President's Report to the Global Board of Directors

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Jill Lester, President and CEO
April 2009

"We should not "be daunted by difficulties, but conquer them by patience and perseverance." -Samuel Smiles

Download Full Report to the Global Board of Directors (including Country Reports) (PDF, 1.53 MB)

Introduction

We are viewing this year of financial stress as a period of "consolidation for future growth," a time to refocus, restructure and reposition The Hunger Project (THP) to ensure that we are fully ready and prepared to take advantage of the economic recovery as soon as "green shoots" begin to appear. While we are indeed feeling the weight of the current economic climate, we are using this time as an opportunity to explore alternative sources of funding, a time to reinforce with existing investors the value we place on their partnership, and a time to put in place more powerful ways to coordinate our fundraising efforts across the entire organization.

Despite working to a smaller budget, we continue to make progress in our work to end hunger and poverty. I am sure you will be inspired, as I am, by the outstanding achievements of our partners on the ground, when you read our Program Country reports.

We have made significant and pleasing progress in our Impact Assessment program, which will enable us to more powerfully demonstrate our impressive outcomes. In addition to our own assessment program, this year two independent organizations have also conducted assessments of our work in Africa (Uganda, Malawi and Senegal). Their reports not only validate our work, but provide valuable and supportive tools to share with potential and current investors.

We are also building wider appreciation and awareness of THP with a broader public audience and have made significant advances in building alliances and partnerships with other civil society organizations, funding institutions and universities as we seek to expand our influence and complement our strategies.

Going forward, it is critical that we work together across our global organization in building a united team, in which all participants learn from each other, are grounded in our shared commitment to the end of hunger and poverty, and leverage our strength as a worldwide and well respected global movement. I am confident that our focus, determination and progress will ensure that we end this year as a strengthened, more effective and more united organization.

Key Achievements

Continued Progress in Our Programs

Our partners in Africa, South Asia and Latin America continue to make progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as they strive to end their own hunger and poverty. Country reports with detailed updates are included but highlights from the past six months include:

In Burkina Faso, we have worked in conjunction with the National Government and launched five Nutritional Education Centers to help reduce the prevalence of malnutrition. The centers are located within the epicenters and are supervised by health and sanitation agents from the government. They provide information and demonstrations on health issues such as breastfeeding, diet and nutrition, hygiene, family planning and using insecticide-treated bednets. This tremendous resource will help our partners take actions to ensure the health of their families. Country-Director Dr. Dicko intends to scale-up this project and open centers in all 15 epicenters in Burkina Faso.

In Ethiopia, in partnership with Rotary International and four local Rotary Clubs, THP completed the Shonta Water Project, which is providing safe water to over 6,000 people at the Jaldu Epicenter. The community took responsibility for managing the entire project, and stand prepared to make technical repairs when needed, without financial support from THP. Now, women and children will not need to travel three to six kilometers each day during the dry season to fetch water, and community members will no longer be exposed to waterborne diseases.

In Senegal, a major innovation over the past six months has been the implementation of a mobile communication network connecting THP-Senegal staff and epicenter partners. The use of cell phones enables daily communication and facilitates the exchange of information, whatever the distance of the area. At the epicenter, members can use the telephone to talk to a THP staff member. While the initial objective of the project was to cut down THP-Senegal's telephone bill, the use of mobile phones has also led to more intensive communication between THP and its partners, and will facilitate exchanges between members of different epicenters.

In India, in early March, Country Director Rita Sarin, on invitation from the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, made a presentation on "Capacity Building and Empowerment of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs)" in a national seminar for EWRs, senior government officials and representatives from several state institutes of rural development, bilateral organizations, international and local nonprofits and academia.

In Bangladesh in early January, Youth Ending Hunger (YEH), the youth-wing of THP-Bangladesh, held its annual conference to mobilize the young people of Bangladesh to take action to end hunger. About 700 young women and men attended the conference and worked together to plan projects for 2009 on issues such as quality education, an anti-tobacco campaign and building IT skills. The conference was co-hosted by the World Health Organization, the Bangladesh Open Source Network, the Bangladesh Math Olympiad Committee and JAGOREE.

In Mexico, The J'Pas Joloviletik Cooperative, formed by a group of our women partners, has become the first textiles handicrafts organization to receive fair trade certification in the country. Our partners played an important role in setting the guidelines for the certification of textile handicrafts, which will enable other grassroots women to use this opportunity. This same cooperative of women has also launched an online store on e-bay, where they sell their handicrafts.

