Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1999
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Capitalism with compassion
A fight that won't subside
A Nobel for Mundell
Collaborating on educational reform

A People United aims to employ 10,000 women in developing countries.
Photo by
Marie Payzant
Capitalism with compassion

It was a top-down drive to pay a parking ticket in the nation's capital that proved an epiphany in Robert Gruber's quest to help the world's poor and travel.

"I used to have a lovely little convertible," Gruber (MPH '89) remembers. "I was in a wonderful, wonderful mood and I had an inspiration. I would work with women in the Third World designing products for sale in the United States."

A former longtime lawyer in the Midwest, Gruber was on the leeward side of a midlife crisis and ready to take a few chances. At 41, he had come to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 1988 after traveling in China, Nepal, India, and elsewhere.

"Hopkins's School of Public Health taught me there's a close correlation between people's health and economics," says Gruber, who has also been a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. "I thought giving employment to people who didn't have employment would be so wonderful."

So nine years ago, Gruber, who says he was literally falling asleep at his research job at the Health Care Finance Administration in Baltimore, decided to travel in developing countries to find a way to start a business that would employ mostly women. The Brooklyn native went to Guatemala to work with women's cooperatives, bringing back belts, scarves, woven jackets, and other goods to sell in street fairs in Baltimore.

Today, he and his wife, clothing designer and photographer Marie Payzant, run the Baltimore-based A People United, a clothing, textile, jewelry, and curio store full of goods made in developing countries. Gruber says they employ about 1,000 women full time, and sell to 1,600 boutiques and various catalogs in the United States. Their Baltimore outlet, opened in 1994, offers a colorful cornucopia: sari silks recycled in India's Rajastan desert for $29; hammered copper tea kettles from Nepal for $68; a hand-carved African totem pole for $424.

Gruber says he's trying to approach a difficult--and to some, controversial--ideal: capitalism with compassion. The store's marketing materials declare a commitment to public health, saying that A People United strives, among other things, to increase awareness about public health conditions abroad. The goal is to employ 10,000 women, primarily hand-knitters and weavers in collectives.

Though he doesn't regularly pay more than the average pay scale, which in some countries like Nepal could be $3 a day, he says his business offers steady employment in decent working conditions. "Much of the spinning and weaving takes place in a village," Gruber says. "And we are giving money that can go toward the health of children and make women more important in the eyes of the family or the community."

The concept can have merit, says Keith West, Hopkins professor of international health. "You need to be conscious of the dangers of exploitation and need to compensate workers fairly under their own economies," he says. "You can't compare it to the U.S.--a few dollars a day [in some developing nations] can feed a family the size of five people." --Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Menachem Rosensaft
Photo by
Richard Lobell
A fight that won't subside

This month, a U.S. District Court judge in New York will decide how to allocate $1.25 billion due to Holocaust survivors worldwide. The money was won in a class-action law- suit brought against the Swiss banking system for funding Nazi persecution of European Jewry during the Holocaust. If one Hopkins alumnus has his way, the survivors will not receive a penny.

Instead, Menachem Rosensaft '70, MA '71 wants them to receive something more valuable: universal healthcare coverage. He wants the $1.25 billion to fund it.

Rosensaft, a New York--based attorney, has worked for years to obtain universal healthcare for Holocaust survivors. The issue began at home. When his mother developed severe liver disease from untreated hepatitis and malaria suffered in Auschwitz, her health insurance and Medicare did not fully cover the medical expenses. Rosensaft and his wife could afford to supplement the coverage, but such is not always the case.

"I obviously can't do that for anyone else," says Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. "What I can do is devote my energy, ideas, and political activism. I can mobilize to do some good for the others."

Two years ago, Rosensaft helped U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D--N.Y.) draft House Concurrent Resolution 112. It proposed that Germany set up a comprehensive fund to cover medical expenses of Holocaust survivors worldwide. Rosensaft's rationale was simple. Germany provides healthcare coverage to war veterans, including former members of the notorious SS. So why not Holocaust victims? Though the resolution passed, it carried little political heft. When the German government chose not to set up the fund, Rosensaft turned to the Swiss bank settlement.

