“Creating Prosperity,” with Tim Hanstad
Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Tim Hanstad. He leads the Chandler Foundation as the chief executive officer. Prior to his work there, Tim co-founded and was the longtime CEO of Landesa, the world’s leading land rights organization. Tim led its growth from a two-person team to a leading global NGO with more than 20 offices around the world and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
Tim has been personally recognized by the School Social Entrepreneur Award and as the World Economic Forum Outstanding Social Entrepreneur. He holds two law degrees from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from SPU, where he was honored in 2017 as our alum of the year. Tim, thank you so much for joining us.
Tim Hanstad: Oh, delighted to be here, Amanda.
Amanda: Well, Tim, while you were alum of the year, I got so much pleasure out of getting to know you and the work that you do and about Landesa. So before we dive into the Chandler Foundation and the work you’re doing now, can you give us a snapshot about the work of Landesa?
Tim: Sure. Yeah. Thank you, Amanda. Landesa is an organization, as you already mentioned, that’s focused on land rights, but it’s really about empowering women, men and communities with this powerful tool, land ownership, that they can use to improve their lives. Over the years, Landesa worked in more than 50 countries, partnering with governments to change laws, policies and programs that, at scale, could provide land ownership to some of the poorest people on the planet. And over the years, we were able to effectively partner with governments to help provide land rights to over 180 million households. In total, Landesa’s work has helped about 340 million women and men to receive legal rights to land on which they depend.
“In total, Landesa’s work has helped about 340 million women and men to receive legal rights to land on which they depend.”
Amanda: That alone is so amazing. I feel like that would be enough, but as I learned about Landesa and the work that’s done there, how the land ownership is managed, does the woman own part of the land as well, or is it just the husband, that some of those details made a huge difference long term. Can you talk about some of those social issues that it affects, as well?
Tim: Yeah. Right. Well, patriarchy is alive and strong throughout the world, and it results in women having much less access and control over land. This is more than an equal rights problem, as it results in many negative social outcomes for women, children, men, and entire communities.
The evidence is very clear now that where women do get access and control over land that is shared with the men in their lives, that productivity on the land increases, that children do better in school. Nutrition-wise, the family itself does better in overall social and economic outcomes, and the benefits extend to the broader community. So, Landesa’s work was more than just getting land ownership to poor families. It is also about who within those families shares in the legal rights to the land.
Amanda: Yeah. Some of the statistics I learned along the way, isn’t there even a huge decrease in domestic violence when land ownership is shared?
Tim: Yes. Studies have shown that when women share in legal rights to land, that they gain voice within the household, and that this, in turn, causes domestic violence to go down. There’s a whole lot of positive social outcomes from giving women more status and voice that aren’t immediately intuitive, but when you are looking at it closely, you find this in place after place after place. And the problem of unequal land rights for women is not just an issue in very poor countries. In a lot of middle-income or high-income countries, women have lesser access and rights and control over land, including in the United States.
“There’s a whole lot of positive social outcomes from giving women more status and voice that aren’t immediately intuitive.”
Amanda: It’s amazing how those policies that come attached to finances and land, how those trickle down into so many social areas. I know my sister works in finance, and how often a single woman is denied a loan where a single man would get the loan with the same finances. It’s amazing how these things trickle down into our lives.
Amanda: Well, I love the story of how you ended up at SPU and, unbeknownst to you, started this journey of really changing the world through all this work. Can you tell us about that?
Tim: Well, I wasn’t sure that I was going to go to college at all. I was a good student in high school and in some ways maybe expected to go to college, but my parents were never ones to put a lot of pressure on me to go or where to go. What was important to me in high school, maybe more so than classes, was tennis. I was an athlete and eventually focused my efforts on tennis. I ended up going to a SPU visit on a day because one of my friends from high school was going. And through that process, got to know the tennis coach because, of course, that’s what I was really interested in. At that time, I was more interested in talking to the tennis coach than professors. That coach showed an interest in me, and SPU became then the only school that I applied to and was happy that I did.
Amanda: Isn’t it amazing how what seems like a big thing to you at the time seems little later, and yet it’s the catalyst that made things happen? So you grew up in Mount Vernon, is that correct?
Amanda: So do you think growing up amidst a migrant worker community, do you think that influenced the choices that you made in where to put your efforts, even through law school and beyond?
Tim: Yes, absolutely it did. I can point back to that experience living in an agricultural community and working in the fields, which I started doing at a very early age, as formative. I think at the age of 8, our parents sent us off to work in the fields during the summers, and I continued doing that up until college and even beyond college. Part of that experience was working alongside poor migrant workers from southern Mexico – some of whom were also children working with their parents.
