October 13-14, 2007: The 30th Anniversary Celebration

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Keynote Presentation by Joan Holmes

The following text comprises the first and third parts of Joan Holmes’ keynote presentation. The second part of the presentation, printed in a separate document, includes remarks by four women leaders from the developing world with introductions for each of them by Joan Holmes.

Part 1: Introduction

Thirty years ago, when The Hunger Project began its work, the death toll from hunger related causes was 41,000 people a day. If we, as a world community, had not taken effective action that number would now be more than 60,000 each and every day. But we did take action. And it was effective. And now, we see the results. Today, that daily mortal roll call has fallen to 20,000.

Thirty years ago, hunger was considered an inevitable part of the human condition. Today, ending hunger is on the international agenda as a priority. For the first time in human history, our global community of nations,192 countries, are aligned and committed to a unified plan of action—a plan of action to solve the basic issues of humankind.

Thirty years ago, The Hunger Project was an idea. Now we are a worldwide movement with Hunger Project people in 33 countries. The Hunger Project is communicated in more than 140 languages and dialects. We represent all races, and nearly every ethnic and religious group on earth.

Thirty years ago…an idea. Now, The Hunger Project is an unconventional, strategic, mission-driven organization with programs in 13 countries. An idea…now an aligned group of committed investors who have transformed the very act of giving from a donor-beneficiary relationship to one of authentic co-equal partnership—a partnership with one mission, one vision—the sustainable end of world hunger. Let me congratulate each and every one of you for your vision, for your commitment, your partnership, and for investing your financial resources.

Your contribution is crucial and it is powerful! You are creating a world without hunger.

What’s So Today

Let’s take a snapshot of what’s so today. Today one-half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. That’s the international definition of poverty. One billion of us live on less than $1 a day. This is abject poverty. And 852 million of us live in the condition of hunger—the most extreme form of poverty.

We see that women are the most affected:

  • 70% of the poor are women and children.
  • 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s illiterates are female.
  • Of the millions of school age children not in school, the majority are girls.
  • One woman a minute dies while giving birth—the vast majority are in the developing world. In the industrialized countries one woman in 4,000 dies in childbirth. In Africa it’s one in 16.

But the world is making progress. There’s more than enough food. There’s certainly enough money. And, the world community is committed to resolving this issue. What’s needed now is a new understanding of the anatomy of the hunger that remains.

The Three Fundamental Issues

If we are going to achieve the sustainable end of hunger, we as a world community need to update our thinking on three fundamental issues: hungry people need to be the authors of their own development; women need to be empowered to be the key change agents, and; local government must be made to work. Then we need to devise programs, create policies and allocate money - consistent with this new thinking. Let's take a closer look at what I'm talking about.

Hungry People Need to be the Authors of their Own Development

Today, we as a world community do not leverage the tremendous energy, knowledge and skills of the poor. In many ways, we still see hungry people as the problem not the solution. The world community has sympathy for the poor and generously offers charity and services, but that is not the same as having an authentic partnership. That is not the same as standing with them in their struggle for self-reliance and dignity and empowering them to achieve it.

At some basic level, we as a global community, have not yet embraced the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the disenfranchised—embraced them as our equals, as our partners, as individuals belonging to the world community with full citizenship. Until we do, and until we empower them to be the authors of their own development, hunger will persist.

Women Need to be Empowered to be the Key Change Agents

The lives for women are the most tragic. Women are the poorest, work the hardest, and have no voice in decisions that affect their own lives. They have no say in how many children they will have, and no say as to when or to whom they will be married. And, here’s the irony. These oppressed, malnourished, and often illiterate women are the key to the end of hunger. They are the key to the end of abject poverty.

And, here’s why: in the developing world there is a rigid division of labor by gender. Women have been assigned virtually all of the work and responsibility for meeting basic needs. They are responsible for health, nutrition, education, getting enough water, ensuring safe sanitation, gathering wood for fuel, and growing the food. It is through their work that basic needs are met. What causes this to be so problematic is that women are systematically denied the information, education, and freedom of action they need to fulfill this responsibility. They are even denied voice in decisions that affect their own lives.

