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Jerry White
  Jerry White

Survival of the Fittest

12/3/2007 --

McInally Lecture sets stage for victim-free world.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—When land mine survivor Jerry White, MBA '05, quit his job and cashed out his retirement fund to co-create Landmine Survivors Network , he had a vision for a mine-free world.

One decade, one mine ban treaty and one Nobel Peace Prize later, White is expanding that vision to a victim-free world. Ever the entrepreneur, he plans to take what he's learned as LSN's executive director and extend his expertise to a wider audience. To that end, LSN is evolving into a new organization dubbed Survivor Corps, which will advocate for victims of all types of armed conflict, torture, genocide and violence.

"As LSN was working toward a global ban on land mines and spearheading [the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty], we met survivors who had struggled against tremendous odds and with just a few tools to resume some semblance of life, even in the most impoverished contexts," says White, who lost his own leg to a land mine blast in 1983 during a college trip to Israel. Land mines have killed or maimed more people than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons combined, and more than 80 percent of victims are civilians."

We saw that losing our [limbs] wasn't really the hard part; it was losing our place in our families and in society," White says.

LSN, now Survivor Corps, is the first international entity created by survivors for survivors. In the course of 10 years, the organization has successfully advocated for the destruction of stockpiled weapons (some 50 million so far) and the de-mining of fields in some 80 countries. But it's the human side of the equation where White sees the potential to add most value.

"We learned something in all of these survivor visits: a recipe for resilience," White says. "And we decided that instead of playing favorites with amputees and land mine survivors, we would strive to share this recipe with every survivor in the world who's willing to listen."

White shared his recipe for resilience and his vision for Survivor Corps at the Ross School in November when he delivered the 41st annual William K. McInally Memorial Lecture. He also promoted his forthcoming book, I Will Not Be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis (St. Martin's Press), in which he offers accessible and comforting counsel to people struggling with personal catastrophe or loss. In the book, set for release in spring 2008, White presents the five steps as follows: face facts, choose life, reach out, get moving and give back. He says he applied each of these principles to his own life and found them useful in transforming LSN into Survivor Corps.

"We had to face the facts of worldwide devastation," says White, noting that since World War II, more than 250 major conflicts have erupted worldwide with at least 39 active conflicts occurring right now. "Here's little LSN trying to get victims to survivor status to citizen status and out the door. It just wasn't moving fast enough. We hit a wall. We were bottlenecked. There are hundreds of thousands of victims out there and new ones every year. We had to ask ourselves, 'What are we going to do? Whine and complain that we can't possibly help every victim in the world?' No. We just had to get moving, build a new strategy and reach out toward new partnerships."

LSN, and now Survivor Corps, has grown from an office in White's basement into a global operation with an annual budget of close to $9 million, more than 160 employees (many of whom are amputees who serve as role models for other survivors) and offices in El Salvador, Vietnam, Jordan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Bosnia, Switzerland and the United States. The current push is to increasingly localize fundraising and resource mobilization to work toward a sustainable model on a region-by-region basis. "Survivor leaders" are trained in the organization's unique methodology of local peer support and advocacy in nearly 50 countries. They do home visits, provide appropriate psychosocial support to fellow survivors and link them to networks that will help them find jobs, get loans, start businesses and thrive in society. LSN has touched about 100,000 land mine survivors to date and White's plan is to oversee at least 25,000 simultaneous projects via partners with Survivor Corps.

"Our goal is to build a movement of people who can rise above and give back. We believe that when those who are most affected by the wars, the torture and the land mines of the world stand up and say, 'Enough of the violence,' and model the behavior not only to survive, but thrive, we will see a ripple effect in the community that becomes a counter-terrorist army for good."

Survivor Corps will actively pursue partnerships among government and civil society organizations, representatives of the private sector and survivors themselves, White says.

"You can't lead alone anymore, and by scaling our work through partners, we can change the LSN model to reach more survivors with more impact. To change things, you actively have to build 'mega-communities,'" he says.

One of those "mega communities" spearheaded by the LSN/Survivor Corps team is the International Disability Caucus, which drafted the U.N. Convention on the Human Rights of People with Disabilities. The international treaty was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006, and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of life, including health and rehabilitation services, accessibility, education, political participation and protection from abuse and exploitation. Some 127 countries have signed on since March 2007, says White. Survivor Corps also is playing an active role in other campaigns to prevent violence, ban munitions and help survivors overcome trauma.

Thus, what started as a vision for a mine-free world through LSN is now a vision for a victim-free world through Survivor Corps.

"Our gift, our way to give back as an organization, is to scale our work and give our training materials to thousands around the world¿not just keep it under our own organization's roof," White says. "It's time to engage and model the global behavior we want to see. Imagine a world free of victimization and violence. What would that look like, feel like? And what would that require?"

Prior to co-founding LSN/Survivor Corps, White was assistant director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, where he co-founded and edited the Risk Report, an award-winning database designed to track the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As a leading proponent of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, he was a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. To date, some 150 countries have signed the treaty, with the notable exception of the United States.

Written by Deborah Holdship

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847,