​When Patricia Werhane, professor and Executive Director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, and Kim Clark, an instructor in the College of Communication, decided to film grassroots efforts to alleviate poverty in Bangladesh, the idea of a public television series called "Big Questions" was nowhere in sight.

"The project started with our frustration about writing case papers,” says Clark. “Could the camera tell a story in a different, perhaps better, way?  Our first foray to Bangladesh was so successful that we starting looking for other situations to document.  In doing that, we found multiple fault lines or tipping points where people are effectively challenging poverty and promoting social justice through small actions.” 

Such creative approaches are encouraged by DePaul's strategic plan, Vision 2018, which seeks to strengthen faculty expertise on poverty with a special focus on effective ways of alleviating it.

The Bangladesh documentary caught the attention of WNIT, a public television station in South Bend, Indiana, which recognized the content as fresh and  suggested a six-episode series. “The films are not didactic, but they are teaching tools,” says Clark. “We don’t create situations: we film what we see."

"So far, we’ve documented micro-lending in Bangladesh, telemedicine in Ghana, school-building in Haiti, a leper colony in Tanzania, a women’s jail in Michigan, and wage theft in Chicago," he says. 

Werhane elaborates, “Our purpose was always to record real-world, sustainable actions that are alleviating poverty, suffering and injustice. Every episode ends with a Vincentian challenge: What can you do about this issue?  How can you actually change the world?”

In Bangladesh, the camera crew slept on mats in huts, side-by-side with villagers who are using micro-lending to pull themselves out of abject poverty. In the county jail in Benton Harbor, Michigan, they were behind bars with the inmates, including mothers whose lives, and the lives of their children, have been blighted by drugs. In Tanzania, they laughed with lepers whose illness is being stemmed through the good will of Novartis Foundation, which brings healthcare services and medicines to the poor of the Third World. And to film victims of wage theft, they spent 18 months getting to know cheated workers. They learned that in just one week in Chicago, workers lose $7 million in unpaid wages. 

"The why of what we’re doing is as important as the what, and that’s consistent with DePaul’s culture,” says Clark. “Also, this project illustrates the value of cross-college collaboration. Pat comes from the Driehaus College of Business; Scott, our sound technician, and our cameraman, are graduates of the film school in the College of Computer Science and Digital Media; and I teach in the College of Communication.”

“I met Kim at an Ethics across the Curriculum seminar, so this project reflects our connection as colleagues and teachers at DePaul,” Werhane agrees. “We’re using the films in classes on ethics, media and philosophy.”

The series "Big Questions" aired on WNIT of South Bend, Indiana, in 2013.  In each episode, an audience views film segments that include commentary by experts and then asks questions of Werhane, Clark, and colleague, Laura Hartman, a Vincent de Paul Professor of Business Ethics.

Here are trailers or segments for some of the stories:

Micro-lending in Bangladesh:

A leper colony in Tanzania:

A women’s jail in Michigan:

Wage theft in Chicago:

For more features about distinguished DePaul people and programs, visit Distinctions.