I’ve lived in India. I’ve been to 17 African countries and I can promise you that this division of labor by gender won’t end anytime soon. So if we are to end hunger, we need to stop the discrimination and end the subjugation of women. If we are to end hunger, the only pathway available is to empower women to succeed in this overwhelming responsibility of meeting basic needs.

Local Government Must be Made to Work

Local government is closest to the people and has the mission of working with people to have their basic needs met. Unfortunately, in the developing world, these government bodies are largely ineffective. To begin with, they don’t represent everyone—women have little or no voice. Also, the central government often starves village councils of financial resources and limits their freedom and authority to make decisions. And, there are almost no effective ways for people to hold their local government to account.

So hungry people need to be the authors of their own development, women need to be empowered to be the key change agents, and local government must be made to work. These are the key elements to ending hunger. Until and unless we recognize this, until and unless we act on this, hunger will persist.

The Hunger Project’s Methodology Works

As you well know, from the beginning, we in The Hunger Project have been committed to the sustainable end of hunger. The Hunger Project has given itself the job to pioneer and demonstrate on-the-ground that when you mobilize people, empower women and work effectively with local government, the results are overwhelmingly positive. Basic needs are met, and, in the process, people are transformed.

All of our programs, in every region of the world, are based on these principles.

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight we are going to hear first-hand how The Hunger Project’s methodology is working every place where hunger persists. And tonight, we have the extraordinary and rare opportunity to hear from women—grassroots women—who are leading this effort.

Part 2: Remarks From Four Women Global Leaders

Part 3: Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are 180,000 mobilized women and men just like the leaders you just heard. They are The Hunger Project’s cadre of leadership in the developing world.The results of these leaders are a product of the partnership with you the investors in The Hunger Project. Extraordinary results—abundant results—are being produced by this partnership:

  • Babies are living
  • Mothers are living
  • Children are immunized
  • Everyone is better nourished
  • There is food security
  • There is safe sanitation
  • There is less violence against women

And the list goes on and on and on…It is undeniable that the methodology of The Hunger Project empowers people to meet their basic needs—to satisfy the hunger for health, literacy, credit, and clean water. To me, what’s most extraordinary, what’s most compelling, is that The Hunger Project methodology also satisfies the hunger to have voice in decisions that affect your life, satisfies the hunger for dignity, the hunger for self-hood, the hunger for making a contribution, for making a difference, for leading a meaningful life, and the hunger to have pride, to have a sense of accomplishment.

Bottom-line, there is a fundamental transformation from dependency to self-reliance, from despair to “It can be done!,” from resignation to “I can do it!,”—from a sense of unworthiness to a clarity that “I’m creative, I'm capable, and I am productive!”

When a person is transformed at this most fundamental level of what it means to be human, the results they produce in their lives and in their communities go way beyond their ability to meet basic needs. It is at this most profound, most human level that transformation is happening. And this transformation is key to the sustainable end of hunger. One of the reasons to celebrate the results is so that we can own them, take responsibility for having achieved them, and then recognize that with these results we have a whole new landscape in front of us. o:p>

And, here’s what the future holds! The 180,000 trained and mobilized leaders will be in the forefront of training the next generation of leaders. We anticipate that in the next ten years, at a minimum—at a minimum—we will train an additional 500,000 leaders! In Bangladesh, our army of animators will expand—and expand exponentially. In Latin America, the extraordinary progress indigenous people are making will accelerate and they will have decisive impact in ending hunger. In Africa, we will expand to more countries and create scores of new epicenters. India will not only have more trained women Panchayat leaders, but we will have succeeded in having state governments put women’s leadership at the forefront of their panchayat programs.

We will have more investment from more foundations, more corporations and more individuals—from people who will discover that with their money they can create a new future. And to stay on the cutting edge, The Hunger Project will always ask “what’s missing?”—what is missing, that if provided, would make a significant contribution to the end of hunger?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Hunger Project — 2007!