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3 Generations, 1 BookShehzad Noorani

3 Generations, 1 Book

The Book on Saving the World

On an early morning in March, Daniel and Jesse Oak Taylor (son and grandson of Carl Taylor) chatted about the book they wrote with Carl, Empowerment on an Unstable Planet (Oxford University Press, 2011). “This is a hoot of a project working on a book across three generations,” says Daniel. The pair shared their thoughts on the process of writing the book and their hopes for its future impact during the interview with Brian W. Simpson, editor of Johns Hopkins Public Health magazine.

What inspired this book?
Daniel Taylor: It’s a family business. Some families sit around the dinner table and talk about the Baltimore Ravens. Our family sits around the dinner table and talks about social change. We all grew up with the business. My father, I don’t know if you know, was born and grew up in the Indian jungle. We all grew up with this process that takes us back into community-based works. The [inspiration for the project began with Jim Grant, executive director of UNICEF] who had commissioned my father to lead an international task force on that resulted in a UNICEF publication. Then Jim died and my dad I continued. Hopkins Press published Just and Lasting Change, a book we wrote in 2002. The professional associates we have and the world scholastic community kept working these ideas around and sending us critiques around this basic idea of human empowerment and a parallel currency for [effecting] human change. One theory was you raise money and spend it to do projects. That was the dominant mindset, but there is a whole parallel school of thought in human history that goes back millions years since we came out of the trees that was what people do… is human energy. You can run projects or you can mobilize people to take collective action. That was the core idea of the book.

What was it like having three generations working on the book?
Jesse Oak Taylor: On one level it was fantastic. At the same time, certainly we argued a lot. We kind of agreed at the beginning that we love each other and respect each other so we were not going to be … overly polite and we would show no mercy when it comes to passing drafts back and forth. That led to many drafts and many times around the wheel so to speak.
Daniel: My mother, when she was alive, when the arguments would get hot, would say, “Now boys, let’s sit down and have a meal and cool the temperature.”

What was Carl’s contribution?
Jesse: First, it is in the first word of the title. Empowerment was his absolute—he would be angry if I said creed—but it was his key word, the centerpoint of his professional worldview in a lot of ways. He was absolutely committed to that. [His contributions are] also evident in the emphasis on hope that runs throughout the book. One impetus for starting the project was shortly after 9/11, all three of us were very angry about the trajectory of the world and the way the public discourse was heading. What started as an angry book about what was wrong with foreign policy and imperialism became much more constructive. It is much more about building something new. I think the person most responsible for that turn would have been Carl. He was just a hopeful guy and positive guy. And somebody really committed to applicable positive change. He was also very directly involved in the writing. The piles of paper that used to overtake my apartment—he had written all over any draft that he got hold of. We started in 2003 then it was simmering away all of that time. It was completely written and rewritten a number of times. At the time of his death, it was under review with Oxford [University Press], which accepted it. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to hear that piece of news.[At this point in the interview, Jesse has to leave for an appointment.]

What’s the book’s message for public health?
Daniel: I would say the message for public health is public health is people and it isn’t technology. There is a very powerful story in chapter one. Basically my father was one of two organizers of the first world congress on primary health care in Alma-Ata with 169 heads of state [in 1978], with the motto “health for all by year 2000.” It was a variety of public health solutions, many originating at Johns Hopkins. [During the conference] Dad noticed some delegates emphasized “health” and the others emphasized “for all.” Then being the researcher he was, he started putting tick marks on who was doing what on a yellow pad. Basically he found that if you came from a first world country—from Europe or the U.S.— if you had white skin, you emphasized “health.” If you came from third-world country, you emphasized “for all.” Through 1980s the business of health took all the emphasis and it was not applied to the engagement of people. At the book launch at the School of Public Health, I read from that chapter. They built their business on new health technology and developing systems, and they never really focused on getting the systems out to the people.

Can you connect the book’s vision with Carl’s lifelong vision for community-based public health?
Daniel: Dad was all about communities. He did not believe health was in clinics and hospitals. He started [his career] running a hospital and founded hundreds of clinics but he believed home-centered care was the answer for two-thirds of our health challenges. His line was, “the mother is number one health care provider, not doctors; the home is the number one health facility, not hospitals; behavior is the number one health intervention, not medicine.”

What do you hope the effect of this book will be?
Daniel: That [people will know] there is a parallel way to solve the world’s great challenges that is based in human energy rather than human service and money.


This forum is closed
  • Frank NDUU

    Lubumbashi, RD of CONGO 05/30/2012 06:09:45 AM

    I want to thank the Author of this publication. I would like to get a print copy.

  • Asresu Misikir

    PA 06/13/2012 08:04:39 PM

    Dr. Taylor was one the most distinguished and pioneer who introduced Primary Health Care with multidimensional approaches to the whole world back in 1980. He was an icon of public health science in general and community-based health services in particular. He was a founder of public health school in several developing countries, for example the first public health school established or opened in Ethiopia, which currently named Gondar University. It was the first public health school that produced multidiscipline public health team--namely health officer, community nurse, sanitarians, and laboratory technicians. This team was guided to provide quality health services to the family and community from house to house and at the clinic close to the community. This was an unforgettable approach that Dr. Taylor left behind to the world. All public health communities are and will remember him forever.

  • Elizabeth Serlemitsos

    Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 06/25/2012 11:14:48 AM

    I had the great pleasure of working with Dr. Carl Taylor in Zambia many years back and I am pleased to share that many of the thoughts and concepts he shared during his two visits live on in the heart and minds of the Zambians that were affected by that work (though it is doubtful any know that he created the vision for that particular "just and lasting change") and in the community systems that were built as a result of that vision.

    I look forward to the opportunity to read this new book.

  • Hassan Bella

    I am a Sudanese national but currently professor of medicine in Saudi Arabia 08/01/2012 07:28:47 AM

    I had the honor and pleasure to be an associate faculty at the Department of International Health, JHSPH where I met with Prof Carl Taylor. When I visited the school , once or twice a year, I was keen to be in the company of Carl Taylor and Tim Baker; the latter nominated me as associate faculty in Hopkins. Of course I read about Prof Taylor and his great work in India and I always hoped to see and know him. When I became associated with him I came to know about his commitment to health of the people and the ideals which Daniel Taylor reiterated. I was once giving a lecture at JHSPH about the pioneer primary health care program about training village midwives in Sudan which was started in 1921. Prof Taylor was amongst the audience. He was moved when I was listing the innovations and genius of that program. He was the first one to comment at the end of the lecture. "I am thrilled!!" he said. Apparently it all touched on his concepts and perception about health of the people and that it is more about human care than technology. Carl Taylor will remain a great world figure in health for what he believed and did. He will remembered for his commitment, dedication and perseverance to 'empower'. I am most eager to read this book and to know and communicate with Daniel Taylor.

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