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Jim Luce

Jim Luce

Posted: November 13, 2009 04:39 PM

NBC's Brian Williams: Changing the World for the Better

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Several weeks ago Brian Williams profiled the children of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO) and its founder Andeisha Farid in Kabul, Afghanistan for NBC Nightly News’ segment Making a Difference (video).

Brian is anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News based in New York.  Last week, his show, including the segment Making a Difference, had 9.5 million viewers.  The show spikes up to 11 million viewers frequently.

I had interviewed the orphanage’s founder Andeisha of Kabul in New York in September and have followed her progress carefully.  I knew immediately that Brian’s focus would have an enormous impact on her good work.

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As founder of Orphans International Worldwide, I am familiar with running homes for children around the world – and the difficult task of raising the fund necessary to do so.

What I did not grasp about the piece on Making a Difference was what an enormous difference it would make – with so many contributions that flooded over the Internet to fund the kids there from Brian’s generous viewers.  He thanked them the following week (video).

I wanted to speak with Brian about how good that must make him feel – and how this sense of responsibility must now shape his life – so I asked him to call me, and he did.  Brian told me:

I was really revved to do a piece on this orphanage in Afghanistan.  I wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible – and luckily it was.  I was so grateful – we raised much more for those children than we had thought possible.

I do pieces on different topics.  We were in Kabul when there was a huge loss of life at the U.N. and I wanted to do a story after that which was ‘nice and hopeful.’  We had one day to do this feature piece, and it all just came together.

Sitting there in our rental house in Kabul, I realized I had a personal enough relationship with our viewers – who I felt could be very generous – to ask them to help these kids.  And they did! 

The cultural differences and similarities in the orphanage were enormous.  Little girls are little girls anywhere in the world.  Thank God I have parented two children, so it was the most natural of moments.

Switching glasses with them, seeing them draw stars and hearts…  The children were so tactile, kind, loving, affectionate, and gracious. 

I saw a picture of Paul Stevers there on the wall, the founder of CharityHelp International in the U.S. that provides a bridge between child sponsors and the children there.

The kids had a politeness, and order, a discipline – not like in Annie, but an attitude of accepting real responsibility – the way I was raised.  It was so real.

On his blog, Brian had posted the following after his viewers had been so generous:

I want to say thank you -- and to express my ongoing appreciation at the amazing generosity of our viewers.  We did a follow-up on the orphanage in Afghanistan.

I was only home from work for a few hours when we learned they had already received 500 e-mails from Nightly News viewers -- many of them offering donations and pledges to sponsor a child. 

It is immensely gratifying, and I’m beyond words in expressing my thanks and appreciation on behalf of the lovely children we met over there.

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Brian Williams received individualized cards from each of the children in Kabul.

“Although some are one-time gifts, our experience tells us that many of the child sponsors will continue to give for the next few years so the benefits of Brian’s efforts are very substantial and will enable AFCECO to care for many more children,” Paul Stevers, founder of CharityHelp International, told me.

CharityHelp International is the Internet bridge that connects the children to child sponsors around the world.  Orphans International Worldwide, the charity I founded, relies on CharityHelp to fund our kids in Haiti, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

“Security is an enormous issue in Kabul,” Brian told me.  “In Kabul, importance is measured by the size of your gate and the number of guns you have.  I hope the orphanage there will be able to spend more on security,” Brian added.

Clearly, the segment Making a Difference is making a difference.  From one night a week, the segment now airs up to five times a week.

“It was my wife’s idea, honestly,” Brian shared.  “With the economy sinking, she said, ‘Someone, somewhere is doing spectacular acts of kindness – go capture them!’  And we did,” Brian told me.

Making a Difference features mostly ordinary people, although it has begun to also focus on celebrities using their visibility to also help humanity.

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Quintessential thought leaders and global citizen Brian Williams on the streets of Kabul.

Brian replaced Tom Brokaw, one of his mentors, in 2004.  Previously, Brian was the network’s chief White House correspondent and host of The News with Brian Williams on CNBC and MSNBC.

After studying at college, Brian took an internship with the administration of President Jimmy Carter.  He holds an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from one of my favorite schools, Bates College, and an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree from Ohio State University.

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NBC Night News anchor Brian Williams frequently reports from Afghanistan.

Brian is the most honored network evening news anchor.  He has received four Edward R. Murrow awards, his fifth Emmy award, the DuPont-Columbia University award and the industry's highest honor, the George Foster Peabody award.

Most were given for his work in New Orleans while covering Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and all were awarded to Brian in only his second year on the job.

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Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News with Afghani children in Kabul.

Brian was the first and only network evening news anchor to report from New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit and was the only network news anchor to report from the Superdome during the storm. He remained in New Orleans to report on the aftermath and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2006, Brian joined Bono, traveling to three countries in Africa — Nigeria, Mali, and Ghana — to report on the major issues facing the continent, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, disease, and crushing debt.

In 1994, Brian was named NBC News Chief White House correspondent. Accompanying President Clinton aboard Air Force One, Brian circled the world several times, covering virtually every foreign and domestic trip by the President until 1996.

On perhaps one of the most historic trips of the Clinton presidency, Brian was the only television news correspondent to accompany three U.S. presidents — Clinton, Bush, and Carter — to Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in Israel.

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Brian is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.  He has lectured at Columbia University School of Journalism and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

In 2007, Brian was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.  He lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his wife, Jane Stoddard Williams.

There is a reason “When breaking news happens, America turns to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams."  America trusts Brian the way we once trusted Walter Cronkite.

“Walter Cronkite was the architect for what this show has become,” Brian told me.  “Walter’s level of professionalism is what I strive for every day.”

“I have been luckier than most two have had two North Stars to follow – Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw,” Brian admitted.

Like Walter and Tom, Brian is the quintessential thought leaders and global citizen – and has thousands of fans on Facebook from around the world to prove it.

Today Brian Williams has an enormous power – and a parallel responsibility – to help humanity.

Luckily for all of us, he knows this well – and is highly focused on doing all that he can in his position to change our world for the better.

 

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