A surprising solution to global poverty, from one of the wealthiest men in the world.

"Can a chicken change the world?"

It's an intriguing question. It appeared on a minimalist poster board outside the elevator on the 68th floor of 4 World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan on June 8, 2016.

"It begins with a chicken," read another sign.


Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

Behind the signs was a makeshift chicken coop — built out of selectively shabby wood and wire — placed amid stunning views of lower Manhattan and the Hudson River.

Inside the makeshift chicken coop were 13 chickens and ... one of the richest men in the world.

Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

Yep, that's right. Billionaire tech CEO and philanthropist Bill Gates was standing in a chicken coop.

Gates, the godfather of Silicon Valley and the man against whom all American wealth is measured, really isn't your stereotypical cartoon billionaire, like Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons."

In fact, despite his Burns-esque body language in the picture above, he's kind of the opposite. Instead of dumping chemicals in the local watering hole or stowing away cash in the Cayman Islands, Bill and his wife Melinda spend their time and incredible wealth doing ... well ... good things.

So, what good things was Gates planning to do with all these chickens?

The chickens are part of his latest initiative: Coop Dreams.

Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

Started by Heifer International, Coop Dreams is now supported by Gates, who is donating 100,000 chickens to extremely impoverished communities all over the world.

The Gates Foundation does a lot of work with agriculture around the world, although so far its focus has largely been on seeds.

While Gates says they've made good strides creating seeds that are "more productive and disease-resistant," he also explained, over the chorus of clucking birds, "There’s a huge part of it now that has to do with livestock."

Livestock — in this case chickens — is a gift that keeps on giving, Gates says. Chickens are an economic opportunity that literally multiplies itself and can help lift people out of poverty.

A Coop Dreams starter kit includes a rooster and several hens.

Within a year, farmers can have hundreds of egg-laying chickens. They can eat the chickens, eat the eggs, or sell the chickens in nearby cities for around $5 U.S. They can then use the money to buy food, medicine, or anything else they need.

In time, a farmer who raises and sells 250 chickens per year can bring in around $1,250 annually.

Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

Once Coop Dreams hands out the starter kits, they stick around to teach participants how to house, feed, vaccinate, and otherwise care for the new flocks.

Right now in West Africa, only 5% of households own chickens, Gates says. He hopes Coop Dreams will help get that number up to about 30%.

To be fair, not every country is interested in chicken gifts. The government of Bolivia, led by President Evo Morales, rejected Gates' chicken donation because of its policy of turning down Western development aid.

The chickens are gifted to small, independent farmers for their own benefit, not major farms that stimulate the country-wide economy.

Annie Bergman has seen the world-changing power of chickens firsthand.

As part of her job as the global communications Director for Heifer International, Bergman visits communities that have received chickens to see how the project is affecting their lives.

Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

"We did a lot of earthquake relief with the folks that were affected [in Nepal] last year," Bergman told Welcometoterranova of her recent trip.

"I saw one woman who had been raising chickens and lost a number of her livestock due to exposure and shock after the earthquake. [She] took her savings and reinvested specifically in chickens. When we went in with her, with her chickens, her face just immediately lit up. It was clear that this was the path for her to continue, even though she had lost everything months beforehand."

As the parable goes: "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." In the case of Coop Dreams, instead of fish, it's chickens. And instead of men, it's women.

"You can go through crop by crop," Gates told us. "Some crops — both men and women do. Some are almost entirely men."

Chicken-rearing, which requires regular tending, is a chore controlled almost entirely by the women of the household.

Mbene Sarr, a Coop Dreams participant. Image via YouTube/Heifer International.

There's a doubly cool benefit to giving women the responsibility of managing the chicken coops: Study after study shows that when income starts flowing to women in these communities, everyone benefits.

Why? According to Gates, "If you get the income going to the mother, then it’s used for nutrition and school fees a higher percentage of the time than if it’s going to the male."

The most amazing part of Coop Dreams is the way it encourages recipients to spread the wealth — "wealth" being chickens, of course.

Participants in the Coop Dreams program are required — yes, required — to donate their flock's first offspring to another family in need. Heifer International calls it "passing on the gift."

Farmers generally donate their chicks to another family in their community, and often donate to the younger generation, which has a multiplicative effect on their community's ability to escape extreme poverty.

Photo by Jon Comulada/Welcometoterranova.

So — what's the answer? Can a chicken change the world?

Extreme poverty is a problem that is both gigantic and multifaceted. There is no one solution to it, and of course Bill Gates knows that.

Perhaps the irony of unveiling a solution to global poverty in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world wasn't lost on Bill. Maybe it was even intentional. We can all help the world move forward, and we don't have to be billionaires to do it. We just have to be paying attention.

And yes, the chickens are a tiny, clucking, head-bopping step in that direction.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

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Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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