October 2008: President's Report to the Global Board of Directors


Refocusing, Restructuring and Repositioning

Jill Lester, President and CEO

"This has been my true voyage of discovery - not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
- Proust

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I am pleased to provide the Board with my report for the 2008 October Board meeting. It is now nine months since I joined The Hunger Project, this wonderful organization, perhaps better described as a global movement, which seeks to empower women and men to end their own hunger and poverty.

This report details my experience over this time, my observations on the organization's strengths, areas of new emphasis to keep the Hunger Project at the forefront of development thinking and practice, and areas where changes are necessary to meet both new regulatory and legal requirements and our own standards of openness and transparency.

We also need to stay abreast of changes and risks in the external environment. I have highlighted the most significant of these, including suggestions as to how to deal with them, including identifying, wherever possible, new opportunities.

These are, as we know, "hard times" in the global financial and economic environments, with scant prospect for their early resolution. However, they are also "good times" in the sense that The Hunger Project is beginning to win greater appreciation and awareness, especially from those who understand the vital importance of grassroots development, that our approach does indeed hold the promise for a brighter future and the end of hunger and poverty.

We should view this period as a watershed, a time to learn, improve and, above all, consolidate. I want to use this period to ensure we are ready to take full advantage of the inevitable global upturn... when it arrives, as it surely will. This is a time for refocusing, restructuring and repositioning.

This report covers:

  • Key achievements
  • Opportunities and Threats
  • Priorities for the Next Period

Appendix 1 provides highlights of activities by department.

Key Achievements

Our programs are continuing to achieve remarkable results in all program countries. Over the year, in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, we have touched the lives of many thousands more partners in villages, mobilized more communities than ever before, and are receiving ever stronger support from both local, and higher, levels of government. Yet another of our African epicenters has been declared self reliant (Iganga in Uganda), bringing to a total of 18 the number of epicenters whose populations are capably and confidently taking charge of their own lives and looking after their own basic needs.

This Fall, we awarded the Africa Prize for Civil Society Leadership for the Empowerment of Women. Nominations were received from many inspiring organizations, making the international jury's decision extremely difficult. This is reflected in the decision to split the prize between two dedicated women - Faiza Jama Mohamed and Janet Nkubana. Faiza is the Africa Regional Director of Equality Now, a human rights organization working for the civil, political, economic and social rights of girls and women. Janet is the Founder and President of Gahaya Links, a Rwandan handicrafts organization that empowers local rural women to achieve economic stability.

We have taken confident steps towards building a stronger global organization, working as "one team" towards a common mission and purpose, striving for continuous improvements, and introducing innovative approaches to achieve our mission. As part of this process, we have embarked on an ambitious review of existing arrangements with Partner Countries which aims to build the Partner Country Advisory Council into a valuable part of our governance framework.

Effective capture and analysis of data is essential to empower local communities, improve our program effectiveness and attract new investment. A web-based data base and applications has been developed and a comprehensive review of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has been conducted to guide us on strategic M&E development. Its key recommendations have been endorsed by management, including the establishment of a Working Group to move us forward in a participative manner and the adoption of a core set of indicators, common to all our programs, which will help us promote the distinctiveness and success of The Hunger Project's overall approach.

We have restructured the Global Office in a way that brings greater clarity to accountabilities, improves efficiency and puts resources towards new areas of emphasis such as communication, improved business systems, strategy development and enhanced influence.

We have undertaken a major redesign and launched our public website using the combined efforts of staff, Peter Crosby, a committed investor, and the generous work of Grand Junction Design. Its fresh, streamlined style embodies The Hunger Project's creativity and we hope that it will help us attract new audiences, especially youth, raise more money and assist in increasing our influence.

Despite the financial crisis, we have continued to attract support from investors around the world. Partner Countries are likely to exceed the ambitious target they set themselves at the beginning of the year to raise their highest amount ever. And, even in the context of the current difficult environment, US fundraisers are not far off to what they raised last year at this time and have begun to make inroads into corporate fundraising sources. To strengthen this work, we have recruited a specialist corporate fundraiser.

Importantly, we have developed a strategic directions document to determine our future intentions for The Hunger Project (for review at this meeting). This has been done as a three step process:

Part 1: Our Long-Term Vision to identify our role in the global effort to end hunger and poverty, and to articulate our pathway to achieving this;

Part 2: The Next Five Years (2009-2013) consistent with moving towards that longer-term role, and with high-level objectives for our activities in Program Countries and the implications of these for support areas of The Hunger Project.

Part 3: implementation Plan to be developed for every country and program as rolling two year implementation plans and budgets (once the Board has approved Parts 1 and 2).

