Seattle is the 'capital of compassion'

The next time you brave I-5 traffic between Portland and Seattle, think about this: You are traveling a highway linking more organizations focused on ending poverty and human misery than anywhere else in the country.

You are, in effect, on a highway of hope to the capital of compassion. The sum total impact of these organizations makes our region the world leader in compassionate action for those in need.

Along with that, there are local institutions and companies involved in public health and medical research which create synergies unique to Seattle, and the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else on this planet.

A notable example of an organization blending research and aid is the Ballard-based PATH, where cutting-edge medical research benefiting our poorest citizens is targeted for maximum effectiveness.

In Oregon, groups with decades of experience - Mercy Corps and Northwest Medical Teams the largest among them - annually bring in $500 million in combined relief and medical outreach. Federal Way's World Vision may very well become the largest non-government organization (NGO) of all, this year closing in on the $1 billion mark. Global Partnerships, led by Magnolia's Bill Clapp, along with World Concern in Shoreline, round out some of the most notable Northwest based organizations.

To that is added the service of Rotary International, and their largest single group - known as downtown's "Seattle Four" - which has made global eradication of polio a centennial goal.

All this might be enough to dub Seattle the "Capital of Compassion," yet overarching everything is a family compared to the Medici Empire of the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras: Bill and Melinda Gates and their nonprofit foundation.

If all of this were a great chemistry experiment, the Gates Foundation would be both catalyst and reagent in one, making things happen with a view toward expansive synergies. But the world is long-past the need for experiment - the outcomes of these combined efforts indeed may determine the overall health of this planet in the twenty-first century.

The Medici family, as some of the first grand capitalists of Europe, created splendor that today awes visitors to Florence. As commoners pioneering techniques of finance and accounting, they accumulated wealth in excess of many royals of the time. Over the generations they came to be seen as royalty themselves.

The only accurate comparison between la familia Gates and the Medicis is both acquired unprecedented wealth - quickly. Though many financial writers have stretched the comparison beyond reason, it's inarguable that their successes were unprecedented for the times they lived in.

And, of course, they share the status of being subjects of enduring fascination - which is a burden I wouldn't wish on anyone.

There is a remarkable difference between them, of course. And it is a difference with a powerful symbol, born of the wish of the Gates Foundation's founders to give away the vast portion of their wealth in their own lifetimes.

That is the key. That they have targeted those most in need around the world should get your attention. Still, they cannot have any success in a vacuum, and they know it. Money alone does not solve problems.

In order to truly understand the special status such organizations bestow on our region, it's important to understand what they have proven through their combined efforts - namely, that hope is a motivator.

Ask veterans in developing-world relief and aid work what can happen when people have health care and nutrition: opportunity to improve their family's lives through education, while simultaneously ditching the eons-old trap of having children as a form of life insurance.

The world-focused organizations of our region have a common goal: to create a new paradigm. It is a realization long in the making.

P. Scott Cummins is a freelance writer living in Magnolia.[[In-content Ad]]