If the world were one hundred people what would it look like?
That’s the question filmmaker Isabel Sadurni sent in an email to her friend photographer Carolyn Jones ten years ago.
“I looked at it and thought, the statistics are fascinating, surprising, startling, let’s go find the people! Let’s find one hundred people that represent the world population,” Jones recalls of the email that was circulating at the time. “I mean think about it: If the world were one hundred people, one would have a college education. One person! Twenty four people don’t even have electricity.”
100 people who represent the world
And so 100 People: A World Portrait was born. The idea: to find one hundred people who statistically represent the 6.7 billion of us who share the planet. The goal: to grab students’ attention with tangible numbers and images and give them tools to learn about their global neighborhood. At first the two women thought they would collaborate to create a film and traveling photography exhibition, but the project quickly expanded into an educational odyssey.
Jones and Sadurni developed a website, and started a non-profit, the 100 People Foundation, and through contacts and a partnership with International Schools Services, (a private, non-profit organization serving American international schools overseas), they started approaching schools.
Their concept focused on empowering students, and aimed at integrating writing and art: “We devised a lesson plan so that kids could nominate people in their communities that have done something that they admire,” Jones explains. The students would then interview and create portraits of their nominees that would be exhibited both in their schools and on the 100 People website.
The response was overwhelming, Jones claims, from the very first batch of nominations from Myanmar: “I just about wept when I saw these wonderful human stories. How they feel about this person who drives them home on the bus every day, or tends the garden at the school,” to students at a school in North Carolina who wanted to compare the one hundred people of the world to people in their own community, “So they nominated one hundred people from their community,” to a student in Niamey, Niger who sent them a nomination of “a leatherworker in a marketplace who he thought was particularly good,” she remembers.
Jones and Sadurni were so taken, they grabbed their cameras and started their own journey. “It’s just been this kind of snowball effect,” Jones says. “We started traveling around the world to meet the students, some of the teachers, and some of the people that were being nominated,” and documenting everything they saw and experienced. The results, both in portrait and video, are represented on the website, and gets updated as more and more information flows in.
“It isn’t just about learning about a different place in the world, it’s about how do I fit into the world? How does my life here compare to life in other parts of the world? I think before you can understand your place in the world, you have to understand who you are and where you come from,” Jones discovered.
Jones believes she’s about a year to a year and a half away from getting enough nominations to make a viable representation of the entire world’s population. In the meantime the educational value of the project is accelerating. More than 375 schools are using the “100 People” curriculum to date. “Teachers are using the website as a tool for introducing students to people in the different countries that they’re studying,” she says.
“100 People: A World Portrait” is among the projects recommended to teachers participating in the State Department’s “Global Schools Network” for educators who want to expand their global education curricula. They have also partnered with VIF International Education – an exchange program for international educators who want to teach in the United States. And they’re exploring solar power with the Sunpower Foundation in 100 People Under the Sun.
What about issues?
In 2008, foundation manager Lisa Frank came on board “100 People” with a vision to broaden the project’s focus beyond the people who represent the world’s population, and look at the issues that connect them.
Frank and Jones collaborated to create the “Global Issues Through Our Lens” phase of the project to look at ten common global issues through what they call the “100 People lens,” from water, to food, to energy, to health, to transportation. The foundation teamed up with Techonomy this past summer – a new conference that brings together leaders to explore the intersection of technology and innovation, and the idea that humans invent things to solve problems.
In the newest phase of the project, Jones, Sadurni and Frank went to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this summer and selected ten student finalists to represent each of the ten issues – and will continue to explore solutions through their eyes.
As Jones continues her examination of the issues through the “100 People lens” her goal has expanded far beyond finding the one hundred people. “We live in difficult times. This is a very, very simple way to remind us of who we live with, and focus on students, where our future lies.”
Now what if the world were 100 people? What would it look like? Here’s a sampling according to “100 People: A World Portrait”:
- 50 woud be female
- 50 would be male
- 1 would have a college education
- 1 would own a computer
- 1 would be dying of starvation
- 17 would speak Chinese
- 8 would speak Hindustani
- 8 would speak English
- 7 would speak Spanish
- 4 would speak Arabic
- 82 would be able to read and write
- 18 would be illiterate
- 83 would have access to safe drinking water
- 17 would have no clean, safe water to drink
What do you think about the importance of global education? Let us know in the comments.
Photograph of children at the Pulo Elementary School, Pulo, Phillipines, courtesy of Carolyn Jones