Tbilisi, Georgia: Friday, April 5, 2002: Friday morning, Dr. Marlin and I were picked up at our flat and driven to our first needs assessment at the Emergency Cardiology Center at Tbilisi. As we entered through the front doors of the gray, drab cement building I thought to myself, “I think I’ve been here . . . maybe it was in a dream.” After 15 years of needs assessments in developing countries throughout the world, the old hospitals begin to blur a bit into a class of sameness.
Archil spoke to the white-cloaked doctor in charge who was running pell-mell with his stethoscope dangling from around his neck. He walked over to me and grunted something in Georgian and took off like a shot motioning us to keep up with him. He walked to one ward, flung open the door and made a sweeping gesture toward the patients. Without slowing in motion he walked to a double occupancy room where he copied his swinging the door and sweeping of his hand.
At that point I reached out and took hold of his forearm and said, “No! I am wasting your time and you are wasting my time. I want to speak for 15 minutes to the director of the hospital and after that be taken on an appropriate tour so that I can efficiently determine the specific areas of this hospital where Project C.U.R.E. can assist.” He stopped dead in his tracks and his stethoscope flopped limply down to his chest.
Within about four minutes I was ushered into the director’s office where we had a great interview with the director, Dr. Simon Kapanadze, and the chief of the cardio surgery department, Dr. Zriad Bakhutashvili. The rude doctor we had first encountered had completely disappeared by then. Later, as we toured the new heart cauterization laboratory, Dr. Alexander Aladashvili came rushing across the room to greet me. “I remember you and the good work you have done for our department in the past. It was Project C.U.R.E. who sent us wonderful cardiology supplies about three years ago when we so desperately needed them. Thank you a hundred times for your help!” I quickly recalled that on one of my recent trips to Georgia I had been specifically invited to that department to help them and we had included the materials in a cargo container destined for quite another hospital. That was a good way to get the day started.
From the cardiology center we quickly drove to the expert facility of the radiology diagnosis center of the Georgia State University. Dr. Fridon Todua was doing a remarkable job of assembling an outstanding center for Georgia. His plan was for Project C.U.R.E. to help them by sending supplies to them for their procedures in order to keep the costs down for the Georgian patients.
On the way to our next appointment I had our driver stop at an Internet cyber hole-in-the-wall to try to check my e-mail messages from home and to send a short message to Anna Marie. Their equipment was so slow and their phone lines so bad that I finally gave up without making any connections.
One of our hosts, Dr. Nicholas Nasidze, who regularly worked for International Red Cross and his wife, Dr. Manana who worked as an ophthalmologist, had donated a lot of their time to the Georgian Diabetes Education and Information Center in Tbilisi. Our next appointment was to visit their work with diabetics, especially children. Their request was for Project C.U.R.E. to help them secure test strips, needles, and other supplies, plus help in procuring a simple laboratory set-up with microscope, test tubes, and simple testing equipment. They also requested picture posters and updated educational materials that they could translate into the Georgian language.
Our follow-up meeting with the executive board of the Rotary Club went extremely well and we walked away with all the necessary paperwork completed to activate the shipping process. Project C.U.R.E. would supply up to $1 million worth of medical goods into Georgia and the Rotary groups would cover the cost of shipping.
Between that appointment and our scheduled dinner, we had time to explore the “old town” of Tbilisi and visit one of their orthodox Christian churches that was built in the sixth century A.D.
At dinner Dr. Archil and Dr. Nicholous asked many, many questions about Project C.U.R.E. and its mission. Finally, Archil said, “Well, we’ve talked it over here and we are so impressed with Project C.U.R.E. and your philosophy of being generous in what you’re doing around the world that we want to start a ‘Project C.U.R.E./ Georgia.’ We want to be a part of this great thing.” Of course, that brought on a flood of discussion and, again, we talked until about midnight.
On our way back to the flat, Archil asked if both Jim and I would consent to speaking to the students the next day who were enrolled in the master’s degree program at Georgia Technological University. “Jim Jackson, I want you to tell them about Project C.U.R.E. and the ideas of being humanitarian.” We agreed.
Saturday, April 6
Twenty-two thousand students attended Georgia Tech University in Tbilisi, and there were 4,000 faculty and staff. It was no small institution. I had previously had the honor of being asked to speak at the University of Ukraine in Kiev, the University of Armenia in Yerevan, the Medical University of Brazil in Campinas, and the Royal College of Physicians in London, and now they had asked me to share a bit at the Georgia Tech University in Tbilisi.
We were ushered into the large lecture hall. Soon the students began filing in. Dr. Marlin was introduced first and spoke about the communists’ old way of determining economic market price as opposed to the way market prices were determined according to supply and demand in a free market economy. He did a fine job and it beautifully set the stage for what I wanted to say.
