A crash course in changing the world.
The conventional wisdom was that malnutrition was the result of an intertwined set of problems: Sanitation was poor. Poverty was nearly universal. Clean water was not readily available. The rural people tended to be ignorant about nutrition.
That analysis was, in Sternin's judgment, TBU -- true but useless. "Millions of kids can't wait for those issues to be addressed," he said. If addressing malnutrition required ending poverty and purifying water and building sanitation systems, then it would never happen. Especially in six months, with virtually no money to spend.
Ignoring the experts, Sternin traveled to a local village and called together all the village's mothers. He asked for their assistance in finding ways to nourish their kids better, and they agreed to help. As the first step, they went out in teams to weigh and measure every child in the village. Then, they pored over the results together with Sternin.
He asked them, "Did you find any very, very poor kids who are bigger and healthier than the typical child?" The women, scanning the data, nodded and said, "Có, có, có." (Yes, yes, yes.)
He said, "You mean it's possible today in this village for a very poor family to have a well-nourished child?"
"Có, có, có."
"Then let's go see what they're doing."