Fundraising: Building on Our Momentum

Fundraising has been a major emphasis for the period. Exceeding our target for our Best Year Yet campaign at the end of 2008 was a huge achievement for our global team, a true demonstration of the strong commitment of our investor base and helpful in providing many lessons to use when designing future coordinated global campaigns. In early 2009, our focus has been to build on the momentum of this achievement by renewing 2008 and 2007 investors who had not yet made pledges or invested in 2009.

In addition, Program Country Directors are seeking out opportunities for in-country fundraising. In early 2009, THP-Uganda submitted a proposal to the Ford Foundation regional office for Africa in Nairobi, and earned a grant for our microfinance program in 2009. In Mexico, the Federal Government through the Secretary for Social Development (SEDESOL) awarded THP-Mexico a grant to strengthen our mobilization in Zacatecas in 2009. These amounts go directly to our Program Countries.

We have seen a surge in online investment from first-time investors. We are also working to expand our investor base through our Reach Out Campaign to increase the size of our e-mail list, one of the primary factors in increasing online investment.

We are also tapping into younger investors and working with schools and colleges to access not only the philanthropy and enthusiasm of younger audiences, but hopefully, encourage their lifetime commitment to THP.

In addition, our Planned Giving program has seen a 120% increase in the total amount of confirmed planned gifts since the close of 2007.

Great Strides in Impact Assessment

Impact Assessment is critically important for us to powerfully illustrate to current and future investors, and to the international development community, that we are having a demonstrable impact on the ground. Our Impact Assessment program has four targeted groups:

  • To support the women and men working to end their own hunger and poverty by helping them identify gaps, set priorities and track progress;
  • To enable THP staff and partner organizations to continuously improve programs;
  • To enlist new sources of funding and be accountable to current investors; and
  • To engage in advocacy work with multilateral funders, governments, and other thought-leaders to help persuade them that our bottom-up, gender-focused approach is deserving of wider adoption in the development field.

We now have a global-wide Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Task Force to oversee the design, development and implementation of our M&E system. In time to report to the Global Board this April, we have completed the first major phase of this work by systematically gathering indicators of inputs and outputs. I am extremely proud of this accomplishment and am confident it will help us to cross-fertilize best practice across Program Countries, identify areas for improvement both locally and nationally, assist in identifying new funding opportunities and help The Hunger Project more powerfully advocate to have our methodology endorsed by large multilateral agencies and national governments.

This year, two independent organizations have conducted external assessments of our Epicenter Strategy in Africa. The in-depth assessment of our work in Uganda in January ‘09 delivers a powerful validation of our work in Uganda, clearly communicating our methodology, identifying ways in which THP is seen as distinctive among NGOs doing similar work and making recommendations for future enhancements to our programs. Members of the consulting team gave a presentation to THP staff in New York, presented to a group of investor-activist leaders at our National Leadership Conference in Chicago in March, and presented to our Global Board in April. The enthusiastic and heartfelt reaction of all groups to these presentations attests that this is a powerful tool for endorsing the contributions of current investors and demonstrating results to potential investors in the future.

The Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO), based in The Netherlands, conducted external evaluations of our work in Malawi and Senegal in late 2008/early 2009. The evaluators have submitted a comprehensive, compelling and favorable report of Malawi that acknowledges the effectiveness of our holistic approach, based on our three pillars.

In addition, the Yale, Berkeley and the University of Ghana long-term control-group evaluation of our scale-up in Ghana is steadily progressing. As of the end of 2008, baseline household surveys in both THP-mobilized areas and randomly selected comparison areas were completed.

Enhancing Our Reputation and Increasing Our Presence

We have made significant progress in expanding THP's presence and influence. Several Hunger Project staff members have represented THP globally at high-level meetings on issues of relevance to our work, ensuring that THP is at the table for such discussions and sharing our methodology and unique perspective as widely as possible.

  • Åsa Skogström, Country Director of THP-Sweden, represented THP at a high-level UN meeting on "Food Security for All" in Madrid in late January co-chaired by the UN Secretary-General and Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain.
  • Elisabeth Roelvink, Board Member of THP-Netherlands attended the Governing Council annual meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome in mid-February.
  • At the end of February, John Coonrod represented the CEO at the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarians' Forum on Inequality and Hunger, organized by the UNDP Regional Center in Colombo (UNDP-RCC) in Sri Lanka in partnership with FAO and the UN Millennium Campaign. We are grateful to UNDP-RCC for covering John's travel costs.
  • In Mexico, our Country Director, Lorena Vazquez continues to serve on the Government's Citizen's Consultative Council, directly advising the Minister and President on development issues.
  • I have held meetings with many contacts in our sector, including both Ireland's and Australia's Ambassadors to the UN, representatives of AusAID, the head of the UN Democracy Fund and Secretary-General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. In April, I spoke at Unite for Sight's 2009 Global Health and Innovation Summit on "Achieving Global Goals through Innovation," along with other presenters such as Jeffrey Sachs, Nicholas Kristof, and our Chairman.

