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History of the Idea by Carolyn Jones

Research & White Papers

While living in Paris, I received an e-mail from my friend and fellow filmmaker Isabel Sadurni entitled, "If the World Were 100 People." It offered an accurate description of the world population proportionally represented by 100 individuals (1:62.5 million), based on criteria such as age, nationality, gender, religion, and language. We both found the statistics describing the present state of our humanity on the planet both stunning, and deeply moving. We then asked ourselves, what do we really know about the people with whom we share the planet and why should we care about them, or more to the point, how do we express our care? We recognized that as a result of looking at the world population as a village of 100 people, we could better come to know our world neighbors, we could gain greater understanding of some of the issues that affect the planet we all share, and we could learn more about what it means to be a global citizen. We were determined to identify and meet these 100 people. We immediately began researching the source of the concept as well as how we might realize this concept in visual form as a film, book, traveling audio/video installation and educational curriculum.

Through further research we found that the words "If the world were a village of 1000 people" first appeared in print on May 21, 1990 in an article entitled "State of the Village Report" in the newspaper The Valley News and in 12 other newspapers. The article was written by Dartmouth professor, Donella Meadows, in her weekly column entitled "The Global Citizen". Reaching out on a grassroots level to local readers, Donella Meadows presented a very accessible framework for understanding the world as a fabric of physical, economic, or social relationships that determine world development. In the form of a weekly column, this article was her call to action. Having dealt for years with a group of scientists, analysts, systematicians and policy-makers, Donella Meadows now reached out to share her knowledge with humanity. While others saw world development on a fatal collision course with nature, Donella stood adamantly as a force of scientifically reinforced optimism. Donella worked to shift mindsets and to help build the awareness and educate others about what an individual could do to help manage complex environmental, social and economic systems of which we are all a part.

In 1992, Donella Meadows was being interviewed on National Public Radio about her State of the Village article and other work. The interview caught the attention of David Copeland, member of Value Earth, an East Coast based environmental group. He had just recently been asked to produce a poster for the 1992 Earth Summit being held that year in Rio de Janeiro. David had caught the interview while driving home one evening, pulled over to write down everything he could about Donella Meadows with the intent to reproduce these statistics for the Earth Summit poster. David tracked down Donella Meadows through a persistent series of phone calls and received the "yes" he needed. Donella's statistics describing
the world as 1000 people were subsequently published and distributed on 50,000 posters during the 1992 Earth Summit. The poster also featured an image of the planet Earth from space. Throughout the conference, the information was shared on an international level. Yankee Publishing reproduced Donella's statistics in the Old Farmers Almanac of that same year.

Also in 1992, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV)
of Madison Wisconsin, published an educational curriculum, entitled "Unheard Voices: Celebrating Cultures of the Developing World." The curriculum was an expansion of a popular international calendar featuring photos and artwork from various countries served by the Peace Corps accompanied by statistical information on each country. A Biden-Pell grant for developmental education that year allowed the team at RPCV, headed by Nancy Westbrook, to author this educational curriculum intended for wide circulation throughout the educational community. They ensured this by opening the copyright to permit not-for-profit reproduction and distribution of their curriculum free of charge and without permission from the authors. The curriculum lists a statistical outline representing the world as a village, similar to that one found in the article written by Donella Meadows though in Westbrook's version, the number of 1000 people representing the world population was reduced to 100. This is the first copyrighted document we found that did so. After the publication of that curriculum, various websites reproduced the statistics as they appeared in the curriculum on their websites and listed "Unheard Voices: Celebrating Cultures of the Developing World" as their source. By February 2001, electronic versions of the Global Village idea had circulated so widely and sparked enough interest that The Daily Mail, one of Britain's largest newspapers, ran an article about the list of statistics, citing it as "author unknown."

In 2003, these statistics describing the world as a village of 100 people arrived to us via e-mail from Stanford University. The statistics were attributed to law professor Dr. Phillip Harter in our version. Dr. Harter says that he merely passed what he thought was an interesting item on to friends by email, who in turn, thinking it interesting forwarded it to their friends. Global Village 100 quickly spread around the world with Dr. Philip Harter's name at the bottom of the email.

Subsequent research by David Taub revealed that the inspiration behind the piece was indeed the article by Donella Meadows, "State of the Village Report" published in the early 90s.

Over the 15 years since Donella Meadows had published the "State of the Village Report," the statistics have appeared on countless websites and, like a folksong, have taken on various incarnations. In testimonial to the power of the underlying messages of Donella's statistics these statistics continue to demand attention and response. Certainly, the first e-mail representative of Donella's work that we received inspired us to respond with a creative act that would propel the idea forward.

In making this film, sound/photo installation, book of photographs and educational curriculum, it is our goal is to facilitate communication between cultures and world neighbors so that the concept of a world community and shared responsibility for the planet will expand even beyond what Donella might have thought possible. When technology allows us to immediately communicate with far away cultures and individuals, taking the next step of facilitating face to face introductions with the 100 people that represent our world population, is our act towards global citizenry and towards progress. It is our hope that many others will continue this work far into the sustainable future.

We enter an arena where others also continue to create projects based on this concept and invite you to visit these related links:

Artist Allysson Lucca explores the concept of 100 people with powerful still images set to music. It can be viewed as a Flash film at the following website.

Author David Smith has written a children's book, "If the World were a Village." It has been translated into 12 languages other than English to educate students around the globe so that they better understand the world we live in. His work may be found at:

Donella Meadows' original "State of the Village Report" may be found at:

General information regarding the Donella Meadows Institute can be found at: http://www.donellameadows.org

The organization ODT offers fascinating and thought-provoking resources to expand your view of the world. World maps showing population size, as well as country sizes in true proportion are among the unique materials they offer. Their video/DVD Many Ways To See The World is an inspiring exploration of how maps get created and how they influence our perceptions of the world.