Spotlight: Earl Babbie
Earl Babbie first met Bill Ryerson, PMC’s President and Founder, in the mid-1970s, more than 20 years before Bill formed Population Media Center. Earl was the Chairman of the Sociology Department at the University of Hawaii, and Bill was speaking on campus. Although the two had never met, Bill stayed at Earl’s home for the duration of his visit.
“Bill had gotten ahold of my then-wife, who was president of the local chapter of Zero Population Growth,” says Earl. “I immediately respected and admired Bill. Years later, we reconnected.”
It was a friendship and a partnership that was built to last. Earl joined PMC’s Board of Directors in 2005. Almost 15 years later, Earl is taking a break from the Board. The recent meeting in April was his final one, but he intends to stay very involved with PMC.
“I’m not really going anywhere,” says Earl. “I still plan to be very much connected to PMC and PMC’s work. My wife, Suze, and I will remain monthly donors, and I look forward to seeing and learning about the impact PMC continues to have. I just won’t be at the board meetings,” he says with his signature laugh.
Prior to retiring from academia, Earl taught and wrote about social research, authoring textbooks and scholarly articles and bringing valuable knowledge and insight to PMC. He says that in the past 20 years, he has seen PMC expand to more countries and more distribution formats, but that the goal to address overpopulation by improving the status of women has not altered, nor has his confidence in PMC’s effectiveness.
“I really trust the methodology,” says Earl, “the way PMC creates change by getting people interested in the story and encourages learning by exploring rather than lecturing. It’s so clear to me, and, as you know, the data show that it has a real impact.”
The data, however, aren’t easy to come by. Earl recalls the early days when PMC was first getting started, even prior to his Board experience. He and Bill first travelled to Ethiopia together, where PMC was setting up programs, to take a first-hand, in-depth look at how the show was going to be monitored and evaluated.
“We really worked on that evaluation, asking questions and assessing the local research firm, to determine what questions and approach would deliver the most legitimate information about impact — what would make the most sense. It needed work because it’s not an easy task,” he says with a chuckle.
Earl says this foundational memory set the stage for a hallmark of PMC: constant commitment to improvement. Earl identifies this as one of the characteristics that drew him to the organization and a key reflection when thinking about his time on the Board. It’s certainly one Bill echoes when discussing Earl’s role in PMC’s history.
“Earl has supported PMC since our earliest projects, guiding us every step of the way,” says Bill Ryerson. “I will forever be grateful for his professional and personal support. I have known Earl for decades now, and even though he’s no longer on the Board, I look forward to all the projects and discussions we’ll continue to have.”
“We want to create a sustainable human presence on the planet,” Earl says, talking about his fellow Board of Directors, Bill, and PMC staff, “being open-minded and focused on connection and empowerment. It’s such a moving experience.”
“Our goal is a sustainable planet,” continues Earl. “How do you do that? It’s very clear that you need to improve the status of women to end overpopulation. Give women agency. Get young girls into school. This is the key to our success.”