And looking back on it later, I realized I was puzzled by what I was seeing because I had been socialized in a Protestant work ethic tradition that suggests you get further in life by working hard – economic success comes from working hard. And here I was seeing the poorest people that I’d ever seen in my life – these families that were working out in the field, some of whom were living in their cars or in ramshackle huts that farmers provided for them – these people who were the poorest people I had ever seen were also the hardest workers that I had ever seen.
And those observations got me asking questions. I was always one to ask questions about what I observed. I asked some of the kids from the migrant worker families questions about life in southern Mexico, and I asked my parents questions about how such inequalities and injustice could happen. This experience got me curious about issues around international development and social justice. And that put me on a path as I kept asking questions, including while I was at SPU.
I came to the conclusion that I wanted to something with my life that addressed those issues of international development and social justice. The fact that it came back to centering initially around issues of land and land ownership was probably not an accident, given my upbringing and experience working on the land.
“I came to the conclusion that I wanted to something with my life that addressed those issues of international development and social justice.”
Amanda: Right. And trying to say is that Protestant work ethic that we’re raised with of you work hard and it pays off. So you’re faced with a real-life situation where that’s not true, that’s not happening. So does it mean that way of seeing the world, is that not true? Or is there something in the way? Is there something keeping that from happening for certain populations? And I just feel so blessed to be able to know people like you that are looking upstream, if you will, to question why isn’t this working the way it’s supposed to, and then doing something about it.
Tim: Yes. It’s interesting. The ethic of hard work has stuck with me. I do believe in the importance of hard work. What I don’t believe is that we all begin from the same starting point. I’ve had the great privilege throughout my work life to live and travel around the world, including in proximity with poor communities and people in rural and urban areas. That has provided the opportunity to to talk with literally thousands of people living in poverty, often doing extended interviews with them to better understand their lives and dreams.
The consistent observation I have from experiencing life with people who come from very different backgrounds than I do is that talent, drive, and creativity are pretty evenly allocated around the world. What’s not evenly allocated is opportunity. And I can look at that for my own situation, going back to my 8-year-old self working next to other kids from southern Mexico, to know that it was an accident of birth, not hard work – the fact that I was born not in southern Mexico but in the United States – that explained why I was economically better off.
And even though my family was in relatively modest economic circumstances for the U.S., I was born in the United States and was a white, cisgender male with a loving, supportive family. All of these things gave me a privileged starting point – gave me wind behind my sails. Or, to use the other metaphor, if I was running an economic race, my starting line was in a very, very different place than so many other people around the world. And I am continually reminded as I go around world and interact with people who didn’t have the same privilege and starting point that I’ve had.
Amanda: Oh, absolutely. And I think education is a big one. Like you were talking about, the tennis coach took an interest in you and wouldn’t let you go because you weren’t totally sure if you were interested in going to college. But the idea of going to college wasn’t a myth, wasn’t this thing that you couldn’t even imagine happening. I think when we look at the statistics of, I think, somewhere around 69% of students in the U.S. go to college, whereas I think in a place like Kenya, I think it’s about 3%. So just the imagination, just even the dream itself, there’s such a difference between the idea of achieving something or not.
Tim: Yes, it’s so true. And yes, the college education that I received and the law school education were made possible by government Pell Grants and private scholarships – another privilege from living in a country where you could get public assistance, as well as private assistance from generous donors who helped fund my SPU education. So many privileges.
“The college education that I received and the law school education were made possible by government Pell Grants and private scholarships – another privilege from living in a country where you could get public assistance.”
Amanda: And now you’re serving as the CEO of the Chandler Foundation. Can you tell us: What is the Chandler Foundation?
Tim: Sure. The Chandler Foundation is a philanthropic foundation. It is the philanthropy of a Singapore-based, New Zealand-born billionaire by the name of Richard Chandler who is using his wealth to support building and broadening prosperity in the Global South – lower-income countries.
Amanda: And speaking of all those privileges and trying to make those opportunities available for others, let’s talk about your work now with the Chandler Foundation. Their approach to philanthropy is absolutely fascinating to me. Putting this focus on creating prosperity versus alleviating poverty. It sounds like creating prosperity and alleviating poverty are synonyms, and yet the approach is very different. I would love to hear you tell us about that.
Tim: Yes. Well, it is more than just looking at the glass half empty or half full. One often hears the term “poverty alleviation”, and I believe that language is problematic because language shapes your frameworks, and if you’re talking about alleviating poverty, your mindset can be limited to alleviating the symptoms of poverty instead of building the enabling conditions where everyone has the opportunity to prosper. Our mindset at the Chandler Foundation is not just about helping to lift poor people above an arbitrary poverty line, but about creating the enabling conditions to continue ascending the social mobility ladder.
