A look back at Davos

What the World Economic Forum looks like from the point of view of a World Food Programme executive

A schoolgirl in Wajir County, northeastern Kenya where WFP runs a school feeding programme. Photos: WFP/Kenya

By Geeta Bandi-Phillips

At the World Food Programme, we’re proud of our work on the ground assisting some of the most marginalized people in the most cut-off parts of the world.

But we also know that sustained solutions to hunger require leaders’ deep commitment and long-term investment in food security, early-childhood education, women’s empowerment, rural infrastructure and community development. Our mission is saving lives and changing lives.

The need to tackle the causes of hunger is especially apparent now. Over the past few years a deadly combination of conflict, climate change and economic marginalization has pushed up the number of people suffering hunger, after decades in which it saw a fall.

Children are not spared the trauma of escaping violence — a WFP-backed nutrition clinic in Kaya, Burkina Faso. Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

Humanitarian assistance is essential but cannot provide the full answer. It is vital that we challenge leaders from governments, business, civil society organisations, and others to step up action.

That’s why in January, my travels were not a UN plane, a 4x4, and a boat, but an Alitalia plane to Zurich, and then three trains up mountains, to get to Davos for the World Economic Forum.

Having grown up in a village in South India where many of my friends were stunted by childhood hunger, I never anticipated going to a gathering like Davos. And in my budget outfit, I did look a rather unusual attendee. Being in the field with our grassroots workers is what inspires me — it is vital that we bring the realities we witness to the leaders on whom we depend to tackle them.

Some Davos attendees might prefer it only to be a private networking event and not a place where aid workers come to highlight the collective challenges that humanity must face. But to challenge such complacency is a core part of our role. We let them know that right now, leaders are not doing all they need to do, and if they do not act the costs of inaction will in the end come back to them. As Martin Luther King noted, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

The author, centre, with colleagues in Somalia last year. Photo: Geeta Bandi-Phillips

More encouragingly, some leaders are showing that they do understand that hunger is not an unavoidable tragedy but a preventable outrage, and are starting to pursue some of the shifts needed.

WFP is making full use of global platforms to work with stakeholders across the public, private, philanthropic, multilateral and non-governmental sectors to build partnerships for innovative and scalable solutions.

We need a broad coalition for the UN’s Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger, and welcome all who are ready to put their shoulder to the wheel. More are needed, now. It’s our only chance of beating hunger and malnutrition.

The annual gathering of some of the most powerful figures from politics and business is a somewhat incongruous place to highlight the fact that globally, one in nine people is hungry. But without a change in trajectory we won’t meet the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger, and here are the leaders whose actions can put this right. And so, with funding from generous private sector donors, we made this rather unusual field trip up to advocate to leaders on what needs to be done. Here are some of the calls we raised there:

1. Build resilience in climate risk hotspots

As a threat multiplier, climate change exacerbates ongoing social, political, economic and environmental challenges facing many low-income and fragile countries. Action by both public and private sector institutions is needed to facilitate risk reduction in an increasingly unpredictable world. It is vital to enhance social safety nets for the most vulnerable people, and through that also protect some of the most critical natural assets from degradation.

World Food Programme chief executive David Beasley in Burkina Faso, last year. Photo: George Fominyen

A panel discussion brought together Ms. Ute Klamert (WFP’s assistant executive director for partnerships and advocacy), Ambassador Dr. Christian Frutiger, (assistant director general and head of global cooperation, Swiss Agency for Development) and Ivo Menzinger (managing director for Europe, Middle East, Africa & Product Management, Swiss Reinsurance’s Public Sector Solutions Division), moderated by Corinne Woods (WFP’s Director, Communications Advocacy & Marketing). They set out the need for connecting climate risk mitigation (like restoring damaged landscapes) with climate risk transfer mechanisms (like insurance products and services).

They highlighted to leaders that the cost of inaction in economic, political, social, and environmental terms will significantly outweigh the cost of strategic investments in climate risk adaptation, financing and risk-transfer instruments. They also challenged policymakers, the private sector and multilateral agencies to develop affordable and scalable integrated climate risk mitigation and insurance schemes at both the micro and macro levels.

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2. Tackle conflict and hunger together

A panel discussion brought together Arif Husain (WFP’s chief economist) and Malish James (a South Sudanese refugee and WFP storyteller), moderated by Ute Klamert (WFP’s assistant executive director for partnerships and advocacy). Malish’s participation was facilitated by our use of the new Portal by Facebook device.

They pointed out how food is an innately political and contentious issue and how the inextricable link between food insecurity, political instability and conflict play out. They also unveiled WFP’s new Global Hunger MapLive, a monitoring tool that captures near real-time estimates of the food security situation in more than 90 countries so that decision-makers have the key information they need early and can act before crises hit.

3. Get business to play its role tackling hunger

Leaders from across business, technology, civil society and policy were brought together for “Dine with Purpose”, organized by Freuds, introduced by WFP’s Corinne Woods and moderated by Wawira Njiru, founder and executive director of food for education. The key speakers included Ute Klamert, Simon Lowden, chief sustainability officer, PepsiCo, Tony Milikin, chief procurement and sustainability officer, AB InBev and Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president for UN Partnerships, SAP & Global Head of SAP Next-Gen. More than 70 leaders from business, NGOs and academia came together to consolidate partnerships to address hunger.

4. Connect, reach out and build a broad coalition for action

To reach out and help bring in the widest possible engagement in the mission of tackling hunger, WFP organised a joint TV interview for WFP executive director David Beasley and his UNICEF counterpart Henrietta Fore.

The pair launched an urgent global call for “Nurturing Human Capital: Achieving more for children in 2020 and beyond” at the UN SDG Media Zone.

They set out their plan for joint health and nutrition packages to reach 50 million infant children and 35 million schoolchildren in 30 of the poorest countries. They explained they would not have been able to do so as individual agencies working alone, and were only able reach such ambitious goals as part of a multi-stakeholder coalition that they were now seeking to broaden even further. The message was, only when we come together across sectors can we beat hunger.

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