Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer
Jeff and Josh Nesbit want to tell you a story.
It’s not the story about how Jeff convinced the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, or wrote 18 novels, or served as director of legislative and public affairs for the National Science Foundation, or worked at the White House as communications director.
It’s not the story of how his son Josh started a company that provides rural health workers in Malawi with cellphones and a text-message infrastructure, saving thousands of hours of travel and thousands of lives. It’s not even the story of how that company, Medic Mobile, expanded its life-saving technology into 12 countries.
It’s a story about stories, and how they can change the world. Jeff and Josh will speak at 10:45 a.m. in the Amphitheater Wednesday, their first appearance on stage together.
Josh is featured in Dan Karslake’s upcoming documentary, “Every Three Seconds,” which showcases individuals who have looked at the issues facing the world and stepped up to make a difference. Josh credits his father’s work with introducing him to large-scale change.
“While I was growing up, my father was at the center of that fight against big tobacco companies in the U.S.,” Josh wrote. “Whether or not I knew it at the time, he showed me what a small team of people can accomplish through relentless pursuit. We didn’t explicitly talk about activism and social justice at the dinner table — this made the work seem ‘normal,’ even though it was extraordinary.”
Jeff, in turn, is inspired by his son, who is accomplishing something that Jeff wouldn’t have thought possible five years ago.
“And yet it is possible — not only is it possible, he’s doing it,” Jeff said.
“Millennials are going to change the world. They look at the world with different eyes,” he said. “Not ‘What can’t we do?’ but ‘What can we do? What should we do? How can we do this?’ It’s a vastly different approach. They’re not intimidated by the fact that it’s a very big world with a lot of people in it; they really do believe that one person can change the world.”
Jeff’s most recent books are the “Principalities & Powers” trilogy — Peace, Oil, and Temple, the last of which has not yet been published — which explore what happens when Israel and Iran come to conflict over nuclear power.
He is also the executive director of Climate Nexus, a consulting group which uses the power of storytelling to change the national mindset.
“We’re changing the national conversation around climate change and clean energy,” Jeff said. “There are people in this country that need to understand that climate change isn’t something that’s going to happen 60 years from now, and it’s not something that’s just happening to the polar bear, it’s happening right now.”
Josh continues his work as CEO of Medic Mobile and keeps just as busy as his father.
“I always lose track of Josh,” Jeff said. “He’s seemingly in a new country every week, either launching a new project or speaking to audiences.”
Josh’s philosophy for change focuses on connecting people with technology to those with ideas of how to use it and connecting people who have few resources with those who can afford to give some away.
“Breakthroughs seem to happen in two ways,” Josh wrote, “unconventional collaborations including people with deep expertise and steadfast introverts plugging away at their projects.”
That idea found form in another company he started, called Hope Phones. Hope Phones reduces hazardous waste in countries with a cellphone surplus and sends the phones to countries where they are fitted with technology to make them into tools for health workers.
“Health is physical and mental well-being, not just a lack of illness. It provides freedom and opportunity,” Josh said.
Today in the Amp, the father-and-son team will tell their personal stories and speak about the world-changing power of stories and storytellers.
“Whether I was a journalist, or whether I was managing big projects as a consultant, or dealing with big public health initiatives, or running the public affairs office for the National Science Foundation, or what I’m doing now or writing books,” Jeff said, “it all boils down to one thing: that facts matter, evidence matters, science matters, and if you use those types of things — truth, science, evidence, facts — to inform people in the country and the world, they’ll do the right thing.”