He has lobbied Congress and published editorials in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers. He has worked to convince other Jewish interest groups, like the World Jewish Congress, that universal healthcare is the best use for the money. Time is not on his side. A slew of other European institutions face class-action lawsuits, but each suit could take two years in court. And Holocaust survivors, most of whom are in their late 70s or early 80s, need coverage now. "Unfortunately," says Rosensaft, "this is a short-term issue."

It is also a predominantly American issue. Though the settlement applies to Holocaust survivors worldwide, essentially only survivors living in the U.S. and a few Eastern European countries need supplemental coverage. Canada and most European countries already provide healthcare coverage for all citizens.

The German government, in accordance with laws passed in the 1950s, did provide some medical compensation to Holocaust survivors. At the end of the war, each survivor was medically examined and assessed compensation for injury sustained. (Other factors, such as the length of internment in a concentration camp, were taken into account, as well.) But this assessment made no provision for medical conditions that would develop later-- like the liver disease suffered by Rosensaft's mother. In such cases, survivors must have a doctor prove that the condition was a direct result of the Holocaust experience in order to receive additional compensation from the German government--not always easy, notes Rosensaft.

He sees universal healthcare coverage as the best solution for avoiding bureaucratic hassle. He acknowledges that Holocaust survivors in countries that already provide full coverage will not benefit as they would from direct cash payments: "All survivors are entitled to recover full damages, but we don't live in a perfect world. My obligation right now first and foremost is to take care of those in the most dire of straits."

Rosensaft's daughter, Jodi '00, the founder and chair of Hopkins's Holocaust Remembrance Committee, speaks enthusiastically of her father's influence on her: "What I learned from him is that a personal, passive remembrance [of the Holocaust] is important, but what is more important is being active, and speaking out against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, and persecution. This is not a fight that will subside, even if money from the Swiss bank settlement isn't used toward this goal."

Her father has more ideas. He notes that if the U.S. were to give all its Holocaust survivors the same status as American veterans, they would be entitled to the services of veterans hospitals. Says Rosensaft, "I am looking to get this done, and I don't care the avenue, as long as these people are taken care of." --Barbara J. Kiviat '01

A Nobel for Mundell

Robert A. Mundell, a former faculty member at the Bologna Center of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), recently won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on international flow of capital. Mundell, now at Columbia University, held the center's AGIP Chair in International Economics from 1997 to 1998. This was his second stint at the center: he had taught previously in Bologna from 1959 to 1961.

Mundell was the first economic theorist to explain how capital flowing across international borders affects a nation's ability to manage its own economy. He became the 28th Nobel laureate to have a Hopkins connection.

Collaborating on educational reform

By one estimate, Hopkins collaborates with Maryland schools on more than 500 projects. These collaborations occur throughout the university's many divisions, and often the participants in one division are unaware of their colleagues' work in another. President William R. Brody has decided to address that issue.

Brody recently announced the Hopkins Education Forum. The forum will advise him and other university leaders on the most urgent issues of school reform, promote better communication throughout the university on the various programs under way in different divisions, and refine a newly created database of information on Hopkins's efforts to enhance K-12 education in Maryland. Long term, the forum aims to convene an annual event to highlight an educational reform issue and expand awareness of Hopkins's involvement in it.

Ralph Fessler, interim dean of the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, and director of the Hopkins SPSBC Graduate Division of Education, will serve as founding chairman. Fessler expects the forum to provide "opportunities for synergy," among the university's education-related units, and also serve as "a focal point for inquiries from outside the university."

The 14 members of the forum include leaders from divisions involved in collaborative projects with schools--a roster that includes the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Peabody Prep, the Center for Social Organization of Schools, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth, and the schools of Medicine, Engineering, Nursing, and Public Health. --Dale Keiger