March 2008 Newsletter: Honoring Joan Holmes: A Leader for the 21st Century


We are thrilled to announce that The Hunger Project’s founding president, Joan Holmes, is being honored as one of the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

Since 2002, Women’s eNews has honored an awe-inspiring, reader-nominated group of leaders who confront issues of particular relevance to women. Past honorees include Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 1991 Africa Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, Swanee Hunt and Abigail Disney.

Joan is being recognized this year as one of the “seven who topple tyrannies.”

Joan took on one of the most pervasive, entrenched and debilitating tyrannies: patriarchy — a belief system . . . that deems women inferior.

She transformed all of The Hunger Project’s programs and created ground-breaking initiatives to empower women as the key change agents for the end of hunger. She is now regarded as the foremost expert on and advocate for women and the end of hunger.

In the 1990s, there was virtually no information on women and their pivotal role in ending hunger. Joan broke through this wall of silence that shrouds women, their lives and their contributions.

She began this journey in 1997 on a flight to India, when she reached into her carry-on and pulled out “The Asian Enigma,” a UNICEF report. Joan couldn’t believe what she read and reread — that the high rates of malnutrition of children in South Asia resulted from gender inequality. And, as they say, the rest is history. Joan’s 10-year journey to discover the truth regarding women and the end of hunger began.

She met with leaders throughout the developing world — from the grass roots to national governments. In Rajasthan, India, she met with nine top women leaders and advocates. Joan was shocked to learn about the cradle-to-grave discrimination against women. In this historic meeting, Joan became clear about the undeniable link between women’s low status and the persistence of hunger.

In Bhopal, Joan met with women newly elected to panchayats — local government — who were desperate to make a difference in their communities, but saw themselves as their husbands’ puppets with no voice of their own. Joan was deeply moved by the women, and made a commitment that these women — and all women in the developing world — would have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. She transformed all of The Hunger Project’s work in India and created the Women’s Leadership Workshop to empower grassroots women to be effective leaders in their panchayats. More than 65,000 women have taken the workshop.

Joan then investigated the situation in Africa, and uncovered the little-known fact that African women produce 80 percent of the continent’s food with virtually no support. To make their heroic contribution widely known, Joan created the African Woman Food Farmer Initiative to bring the women out of the shadows and into visibility, and to empower them through small loans and training. More than US$5 million in loans have been made to 63,000 women. Joan also confronted the devastation of HIV/AIDS and saw the impact that gender has on the crisis. Joan then created — with experts from eight African countries — the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop. Thus far, 450,000 women and men have taken this workshop.

In 2000, a standoff took place between Joan and representatives of the media in Rajasthan. They wanted to interview Joan but not the panchayat women whom they deemed inferior. This altercation inspired Joan to create the Sarojini Naidu Prize, which rewards reporters who positively cover the accomplishments of panchayat women. Now, reporters and their top articles are honored at a prestigious national prize ceremony.

In Bangladesh, Joan worked with local Hunger Project leaders to ensure greater gender equity, so that instead of 5 percent, women now constitute 40 percent of our 110,000 animators. During a village visit, she saw little boys playing. But little girls were nowhere in sight — they were inside working alongside their mothers. Joan found it heartbreaking that the mistreatment began so early — even depriving girls of their childhood. In response, she created National Girl Child Day — a nationwide celebration that recognizes and honors the value of girls. In 2007, more than 2,000 events were held.

All during this time, Joan created opportunities for Hunger Project investors to come to know the lives of the women in the developing world. She asked the investors, who are among the most educated and financially blessed people, to embrace as equal citizens these oppressed, disempowered and marginalized women. The investors responded enthusiastically and invested their financial resources to empower their sisters in the developing world.

In the international community, Joan became the voice for the women of the developing world. She ensured that the importance and contribution of women was potently included in the work of the UN Millennium Project’s Hunger Task Force. She also advocated for the women of the developing world through international conferences, speeches and testimonies to U.S. congressional committees. Through her work, millions of women are finding their voice and having their critical and extraordinary contribution to the well-being of society recognized.

Women’s eNews is the definitive source of substantive news — unavailable anywhere else — covering issues of particular concern to women and providing women’s perspectives on public policy. An independent news agency, Women’s eNews, and its editor-in-chief Rita Henley Jensen, have won 27 awards over the past six years. Women’s eNews has been widely tapped by other media from coast to coast and around the globe, from such leading media outlets as The New York Times, PBS, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune among others.


Joan will be honored at the Women’s eNews benefit gala to honor 21 women leaders, in New York City on Wednesday, 21 May. We invite you to join us in celebrating her! Ticket costs begin at US$500 (US$350 of which is tax-deductible). Please visit to make a reservation!


Joan will be interviewed in April by Dr. Mehmet Oz on the Oprah and Friends Network Channel on XM Satellite Radio. Stay tuned for more details on


In December 2007, Joan Holmes and Sheree S. Stomberg (head of Operations and Technology at Citi Global Wealth Management in New York) were elected to The Hunger Project’s Global Board of Directors.


Joan Holmes is currently writing a book that tells her personal story of the extraordinary 10-year odyssey she took through South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

The reader will meet many of the people Joan has met along the way, including the Senegalese food farmer whose hands and face revealed a lifetime of unrelenting drudgery, the little girl in Kolkata (Calcutta) whose joie de vivre stole Joan’s heart, the top nine Indian women leaders and activists who played a fundamental role in opening Joan’s eyes to conditions of women in India, and the Bangladeshi woman who shared with Joan some of her most painful experiences.

With Joan guiding the way, the reader will remove the veils shrouding the oppression, disempowerment and marginalization of women in the developing world. And, like Joan, the reader will come to understand that the women of the developing world must be set free and empowered if we are to live in a world where there is greater social justice and basic needs for all are met.