At the Chandler Foundation, we have a mindset of creating a shared prosperity for all and creating enabling conditions where social mobility ladders are accessible to all – where everyone has an opportunity, and hopefully even something close to an equal opportunity, to rise, and not just from below the poverty line to above the poverty line, but to continue rising. This is a key aspect for creating a better world.
“At the Chandler Foundation, we have a mindset of creating a shared prosperity for all and creating enabling conditions where social mobility ladders are accessible to all.”
Amanda: And if I can paraphrase, it’s really creating that opportunity. It’s making that hard work pay off for everyone in a little bit more equal way, isn’t it?
Tim: Yes, absolutely. It’s creating equal opportunity, and creating equal opportunity means recognizing that there are structural obstacles in place that prevent equal opportunity. So we need need structural systemic change to create those equal opportunities.
Amanda: Well, let’s talk about that. A term that I see a lot on the Chandler Foundation website is governance and policy change. How does that work? How does a foundation out of the United States step into another culture, another government, and say we want to help make change?
Tim: Well, it’s all about partnerships, Amanda. Everything the Chandler Foundation does is about partnerships. We are investing in and otherwise supporting program partners that are actually engaging with governments to do the work, rather than the Chandler Foundation doing the work itself. We establish partnerships, and we support our partners financially and through advocacy. And to your question of how do we do it in other countries, we understand that we are not the ones most proximate to the problems we are trying to solve. Rather, we must place a lot of trust in our partners – trusting in their expertise and their closeness, their embeddedness in the communities where we’re trying to support change. Rather than thinking we’re smart, we’re educated, we know what the answers are, we try to find an organization that’ll help create the solutions we think are needed. It’s about learning from our program partners and deferring to them.
Amanda: Absolutely. I can imagine policy change can be difficult enough when you fully understand the history and the culture, but when you’re trying to do work somewhere where the culture is different, there must be a fine line sometimes between policy and the culture itself and how to start affecting that for the good.
Tim: Yes, all the work the Chandler Foundation supports is context-specific, and each country, of course, has its own different circumstances – historically, culturally, sociologically, and otherwise. Across these different country contexts, however, there are common principles for identifying problems and addressing them through structural change. The way we approach it at the Chandler Foundation is to think about what are those important principles that can be advanced, and how they must be adapted given the culturally contextual specific-ness of each country situation. It all involves advancing principles, such as opportunity and fairness and transparency and accountability, in a way that is context-specific.
Amanda: So you must feel a little bit like a diplomat sometimes.
Tim: Perhaps like a diplomat. I think of myself more as a student, learning from those who are closer to the problems we are trying to address. We try to focus on this value of a beginner’s mind, and that means approaching problems and potential solutions with the humility that you don’t know everything, and that those closer and more embedded in a specific country are going to be able to teach you a lot. I think starting with that beginner’s mind and that humility is important – approaching it more as a student than a diplomat.
“I think of myself more as a student, learning from those who are closer to the problems we are trying to address.”
Amanda: Sure, sure. That makes a lot of sense. And I think there aren’t many who will hear this interview that are doing the kind of work that you do, but in this polarized time that we live in, I think everyone can relate to sitting down with a family member, a friend or a co-worker who sees the world very differently right now, or at least parts of the world. And how do you still work together for a common good? How do you still keep your community and your relationship? So I love the idea of a beginner’s mindset and the humility. Can you help those of us who don’t do this work every day? On a very day-by-day, literal basis, give us some tools for interacting in that beginner’s mindset and keeping those relationships with those that we disagree with.
Tim: Wow. That’s a really interesting and good question. One of the things that grounds me is my Christian faith and the belief that we are all created in God’s image, which means we all have divine DNA. So regardless of your gender, your race, your nationality, religion, sexual orientation, if you approach people – and particularly people who are different than you in any of those respects – looking for that divine DNA, because we know it’s there, looking for it, find it.
I think if we start with that orientation, it puts us in a better position to one, treat people with dignity; two, focus more in on our commonalities than our differences; and three, really be able to live out Jesus’ message about loving others. Jesus’ ultimate message was about love. He was asked what is the greatest commandment, and he narrowed it down to two: love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. And by implication, there’s a third, love yourself, because we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourself.
And maybe more specific to your question about our polarized world – in terms of loving one’s neighbor, Jesus used a story to help illustrate his definition of both neighbor and love. In the story of the Good Samaritan, “neighbor” is shown to be widely inclusive – being essentially everyone, including those we perceive as “the other.” Jesus taught we were to love “the other” in our lives, particularly when they are in need, and the “love” that he called for involves meeting their needs. So how do we live out our lives and particularly our faith? I think it has to be a faith expressing itself in love for those in our lives whom our close community might consider as “the other.”
