Long before there was an internet or field of project management, Herbert Hoover was mastering complex logistical challenges. He was tapped to lead relief efforts to evacuate Americans stranded in Europe at the outbreak of World War I. He then remained to chair the Commission for Relief in Belgium where he mobilized volunteers at home and abroad to feed those in war-torn regions. Hoover continued his service during World War II — after he lost the presidential election to FDR — helping to avert mass famine by feeding over a billion people in 57 countries before he died.
Hoover’s formula was “centralize ideas but decentralize execution,” a good mantra for people to follow today. He was able to bring together partnerships of anyone he could find — using hungry people to unload box cars of food, enlisting teachers and hospitals to distribute food to children, and even engaging American housewives to observe “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to prevent shortages at home.
I’ve been thinking about Herbert Hoover and his valiant years of volunteerism, crossing the ocean in perilous conditions 40 times to inspire the effort, and I’ve wished there were more people with his spirit today. I’ve recently felt the impact of a lack of volunteers, either to assist at an art fair that had to be canceled due to lack of help or when challenged to find those willing to solicit signatures on a bond petition. Everyone is “too busy.” I’m sure that Hoover felt that way at times but made helping not only his country but starving people in many other countries a priority, even when Americans fought against them.
The essence of the American spirit is volunteerism. You don’t have to do heroics as Hoover did but contributing your time is needed now more than ever. Make it a priority to say yes when asked to help.