The Hunger Project: 40 Years of Transforming Our World

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October 03, 2017

The Hunger Project: 40 Years of Transforming Our World

Photo above: Zuza Epicenter, Mozambique (2015). Rural communities in Africa are mobilized through the The Hunger Project's Epicenter Strategy to take action on a wide range of integrated issues as the leaders of their own development. Credit: Ivan Barros/The Hunger Project

By Suzanne Mayo Frindt

President and CEO The Hunger Project

By John Coonrod

Executive Vice President The Hunger Project

The Hunger Project launched in 1977 recognizing the wisdom of Victor Hugo, that “Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” We set out to cause the end of hunger to be this kind of idea: to transform the prevailing mindset that hunger was inevitable, and align the world community to end hunger on a sustainable basis.

We recognized that world hunger could indeed be ended, but not by merely doing more of the same. From the very beginning, The Hunger Project was created not as a relief organization, but as a strategic organization always asking what was missing that, if provided, could create the breakthroughs needed to achieve our vision.

A Strategic Organization

Over the years, The Hunger Project has reinvented itself time and again to meet each challenge along the path of ending hunger. In the late 70s, early 80s, The Hunger Project started by carrying out large public education and advocacy campaign on the issue of hunger, designed to mobilize a global constituency committed to the end of hunger.  We played acatalytic role in mobilizing international support to stop famines in Cambodia in 1979, Somalia in 1980 and on the entire African continent from 1983-85. We launched the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger in 1987, which has been awarded throughout the years to African leaders including Nelson Mandela (as seen in photo at right) and Wangari Maathai.

In 1990, we recognized that typical top-down and siloed responses proved too inefficient and inflexible to meet the complex challenge of hunger and poverty. We pioneered a new, decentralized, holistic, people-centered approach to empower people to achieve lasting improvements in health, education, nutrition, and family income. This women-centered, community-led approach now reaches 17 million people in 12 countries around the world.

We launched the African Woman Food Farmer Initiative in 1999 to empower the women who grew the majority of food for household consumption in Africa. The initiative – now our Microfinance Program – provides training, credit, and savings opportunities to economically empower more than 75,000 community partners, the majority of whom are women.

We took on transforming the age-old condition of gender inequality, the key driver of malnutrition in South Asia. The Hunger Project now provides leadership training to women and builds networks of ongoing support. In Latin America, The Hunger Project saw that, though a majority of citizens benefit from economic prosperity, what was missing was the empowerment of the most marginalized rural and indigenous communities. The Hunger Project now plays a leadership role in transforming the current situation for rural communities by pioneering comprehensive, bottom-up, women-centered strategies for rural progress in Mexico.

The Hunger Project spearheaded the formation of the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum in Bangladesh in the year 2000. The NGCAF leads the celebrations of an annual day of recognition to advocate for the rights of girl children. International Day of the Girl is now recognized globally by the UN. Photo right: Young girls on National Girl Child Day in Bangladesh, 2015. 

Our Guiding Principles

Through our 40 years of work to end hunger, we recognized that hunger is not primarily a financial or technical issue – it’s a human issue. Ending hunger requires acting in accordance with principles consistent with our shared humanity. We challenge ourselves to ensure that each of our strategies builds on ten fundamental principles:

  1. Human Dignity. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, including the right to food, health, work, and education. The inherent nature of every person is creative, resourceful, self-reliant, responsible, and productive. We must not treat people living in conditions of hunger as beneficiaries, which can crush dignity, but rather as the key resource for ending hunger.
  2. Gender Equality. An essential part of ending hunger must be to cause society-wide change towards gender equality. Women bear the major responsibility for meeting basic needs, yet are systematically denied the resources, freedom of action, and voice in decision-making to fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Empowerment. In the face of social suppression, focused and sustained action is required to awaken people to the possibility of self-reliance, to build confidence, and to organize communities to take charge of their own development.
  4. Leverage. Ending chronic hunger requires action that catalyzes large-scale systemic change. We must regularly step back – assess our impact within the evolving social/political/economic environment – and launch the highest leverage actions we can to meet this challenge.
  5. Interconnectedness. Our actions are shaped by, and affect, all other people and our natural environment. Hunger and poverty are not problems of one country or another but are global issues. We must solve them not as “donors and recipients” but as global citizens, working as coequal partners in a common front to end hunger.
  6. Sustainability. Solutions to ending hunger must be sustainable locally, socially, economically, and environmentally.
  7. Social Transformation. People’s self-reliance is suppressed by conditions such as corruption, armed conflict, racism, and the subjugation of women. These are all rooted in an age-old and nearly universal patriarchal mindset that must be transformed as part of a fundamental shift in the way society is organized.
  8. Holistic Approach. Hunger is inextricably linked to a nexus of issues including decent work, health, education, environmental sustainability, and social justice. Only in solving these together will any of them be solved on a sustainable basis.
  9. Decentralization. Individual and community ownership of local development is critical. Actions are most successful if decisions are made close to the people. This requires effective national and local government working in partnership with the people.
  10. Transformative Leadership. Ending hunger requires a new kind of leadership: not top-down, authority-based leadership, but leadership that awakens people to their own power – leadership “with” people rather than leadership “over” people.

High-Leverage Action for the End of Hunger

Today, the recognition that the end of hunger is “an idea whose time had come,” as we said back in 1977, is deeply held and shared by millions of people around the world, and has been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end of hunger by 2030.

The SDGs recognize the need for holistic solutions, and for establishing participatory decision making at every level. Yet it is not yet clear that political leaders are ready to truly empower the women-centered, bottom-up processes required. With the launch of the SDGs, The Hunger Project launched itself into its next highest-leverage role: to build the large-scale partnerships and alliances to drive this transformative process in every country where it is required to make the promise of the sustainable end of hunger a reality.

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