Opportunities and Threats

A. Strategic Assessment

In many ways, the opportunity for The Hunger Project's overriding mission, the end of hunger and poverty, is strategically as promising, if not more so, than it has ever been.

  • There is growing awareness globally of the persistence of chronic hunger and poverty, as reflected in the renewed commitments of governments, and others, to the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
  • Civil society is increasingly mobilized and capable of making a significant contribution.
  • Our greatest strategic strength is that we have a powerful ‘capacity building' methodology of mobilization and empowerment, and a long track record of achievement on the ground over the past thirty years in many and diverse countries and cultures.

In sum, The Hunger Project is perfectly poised, with its methodology, distinctive organizational structure, successful track record and shared vision to respond to the increased focus on hunger and poverty. Simply put, we are at a stage where we can be readying ourselves for a bright future. Our focus will be on:

  • scaling-up within existing countries and expansion into new ones, as appropriate, and as funding permits;
  • development of strong collaborative partnerships in our program work; and
  • significantly increasing awareness of our approach to mobilization and empowerment as the sustainable solution for the end of hunger.

B. External Environment

The external environment, however, is presenting serious challenges to realizing these opportunities. I flagged a number of these in my April Board report and, unfortunately, since then, many of these factors have deteriorated further.

  1. The financial crisis has become far more serious than was earlier anticipated and unfortunately must be expected to have a deleterious impact on our revenues. This situation has arisen before we were able to put in place a strong and sustainable reserves policy. In April, I tabled that we would be seeking to diversify our sources of funding, particularly in the United States, which continues to depend heavily on the wonderful generosity of individual investors. The financial downturn has accelerated too rapidly.
  2. The World Food Price Crisis reached its height in the first half of the year, sparking political and social unrest in many countries of the developing world. Shortly after attending an Emergency Session on the crisis at the United Nations, I called for a survey of the food security situation in our epicenters across Africa. This survey revealed that all had sufficient food stocks to take them to the next harvest. This significant news provided an important opportunity to let our investors, and others, know that The Hunger Project's solution is indeed sustainable. At a number of our epicenters, larger, stand-alone food storage facilities with greater storage capacity are being developed. We intend to pursue this approach, both as a valuable measure to ensure food security and as a worthwhile investment opportunity that may interest funders with a particular focus.
  3. Global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of unpredictable weather incidents. There is more attention now being paid by the developed world to this issue and in summer, I was invited to speak at both Kofi Annan's inaugural Global Humanitarian Forum on "the Human Face of Climate Change" and at Tallberg, Sweden, where I was able to showcase The Hunger Project in a session titled "From Systems Thinking to Systems Doing." There is increasing recognition that rural communities, where the bulk of the world's most food insecure people live, must be made more resilient so that they can themselves take steps to adapt to what are likely to be increasing weather incidents. The Hunger Project has a proven and replicable methodology to achieve this goal and we will be seeking to promote our solution more widely.
  4. Recent trends in development aid are also cause for concern. Although in the main, aid flows to developing countries have been growing, fragmentation of that aid is increasing, leading to reduced aid effectiveness. This is partly due to the explosive growth in the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), leading to fierce competition for revenue. Partly in response to the confusing, and often conflicting, claims made by these many organizations, there is an increasing tendency among both official donors and the very large private foundations to concentrate more and more funding on the largest organizations with the biggest "brands." The recent boom in government aid funding was not accessed by The Hunger Project, and we are now seeking to access these funds by building more awareness of The Hunger Project whilst recognizing that this is likely to require greater emphasis demonstrating our impact in a convincing, quantitative and objective way.

C. Internal Challenges - Access to Resources

Internally, there are fundraising issues to be addressed, both in the short and longer-terms. Strategically we need access to substantially larger ("deeper") and more diversified ("broader") funding, by building many and different sorts of partnerships.

Specifically, our challenges are:

Leveraging our Existing Individual Investors

Our core group of highly committed individuals, many from the United States, remains of central importance to our organization. It is their loyalty, trust and investments of "untied" funding over many years that has enabled The Hunger Project to operate successfully, explore innovative approaches and develop our distinctive approach to development work on a truly integrated and sustainable basis. Our challenge is to not only retain the commitment of this wonderful group but to broaden and deepen their engagement through tapping into their personal networks and providing more support and communication tools for our activists to become even more effective. We are also seeking other ways to diversify with this group by encouraging legacies and planned giving, and, by learning from some of our younger investors, how to develop new strategies to appeal more widely to this important demographic for our future.

