New Yorker. The infamous Koch brothers. You should be notorious like RBG.

Charles Koch: Yeah. Well, I've been called that, notorious.

Howard Husock: Okay. All right. And you're embracing it, it sounds like with your stoicism. But he lived here in New York and his philanthropy was to endow major institutions with a long track record of success. Then Lincoln Center, the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. His name is on really important institutions here in New York City, where I am, he's betting on proven winners and on institutional continuity, you're betting on change. Do you think he was wrong in what he did?

Charles Koch: No. David and I were brothers, but we were two different people. We had in many ways, similar North Stars, but the things that motivate him and motivated me were largely different, but he was a great partner in business. We shared vision and values in business and had complimentary capabilities. So I don't think he's other people who do things wrong. Now I think people that do things to harm people, I think they're wrong, but that was his idea of empowering people, of what would make people's lives better. And it gave him satisfaction. And those were things that he was close to, that he enjoyed. So he had firsthand personal knowledge of that. So you could say in a way that was bottom up for him, these were institutions that he had experienced.

So he knew they could give gratification and help people improve their lives, make people's lives better. Well, I'm the other way. As I said, I'm into abstractions. And one of the principle is to eliminate injustice and celebrate progress that makes people's lives better. And so we're just two different people, but I've never tried to talk him out of the things we were doing. He enjoyed it and it was fulfilling to him. And that's great. That's what we all need to find is our North Star that makes our lives better in a way that contributes to others.

Howard Husock: And Brian, are there philanthropies or philanthropic enterprises other than those supported by Stand Together that you find in your work with Charles to be inspiring or instructive?

Brian Hooks: Oh yeah, absolutely. At Stand Together, we talk about ourselves as a community of social entrepreneurs, and that includes hundreds of philanthropists that we work with, we partner with. And that's one of the best parts of my job is that I get to learn from others who have done incredible things and bring capabilities that we don't have. And by combining our efforts, we're all more effective. I'll give you an example of a group that we work very closely with, the Walton Family Foundation, right? A group that's been dedicated to helping to improve education for instance, for a long, long time. The chance to co-invest with a group like them. We've got a new project that we announced about a year ago called the [Baila 00:42:57] Fund, which is a chance to fund about 600 educational entrepreneurs, small scale.

Most of them are going to be teachers that have a new and better way to empower kids and really help them to learn and discover their gifts so that they can become contribution motivated and contribute in society. And the fun thing about this is we want to push the boundaries of what's possible in education. And so out of those 600 entrepreneurs, we only expect about 200 of them to actually take root and succeed.

Howard Husock: And are they starting new charter schools, are they're starting... What are they doing?

Brian Hooks: They are finding new methods to help teach students in an individualized way.

Howard Husock: I see.

Brian Hooks: So we talk about the need for education to be tailored to the student rather than to be focused on, what building are you in? Is it a charter? Is it a private? Is it public? No, it needs to be good quality education. And we define that as three-dimensional education, teaching our students to discover their gifts, to develop the skills they can apply to them, and to give them an opportunity to apply them in a way that helps others. And you don't see that nearly enough. And with the tragedy of COVID right now, nearly 60 million kids are learning from their parents' couch. We think that there's a real opportunity to help to dramatically improve the options that are available to those kids once this pandemic subsides. And the key to that is getting better options for them that are really tailored to their individual learning styles and their gifts.

And to be able to partner with a group like Walton in this example and benefit from all of the knowledge that they've got from their decades in this space and combine it with our capabilities and our knowledge, we can accomplish a whole lot more through that approach. So partnership is at our core and to be able to learn from other philanthropies and work with them is really important.

Howard Husock: Well, how people learn is a mysterious process. So I think it certainly bears working on... I became familiar with a group called Fugees Family in Atlanta, and this was a young woman named Luma Mufleh who started a school just for refugee children. And she found that the wrong thing to do was to assign them to a grade based on their age, because some of them had no basic literacy even though they were 12 or 13 years old. And so the whole school is tailored to where they are when they're starting. And it was very difficult for her to get accreditation because that didn't mesh with what people thought school should be.

Brian Hooks: A great example of what we talk about is the top-down approach in our systems right now. And what you just said makes so much sense. Doesn't it? Let's see what's going to work best for this individual child rather than trying to generalize and treat them as an age or whatever. But that's not how we do most things. Most of it's not bottom up, not empowering the person, it's this sort of top-down systems approach. We think you've got to have a radical change away from that if we're really going to make progress as a society. And that's the book, the book is a guide in all these different areas of society and try to push that opportunity forward.

Howard Husock: Charles, we're running out of time and I want to step back in a really big way. You've made such a big commitment in your life to America, to your idea of America, the idea of America, trying to improve our public policies, improve our social fabric. Are you optimistic or pessimistic at this point?

Charles Koch: Well, I'm optimistic longterm. And people say, "Well, it's hopeless." Well, what did it look like in the 17th century? Was there any hope there would be this great enrichment, that people's lives would be improved so dramatically starting in the 1800s? And it doesn't go up in a straight line. As you suggested, whenever there's an increase in prosperity or changes, there are people who resist that and take it back. So I look at this, this is going to come in waves, but I'm particularly optimistic in what we're finding across the, almost the entire ideological spectrum. People who are looking for a better way, saying this top-down system is not working. And you've seen that all the endorsers of our book and many others who haven't endorsed it but are working with us who are interested in a better way are helping us advance it.

So I'm excited about that. But I don't expect a utopia. I am not a utopian. A North Star is not a utopia. North Star is a direction, is an indication that you're on the right direction and you need a direction. Otherwise, as the guy said, any direction will work and every direction won't work.

Howard Husock: Well, the name of the book is Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World. The authors, our guests, Charles Koch, president of Koch Industries, Brian Hooks, CEO of Stand Together. Thank you so much for joining us.

Charles Koch: Thank you.

Brian Hooks: Thanks, Howard. Appreciate it.

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Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Stand Together

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