What does the end of poverty look like? For Nashville music star Drew Holcomb, it’s the beginning of opportunity.
“Poverty crushes opportunity. It crushes people’s dreams to create a life for themselves and their families,” he says. “So when I hear ending poverty, I hear beginning opportunity.”
For his part, Holcomb tours continuously with his band, The Neighbors, playing roughly 150 shows a year, giving him ample opportunity to raise awareness about social responsibility.
“With the platform of music, you have the opportunity, not to force anything on your audience, but to let them know about things,” says the 33-year-old star.
“A lot of times, I think people do want to be involved in solving problems but they just don’t know where to begin. Sometimes the problems seem so enormous, you think, well, what can I do? I’ve found that people, if they know of a need, they tend to find some generosity.”
Born Hampton Andrew Holcomb, he was first inspired to do his part for social good during a tour with the band Jars of Clay, which had spent some time in East Africa communities and started a foundation called Blood: Water. The foundation focuses on water and sanitation issues and HIV/AIDs awareness.
The initiative, 1000 Wells Project, helped rural communities in countries like Kenya gain access to clean water.
“I went to Africa with (the band) to see some of their projects. The most amazing thing to me was something I’d never thought about as a Westerner was just how lacking the sanitation realities are in rural communities,” says the native Tennessean. “A lot of their work was simply teaching kids how to wash their hands and teaching communities how to build latrines outside of the villages.”
Back at home, Holcomb shows his support by raising money through his concerts for Blood: Water projects.
“What’s blown me away is their long-term vision to help communities who want their assistance but then letting the local folks lead the charge to decide on the kind of water and sanitation improvements” their community needs, he says.
Embracing social good runs in the family. Drew’s younger brother, Sam, spent three years in Musanze, a town in northern Rwanda. “He helped build a farm of 10,000 chickens in partnership with a non-profit called One Egg, the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture, and Tysons, a private American chicken company that donated the chickens to get (the farm) up and running,” he explains.
“The goal was to help with the protein deficiency in elementary-age school kids. Half of the eggs went to the market to sell and the other half went to this Anglican African after-school program, where kids would go while their parents were still at work, do their studies and get one egg a week.”
Just one egg? “That may not sound like a lot but the amount of protein in an egg is pretty astronomical considering there’s not much protein in their diet to begin with,” he says. “In one year, many of the kids’ muscle girth went from the 10th percentile to the 70th.”
Since Holcomb and his wife, Ellie, who is also his bandmate, had their two kids, 2-year-old Emmylou and 8-week-old Huck, they’re even more passionate about ensuring that the world they inherit is a better one.
“Someone once asked me what it’s like to have kids, and I said it’s like there was a part of me that I didn’t know existed came to life. One of the reasons that my wife and have gotten so involved with the children in Rwanda and the One Egg Project is because we have kids. We have such a passion and heart for other kids to have opportunities,” he says.
“I envision a world where my kids become problem-solvers in the same sense that my wife and I hopefully have tried to do.
“There’s a lot of cynicism out there, but things are getting better. It’s slow and painful, but work like what the World Bank does, where there are lots of great mind putting their talents, gifts, and money together in solving the world’s great problems is very inspiring.”
This is part of the World Bank Series #Music4Dev artists