Strengthening our International Investor Partners

Our Partner Countries have been steadily broadening their funding base to include government agencies and the business sector. There are many opportunities in this to learn from each other as to how to effectively tap into these sources. We are also aware that we need to strengthen our Partner Countries' efforts by underpinning them with effective support through robust program and budget information, data and reporting. Our challenge is to maintain our organizational model that preserves the strength of our unique structure but supports the need of Partner Countries to demonstrate that they play a valued role in the organization's governance. We are revising our charter arrangements and putting more resources into dedicated support for Partner Countries.

Exploring Program Country Fundraising

Bilateral and multilateral funding organizations are increasingly devolving autonomy for allocation decisions to program countries. This provides an opportunity for The Hunger Project's offices in those countries to apply for this funding. We need to support our Program Country staff in this endeavor with additional support for their skills development. In line with our emphasis on partnerships as a key strategic element for our future direction, we also want to encourage our Program Countries to explore innovative "in-kind" collaborations, for example, through groups that provide micronutrients or drought resistant cropping expertise.

Capitalizing on the new Funding Paradigm of Partnerships.

There is an increasing trend to forming multi-organizational partnerships in development, as compared to the more traditional two-way relationships. These new partnerships are multi-sectoral, involving complex alliances between governments, private investors, corporations and foundations, universities and research establishments and NGOs (particularly those with strong brand equity). We need to be proactively pursuing opportunities to participate in these collaborative partnerships, keeping in mind that our success will, in part, depend on three elements:

  • Further enhancing our reputation;
  • Being able to convincingly demonstrate effective impact in our programs;
  • Having responsive and accountable systems and procedures to meet reporting requirements.

Initiatives to address these issues, and others, are contained in the next section.

Future Initiatives

Our overall approach and core actions will be complemented by improvements in a range of supporting systems, processes, and functions. Those listed below cover staff, finance, governance, information technology, communications and monitoring and evaluation.

Building a "one team" approach

  • Our newly appointed HR Manager is revising individual position descriptions to improve our alignment with emerging strategic needs for enhanced skills and expertise. Her next priority is to review and update our staffing manuals and procedures to reflect good practice.
  • Staff workshops on M&E, fundraising, and program initiatives are to be held to upgrade skills across all staff of The Hunger Project, build a common base of understanding and learn from best practice within the group.
  • We are addressing the need to articulate clearly the way we want to work together across The Hunger Project. We plan to introduce a Code of Conduct, drafted by a staff team with representatives from around the world.

Diffusing Technology and Capturing Knowledge

  • An organization-wide intranet is under development, as an important tool to bring all staff together effectively and securely. We plan to upgrade our knowledge management to ensure we share our work more efficiently than in the past.

M&E for improved Empowerment, Learning and Accountability

  • In regard to M&E, we need to be able to demonstrate our effectiveness and impact aligned to our Theory of Change. To this end, an M&E working group with cross representational membership will be formed to set goals and time frames and ensure that M&E is truly embedded into every program. Areas of focus will include clarity on the purposes and audiences for M&E, developing relevant indicators that demonstrate the success of our ‘capacity building,' and tighter alignment of a proposed "common" core set of indicators with MDG indicators.

Developing More Responsive Business Systems

  • I have just announced the appointment of David Buxbaum as our new CFO. David comes to us with senior financial experience in both the corporate and not-for-profit world. David's initial priorities will be to strengthen our budgeting and accounting systems to help us plan, monitor and report in a way that is transparent and accountable, not least to meet the reporting requirements of investors but also to ensure that we work seamlessly across departmental lines.

Good Governance for Transparency and Professionalism

  • We will continue to systematically review and upgrade our governance policies and procedures both in line with changing regulatory requirements and to tangibly demonstrate our commitment to transparency. As well, the consultative work we have commenced with our Partner countries on the key documents necessary for the PCAC's operations will remain a major focus.

Reputation and Communications

  • Reputation, brand, and communication, both internal and external will be given increased emphasis as a key element in expanding significantly The Hunger Project's presence and influence. We will research and develop position papers on key issues of hunger and poverty and publish these on our website to build our voice in public debates on these issues.


In sum, what we are proposing is to capture in our organizational systems the same approach that characterizes our program work. Just as we ensure that the foundations for our epicenter buildings are strong and sound, and that we mobilize our partners in villages across the world by capacity building, our efforts over the next period will be on strengthening the organization's foundations, building our capacities and skills in an increasingly progressive organization and adapting and improving as a true learning organization. With this focus, we will move forward through the coming period of consolidation and towards having the organization well placed for strategic growth and greater impact.

Appendix 1