Off the Cuff with Sam Daley-Harris, founder and president of RESULTS and author of Reclaiming Democracy


Effie Kline-Salamon

Sam Daley-Harris, who spoke on Tuesday on the mitigation of world hunger

Isaac Fuhrman

Sam Daley-Harris is the founder and president of RESULTS, an international citizens’s lobby dedicated to creating the political will to end hunger and poverty. Daley-Harris is the author of the book Reclaiming Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government, recently reissued to commemorate its 20th anniversary. 

Could you speak about your organization RESULTS? Why and how did you found it?

The story of founding RESULTS is a story of turning my obliviousness and hopelessness into action. I actually have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music, and I played percussion instruments in the Miami Philharmonic Orchestra for 12 years. Then I started a citizen lobby group on ending global poverty. …When I look back on my life, there are two events that particularly come to mind: I graduated from high school in 1964 and played timpani in the orchestra at graduation, and just before the ceremony, a flute player came back to the percussion section and told me that a high school fraternity brother, a year younger than I, had died the day before in a tractor-trailer accident. When I was 17, mortality was an irrelevant issue. But during that period of mourning, it really began to dawn on me that maybe I only had 17 more minutes, or months, or years left in this world. And the questions of purpose started to come up: Why am I here? What am I here to do? There’s a favorite quote of mine by Mark Twain, who said, “the two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Nine years after I graduated from college, I was invited to a presentation on ending world hunger. I thought hunger and global poverty were insurmountable issues because there seemed to be no solutions to these problems. If there were solutions, someone would have done something by now, I thought. Then I realized that I’m not hopeless due to lack of solutions, I’m hopeless about human nature, that people would just never get around to doing the things that needed to be done. But there was one [person’s] human nature I had some control over — my own.

In 1978 and ’79, I spoke to 7,000 high school students in Miami and Los Angeles about ending world hunger. Before I went into the first classroom, I read some statements from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Food Nutrition Study calling for the ‘political will’ to end hunger. So I ask 7,000 high school students, ‘What’s the name of your member of Congress?’ Out of 7,000, [guess] the number that knew the name of their member of Congress… ?


Close. 200 knew. Fewer than three percent. 6,800 didn’t know. RESULTS started out of this gap between calls for the political will to end hunger on one hand and the lack of basic information about who represented us in Washington on the other. 

So, what would you say to a politically apathetic person who says that it’s not his or her responsibility to know who my representative is? How can an individual build a positive relationship with his/her representative in Congress?

Well there’s a quote by an Apollo astronaut named Rusty Schweickart who said, ‘We aren’t passengers on spaceship Earth; we’re the crew. We aren’t residents; we’re citizens.’ The difference in both cases is responsibility. Someone can say, I’m a passenger, I’m not part of the crew. Well, yes, except that this is a diminished life, in my opinion — when you don’t feel like you have control over anything except what is right in front of you. In the community, or in the state, or in the nation, you’re mostly irrelevant. Coming back to that Mark Twain quote, I think to answer “Why am I here?” includes, for most people, to give back, to matter, to make a difference. But this volition is often smothered by cynicism and despair and hopelessness. So that’s the apathetic person. But when you start stripping some of that away, then what comes back up is the commitment to actually produce positive change.

What are some of the initiatives that the organizations you’re associated with are working toward now?

So, I founded RESULTS and the Citizen Lobby on Ending Global Poverty in 1980, and after 15 years, I switched gears and founded the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and then 17 years later, I founded the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation. In the past, I’ve accused national nonprofit groups of not asking people for more than a click and a check. You know, keeping their donors in ‘kindergarten’ and ‘first grade’ as citizen activists. RESULTS and the Citizen Climate Lobby differ from many of these other organizations in that they offer a structure of support that helps an individual become a better, more empowered citizen activist.

One example: We hold a nationwide telephone conference call every month. Hundred of volunteers from around the country are on the phone with each other. In August, the conference call special guest was Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute at Columbia. He spoke to the other volunteers about how to formulate a specific plan of action, how to be more articulate in your advocacy, [and] how to nail an elevator speech on one aspect of poverty, for example.

We’ve set up this rich curriculum, not just of guest speakers; there’s way more to it than that. But when you stop doing the ‘Click once to donate and you’re done,’ you progress further and further as an activist. So you need to find an organization that helps you get out of your comfort zone and have a breakthrough in who you think you can be and what you think you can do. The magic happens when you see you’re passion for the end of poverty or for a stable climate expressed in a newspaper or expressed in your member of Congress finally saying, ‘Okay, I get this. I’m going to support this legislation.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would just recommend that if people are interested, they should look into  or Because this is not like cleaning up the environment on campus, although that is all well and good. This is advocacy. This is lobbying. People need to find a structure of support that will really propel them forward as citizen activists.