“Jesus taught we were to love ’the other’ in our lives, particularly when they are in need, and the ’love’ that he called for involves meeting their needs.”
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I love the idea that each of us are just one sliver of what God looks like. And so if we want to see more of God, we need a larger community. We need more people. And the more people that are more different than we are, the more of God we’re going to see.
Tim: Yes. It’s so good. And I think when you’re in the majority, we often have to be very intentional about not just seeing those in the minority, but actually putting ourselves in positions where we can be in relationship with people who aren’t like us. The world is so divided. It’s divided by race certainly. It’s divided by gender. It’s divided by political orientation. We all get into our own echo chambers. You make a good point. It’s about being intentional about seeing and being in relationship with others, which gives us a bigger view of God.
Amanda: And of course, when we want to understand where someone else is coming from, it’s that proximity that’s going to give us that understanding. Looking from far away or hearing other people report back to us will never give us that kind of understanding like you received working side-by-side in the fields. I feel like your life journey was started with asking that question, why are these children, why is their hard work, not paying off like mine is, right?
Tim: Yes. It has certainly been a huge blessing for me throughout my life to have had the opportunity to be in proximity and relationship with people who come from such different backgrounds. That started in those fields in the Skagit Valley. It continued even at SPU, intentionally meeting people from different backgrounds. Later, working and living overseas; and even here locally, my wife, Chitra, and I chose to live and attend church in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, one of the more diverse zip codes, where there’s just a lot of people that are from different backgrounds than mine. Attending a multicultural and economically diverse church has helped. Yeah, all of these things have just added to the richness of my life and the relationships with the people that I’ve met throughout. It’s been an amazing and a blessed journey.
Amanda: Well, Tim, we ask all of our guests the same final question. And for maybe obvious reasons, I’m really interested in your answer based on our conversation. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you tell each of us to do?
Tim: Another great question. Be open to different people and different perspectives. First of all, Amanda, I spent maybe too much time in academia that gave me a love for books. And so my life, horizons, and beliefs have been changed not only through relationships – as we’ve already discussed – but also through ideas and perspectives provided through books. And I don’t know if I’m answering the question in the right way in terms of just one thing, but I think reading and exposing yourself to different ideas and frameworks through books, podcasts or other content, is important to broadening perspectives – as well as the relationships, developing relationships, that I earlier talked about.
I specifically would highlight three books that have helped expand my horizons and the way I think about things. One is Caste – a shoutout to author Isabel Wilkerson and her book, Caste, which provides a brilliant lens on the topic of racial equity. A second book is Jesus and the Disinherited by theologian Howard Thurman about how Jesus’ life and message can be understood as promoting inclusion and love for the disenfranchised. And a third is A Letter to My Congregation, written by an evangelical pastor about his expanding views around inclusivity on the LGBTQ issue.
I specifically recommend reading these books as another way to expand one’s horizons for the purpose of better following Jesus’s command to love your neighbor. I think the common thread in all of them involves expanding the definition of loving our neighbors. Even if you’re not a person of faith – but particularly if you’re a person of Christian faith – I think we need to reconnect with the central message of Jesus about loving God and neighbor. Jesus’s message was about a faith expressing itself in love; not a faith expressing itself in a specific list of written beliefs.
“We have to lean into that love, and we have to lean into it heavily through relationships and through exposing ourselves to different points of view.”
I think faith expressing itself in love. And that means love for “the other” – those who are different than us, and that could be different by nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other dimensions. We have to lean into that love, and we have to lean into it heavily through relationships and through exposing ourselves to different points of view. Without doing this, we will not be on the right side of history.
We have not learned enough about how our churches and Christian organizations haven’t always been on the right side of history, which is shameful sometimes. We need to think more about: Are we going to be on the right side of history? Are we going to allow our faith to express itself in love? I think that means expanding inclusivity. That certainly was the message of Jesus. He criticized the religious leaders about their lack of inclusive love – a core message and critique that ultimately got himself into trouble with the religious authorities and led to his death.
Amanda: Yeah. You have shared with me one of your favorite quotes is, “The gospel is more than social justice, but it’s never less.” And I have adopted that as one of my own favorite quotes, because I think we tend, as Americans, to think of love as the part that feels good. And if we’re walking in love, it feels good, and it feels lovely. When love so often, and especially all through the Bible, love takes bravery, and love meant very difficult times and situations. And so I really love what you said, and reading those stories of how other people have overcome and how other people have leaned in and decided to love bravely just makes us stronger. We’re able to stand on each other’s testimonies, like the Bible tells us too, in order to love bravely.
Tim: So well said. So well said.
Amanda: Thank you, Tim. Well, let me end our time together with our prayer of blessing: May the Lord bless you and all you put your hand to. May the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May God bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Thank you so much.
Tim: Thank you, and amen.