On June 17, 2019, the founder of Spirit for America, Jim Hake, spoke at The Institute of World Politics about how citizens can help fill the gaps in national security, using his own experience to provide a model for others.
Mr. Hake began by discussing four different cases in which Spirit of America (SoA) was able to assist in different countries, giving flexible support in small ways that made a large difference in the field.
Countering Russian propaganda
In Ukraine, where soldiers were bombarded daily with Russian propaganda in an attempt to break their spirit, Ukrainians responded with the plan to create a radio station that would counter the Russian propaganda. SoA provided the initial funds to do so, and eventually the Ukrainian ministry of defense followed their lead and provided further funds. SoA later brought in radio executives from the U.S. to advise them on radio station operation, programming, and more. Mr. Hake used this example to emphasize, “It’s not just the money and material goods that our citizens can bring to the table; it’s the know-how.”
In Serbia, which was the target of Russian influence campaigns in the Balkans, SoA helped counter these campaigns by deciding to increase American influence instead, making the Russia influence superfluous. Furthermore, they contributed a “high volume of small scale assistance projects” in Serbia, according to Mr. Hake. One such project was renovating a kick boxing gym that housed beloved Serbian champions. SoA used local media coverage and social media to promote a picture of U.S. and Serbian soldiers side-by-side with the young kick boxers.
Countering Islamist extremism
Mr. Hake also spoke of SoA’s work in Niger, which was a country of interest to SoA as this nation is besieged by extremism. SoA was tasked with preventing war, which they sought to do by meeting with key tribes and tribal leaders in order to tackle the issues that were most important to them: cattle health and the future of the youth. In order to do this, SoA gave a package of assistance in which veterinarians from the capital would be paid and provided with dirt bikes to go to the rural areas to vaccinate the cattle, and the tribal youth would be given scholarships to pursue veterinarian education so that they could take over the responsibility of cattle health.
The final case of which Mr. Hake spoke was helping the Peshmerga fight the ISIS threat in 2015, where they provided 200 tourniquets and 20 GPS devices that led to momentum shifting in the Peshmerga’s favor. A relatively low cost solution had high rewards.
Innovative solutions from the private sector
In 2018, Congress recognized Spirit of America’s relationship with the Department of Defense through the Defense Authorization Act, leading to an official agreement between the DoD and SoA after eight years in the making.
Mr. Hake described the need for citizen support like what SoA offers, saying, “There are gaps in what our largest systems and bureaucracies can do in terms of flexibility at the lowest level. There will always be gaps. So even if the government gets it ninety-five percent right, which is almost an A+, that five percent can make the difference between life and death, success and failure.”
His lecture was followed by questions from the audience. In one such question, he explained the business parallel of the private sector in national security. The private sector has always played an important role in all other domains. For example, Mr. Hake used the analogy of Teach for America providing teachers for public schools, filling a gap of the public education system without completely replacing public schools. “There is always a place for a venture capital approach,” he told the audience.
IWP founder and president, Dr. John Lenczowski, was also present in the audience and praised what Spirit of America has been able to accomplish as “remarkable” despite government bureaucracy.
Mr. Hake, prior to founding SoA in response to the attacks of 9/11, founded one of the first Internet media companies, Access Media. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an Honorary Member of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs Regiment, and a member of the State Department’s Stabilization Advisory Council. Additionally, Mr. Hake is a contributing author to Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military. Mr. Hake received a B.A. and graduated with distinction in Economics from Dartmouth College. He earned an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.