Powers, William


William (Bill) Powers has worked for more than two decades in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, and North America. His essays and commentaries on global issues have appeared in the New York Times and the Atlantic and on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.” Powers has worked at the World Bank and holds international relations degrees from Brown and Georgetown. Powers has also spent several decades exploring the American culture of speed and its alternatives in some fifty countries around the world. He has covered this, and probed issues of sustainability and the need for a new, bio-centric paradigm, in his five books.

Bill’s first inspiration for working abroad and tackling huge humanitarian challenges – like ecological destruction and rampant poverty – came from his two years in West Africa where he landed fresh out of graduate school. Those first sparks hit him as he worked alongside Liberians and the international community to get food to civil war-stricken areas, and to protect parts of the gemlike Guinean forest from mega-logging interests. He then took his skills to another continent, continuing his work with the international non-profit Catholic Relief Services. Where the Andes meets the Amazon, in the heart of South America, Bill found his calling to address the nexus between inequality and the destruction of the earth’s great forests yet again. And in doing so, he found another love of his life: Bolivia, the country where he would live off and on for the next 10 years, and finally make it his permanent home with his family in 2013.

How does one reconcile the great privilege of two very different experiences: on the one-hand having the privilege of education and connection to intellectual and activist networks in “the North”, while on the other-hand holding intimate knowledge that comes from living abroad in vibrant and sustainable cultures so different from one’s own that are mired in the ill-effects of globalization? To sort out this conundrum, Bill brought his voice to the world through the written word and became a published author in 2005, where he first explored the intense experience he had in West Africa in his acclaimed book Blue Clay People (2005). He wrestled with environmental destruction, the relentless disappearance of indigenous cultures and the role of multinational companies and globalization in the developing world in his next book, about Bolivia, Whispering in the Giant’s Ear (2006). The imminent ‘culture shock’ of returning to the U.S. after a decade abroad brought to life his off-grid experience in North Carolina which was the topic of his third book, the Library Journal national bestselling, award-winning Twelve by Twelve (2010) now in its fifth printing and translated into Chinese.

In the meantime, Bill found two other outlets by which he could confront that conundrum: connect with policy makers and private sector leaders by becoming a Senior Fellow at the New York-based think tank, the World Policy Institute, and connect with students ready to embark on major life-choices by teaching at NYU’s Graduate Center for Global Studies. In 2014, he wove together those two roles with U.S.-based institutions with his love of living and working in—and learning from— Bolivia to establish the Living Well Collaborative, which supports seeds of a new paradigm for healing the planet and nourishing community and economy at the local level. He continues to speak at conferences, universities and book clubs, and is currently finishing This is Water, a touchstone book that takes us to the emotionally charged heart of our relationship to a living planet.

Powers, William

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