Because only about 60% of the students were proficient in English, there was a translator provided for us. When I got up to speak I announced my lecture subject, “I want to talk to you today about the ‘economics of compassion’.” I went on to explain:
“I am a capitalist and a very successful capitalist. But I am a capitalist so that I can be a more successful humanitarian. You have no doubt been told in your past that capitalism was bad because it was selfish and greedy. Let’s explore today some comparisons and some results. I am a lifelong observer and I want to share with you what I have observed.
In the mid-1700s Adam Smith proposed economic theories that included elements of freedom of decision, economic growth, division of labor, free market movement, self-determination, and minimal government intervention. About 100 years later Karl Marx proposed that Adam Smith was wrong. In order for a society to be successful Marx held that the economy needed to be controlled at the top by the politburo and subsequently determined by intelligent people who knew what was best for the society. Otherwise, class struggles would continue between the “haves” and the “have nots.” The only fair thing, according to Marx, was to take from those who “have” and redistribute to those who “have not,” then there would be peace and equality.
It was a case of free, creative compassion vs. controlled and arbitrary distribution. Now we have gone another 150 years. The experiments have had opportunity to run their course and today we can observe, as history, the results of the contest of ideas.
One concept, when having run its course, ended in bankruptcy, poverty, and misery. The other enabled society to dip into a wellspring of resources to cure not only its own national ills but to reach out and be more compassionate than any other civilization in history.
The results had taken place in our own lifetime and we could observe and draw our conclusions. You see, ideas have consequences. Theories and their results find their way into the pages of irrefutable history. We can judge for ourselves.
I am a capitalist today because it allows and enables me to be successfully compassionate. I have the opportunity to employ theories and principles that can make the lives of others better.
A week ago I was in India assessing the results of some natural disasters. In the state of Gujarat an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter scale killed 30,000 people in about two minutes. Everything was left in devastation.
I also traveled to the eastern part of India, in the state of Orissa, where some 20,000 people were swept into the Bay of Bengal by a super cyclone. Who went to meet the needs of the disaster victims? It was the compassionate capitalists not the bankrupt communists.
Ask yourself: Which system became more compassionate as the experience progressed? Did communism? No, as control expanded so did graft and corruption. In the final stages there was more greed, selfishness, and class separation between the powerful and the impoverished than ever dreamed. The military establishment once again became the czars, the very ones against whom they were trying to revolt.
Free market entrepreneurialism has never had a free chance to operate. But even to the limited degree to which it has been allowed to operate, the results have been astounding. It has enabled people to generously express their ideals of compassion. There has never been anything like it in history.
I believe that, built into us, is the need to help one another, as well as the need for helping ourselves. We would never be truly fulfilled and happy unless we purposefully included the element of compassion into our economic process of capitalism. But capitalism and compassion are not elements in diametric opposition, as we are often told. Rather, they are concepts of compatibility. One strengthens and fulfills the other and makes it possible in a viable and sustained way to give generously to the needs of others. It is not through controlled direction but through industrial incentive and fulfillment.
When I was a little boy I determined to become a millionaire, and indeed I did become a millionaire many times over. But I discovered that the pursuit and accumulation of goods did not bring happiness and fulfillment in and of itself. I have observed that you could never accumulate quite enough to make you fulfilled and happy.
One day I asked God to change me, committing that I would never again use my talents and experience to accumulate wealth just for myself. My wife and I decided to give our accumulation away, start over, and see if we could get it right the next time.
By still employing the mindset and principles of capitalism and growth and individual expression, but tying it all to the element of compassion, we have experienced 30 years of wonderful fulfillment and worth. The results of the experiment culminated in part in an entity called Project C.U.R.E. where we collect millions of dollars worth of medical supplies and pieces of medical equipment and donate them to the neediest around the world. Presently, we have shipped into 89 different countries around the world and just this year alone Project C.U.R.E. will donate somewhere around $20 million worth of goods to the needy.
I know what you are hearing sounds strange and unusual, but here at the university I present the concept to you for your consideration. You need to think about the concept of “compassionate capitalism.”
I challenge you today to become aggressive in fulfilling all your growth and potential, and accumulate skills and understanding of free market enterprise concepts and entrepreneurialism. Become excellent. Become the best capitalists possible. But do it not for self-accumulation and aggrandizement and selfish consumption, but for the greater good of others around you who are less fortunate. Allow the principles to work for the benefit of you and others around you. Do that and Georgia will blossom like a rose in a fertile garden.
I hope you have heard something very different today and I hope you will never forget the words of the happiest man in the world.”
Next Week: Developing biomed technicians in Georgia