TV series travels the globe with Minnesota humanitarian foundation


An inspiring new 10-part television series on the work of the Eden Prairie-based Starkey Hearing Foundation has its debut Monday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

The Pioneer Press reports the original documentary series, called "Operation Change," will follow the nonprofit's founders, Bill and Tani Austin and their son and show creator Steven Sawalich " they team up with volunteers, celebrities and local organizations to help people in need."

The foundation has given away more than a million hearing aids to hearing-impaired people around the world. In addition to the hearing-aid missions, each episode will document humanitarian efforts that create sustainable projects, from building a community center to creating a water supply.

WXYZ in Detroit called the program "an emotionally compelling docu-series" that will give viewers a window into "some of the world’s most dangerous, desolate and poverty-stricken places."

"There's so much bad news all the time. Everyone seems to focus on what's wrong," Tani Austin told the newspaper. "Bill just felt like that's a cloud over everyone's head. There are so many people around the world caring about each other and doing good work. We run into that everywhere we go, so we filmed it."

The series will take viewers to work being done in India, Haiti, Tanzania, South Africa, Colombia, Israel and Palestine, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Lebanon. Episodes will spotlight high-profile people from the worlds of entertainment, politics, business and sports, including former President Bill Clinton, Elton John, the Dalai Lama, Harry Connick Jr., Richard Branson and Larry Fitzgerald.

The first episode, which airs at 9 p.m. on Monday night, was shot in Haiti and includes reality television star Bill Rancic. He teamed up with the Starkey Founation to build housing for a needy family in the island nation, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

"They're so experienced in philanthropic work and planning mission trips," said Rancic. "There's no one better to partner with."

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