We will continue to seek opportunities to present our work and advocate our methodology to influential audiences since the universal reaction is always one of appreciation and admiration.

Our newly redesigned public website has had an average of more than 20,000 unique visitors over the past six months and is generating significant funding from completely new investors (apart from existing investors making pledge payments or new investments online). This project, begun only six months ago, has already generated 12 times its cost. We are continuing to implement changes in a second phase of the project - including more interactive features like RSS feeds, "share with a friend" features, a blog and a more streamlined homepage and donations form.

Driving more people to our public website is our Google Grant AdWords campaign. Google Grants is a unique in-kind advertising program harnessing the power of Google AdWords advertising product. Google Grants has awarded AdWords advertising to hundreds of non-profit groups whose missions range from animal welfare to literacy, from supporting homeless children to promoting HIV education. Since our Google Grants advertising campaign was launched four months ago, ads for THP have been shown nearly 1.4 million times and have generated 43,000 clicks to our website!

Positive media coverage is steadily increasing. In India, Rita Sarin, our Country Director, was interviewed for a story entitled "Agents of Change March On" in The Times of India-India's leading national daily. Similarly, our Australian colleagues have had great success in obtaining coverage with a two-page spread with a snapshot of our work in AFR Boss magazine, Australia's leading business publication and Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's largest general news daily.

We have established a new partnership with one of the world's most creative advertising agencies, Droga5, who is working with us, pro bono, on more powerful positioning of our brand to better communicate our unique value in the increasingly crowded non-profit landscape. Droga5's clients have included MTV, Puma, Coca Cola, Unicef and Activision.

External Challenges

The external environment has obviously provided daunting challenges. A recent World Bank study anticipates that the world economy will contract by 1.7% this year, the first decline since World War II. While developing countries are still estimated to grow this year, some countries will undoubtedly fall into recession. The poorest people of the developing world will inevitably feel this crisis severely, and it is urgent to continue our work to build the resilience and self-reliance of people living in conditions of hunger and poverty.

The global food price crisis, while no longer making daily headlines, is still a pressing issue, particularly when coupled with the financial downturn. And, increasingly frequent and unpredictable weather incidents, a result of global warming, are putting the crops and income activities of our rural women food farmers at risk.

Furthering Our One Team Approach

We have finalized our organization-wide Code of Conduct and distributed it to all staff world-wide. The Code is a set of guiding standards and principles to which we aspire, in practice and in spirit. To build and sustain our reputation of excellence and integrity, we must take personal responsibility for setting the highest standards in the quality of our conduct. The Code is the first step, and, in the coming months, we will develop a Professional Standards document to further reinforce accountability and responsibility.

Our global Intranet has been formally launched, and is being increasingly used across the world by all staff. It includes information on THP policies and procedures, access to resources such as discussion forums on M&E and image galleries, and has a tracking mechanism for institutional funding proposals.

Global staff are increasingly thinking and functioning as one THP team, informing each other of progress, building on achievements, learning from successes, and sharing ideas for improvement. This pattern of behavior helps us form a much stronger team, enabling us to reach our shared goals in a unified, coordinated and more effective manner.

Conclusion

In conclusion, despite the current global economic downturn, THP is steadfastly making significant progress towards achieving our overall mission of ending hunger and poverty:

  • Program Countries are making steady and solid progress, working on cohesive, well-designed and highly relevant program priorities for the year.
  • We are enjoying an enhanced reputation and widening influence among relevant players at all levels;
  • We are being invited to join in international discussions on issues relating to our work;
  • Our current investor base is engaged and committed, and we are reaching out to new audiences, including youth and institutional funders.
  • We have established new partnerships with well-known organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the United Nations - not only for funding our work, but also for in-kind contributions, networking and advocacy opportunities.
  • We have made significant advances, both internally and with external organizations, in our impact assessments, which attest to the impact of our work. This is providing a springboard for new opportunities, in fundraising, in education and advocacy, and in further enhancing our programs.

We will continue to use 2009 productively, positively and strategically to ensure that we are building a strong and solid base upon which THP can grow successfully in the coming years.

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