President's Report to the Global Board
Jill Lester, President and CEO
The pressures of the global financial crisis continue to pose a significant challenge in all countries in which The Hunger Project (THP) operates. Many of our investors have been hit badly by the severe recession, and recovery to pre-2008 conditions may be some years away. At the same time, we are dealing with trends in our industry that were already in evidence before the meltdown. These include: increased expectations for accountability and transparency, rising expectations for better measurements and clear proof of impact, funders preferring to fund in a restricted way with decreasing support for general operations, and a preference by many funders to support the largest and most prominent of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
THP has also experienced, however, unprecedented opportunities in the past six months that have fuelled our optimism that this is, indeed, the time for THP to scale up. I highlight two of the most significant:
- The invitation by the President of Uganda that THP work closely with the National Planning Authority of the country as it develops the next five-year plan and adopts THP methodology as an integral element; we view this as an immensely exciting moment in the life of THP and the first rung on the ladder that will see THP's proven approach adopted as a sustainable and mainstream approach to ending hunger and poverty on a national scale;
- Our unanticipated success in Program Country fundraising in this, the first year of launching it as a strategy. Such funding is welcome as an important way of both broadening and deepening our work. Of even greater significance is the validation of THP's approach by key organizations influential in the development debate.
Highlights of Achievements
A. Program Countries
Pleasing progress was made across all Program Countries. Our emphasis this year was on consolidation, rather than expansion either into new geographic or programmatic areas, unless specifically funded to do so.
THP-Ghana has achieved remarkable results in its Scale-up Program, having achieved the construction of eight new epicenters by June 2009, in accordance with our grant agreement with the Robertson Foundation. A monitoring team from the Foundation visited the Eastern Region mid-year, and was particularly impressed by our results in food production, the literacy program and microfinance.
In a THP first, Mexico entered into a government-funded partnership with SEDESOL (Social Development Ministry), which has been a remarkable success. To date, THP-Mexico has exceeded the agreed targets, and this has led to a second financial commitment.
Significant progress was made by all Country Directors in both forming funding partnerships and in using lessons learned from monitoring and evaluation (M&E), which is shared with our village partners and used to make improvements in programmatic activities (see below).
B. Strategy and Influence
Since April, world leaders have made significant new commitments to fund global food and nutrition security, and global health. The evolving policy landscape validates our strategic direction and requires further focus and well-executed actions for THP to leverage this in 2010.
In line with our Strategic Direction's three key priorities on partnerships, advocacy and impact, the following is noteworthy:
Partnerships: Country Directors have formed powerful new partnerships with governments, foundations and UN agencies in every region where we work. These partnerships have been developed in-country, and as mentioned above, not only fund our work, but validate our approach.
Advocacy: Over the past six months, working with others in the UN, World Bank and US State Department, key elements of our three pillars approach have been incorporated into the new $20 billion Global Food Security Initiative launched in September by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Impact: Our significant progress in impact assessment over 2009 has enabled us to enter meaningful dialogues with professional development agencies, such as the World Bank. Our log-frame monitoring approach, unveiled in April, is now being implemented as "business as usual" in all our programs. Our long-term goal is to move beyond demonstrating that our programs are powerfully effective to advocating persuasively that our interventions can form the basis of national strategies. This objective will require more strategically targeted assessments of our programs in the future.
As mentioned above, one of our most significant fundraising achievements of the recent period is that Program Countries raised $3.1 million in country, with $1.7 million for 2009, from the following institutional funding partners: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) via the Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research in Burkina Faso (INERA) in Burkina Faso; United Nations Democracy Fund in India; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in India; SEDESOL in Mexico; British Council in Bangladesh; Ford Foundation and the President's Office in Uganda; and the Dutch Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO) in Senegal.
Partner Countries have to date raised $4.3 million on a $5.7 million target, and the US has raised $5.7 million on a target of $7 million. The Global Fundraising team has set a target of $12.6 million for the year, $1 million more than our initial projected expense budget.
Our Summer Surge fundraising campaign maintained the pace of fundraising and avoided the cash crunch experienced in 2008. A year-end match campaign entitled "Match Their Courage and We'll Match Your Money" was launched on October 2, with a small group of high-level investors putting up funds as a front-end matching fund to energize our Q4 fundraising.
A new fundraising and donor management system, Common Ground, was installed in September. It allows for more efficient data management and facilitates much closer global integration and coordination, which will be increasingly important in the future. New M&E and financial systems helped ensure greater alignment among programs, finance and fundraising for proposals submitted in 2009. A professional Grant Writer was also hired during this period.
The bulk of our unrestricted funding, essential to THP's continued success, continues to come from US investors. The US fundraising team has reached out and formed new funding partners, including Oprah's Angel Network. A search for a new major gifts fundraiser, to be based in New York City, was completed over the period to better resource our US fundraisers. Diane Saltzman has been appointed; she will be based in New York and will join THP in late October in time for the staff workshops.
In response to the global financial crisis, management conducted a thorough mid-year review of THP's financial circumstances, with the primary objective of ensuring the programmatic integrity of THP's activities during a potentially long and deep recession. The mid-year review was put to the Audit Committee for review and approval last month. It concluded that, in light of the significant steps taken earlier in the year to control expenses and the success of the spring and summer fundraising efforts, no additional budgetary cuts needed to be made to programs.
Other achievements of the past six months included:
- migrating from Pledge Maker to the web-based donor and grant management system, Common Ground;
- development of a comprehensive risk register for the organization;
- updated compliance with IRS bank and foreign affiliate filing requirements; and
- more consistent protocols on accepting restricted grants to apply across all THP operations.
The Communications Department has continued to make significant progress, focusing on building greater awareness of THP and its innovative work to end hunger and poverty with both internal audiences and the wider public. The team is enhancing THP's reputation; building media presence; expanding awareness by reaching out to new audiences; and increasing outreach through new technology and communications tools. Improvements to our website include the addition of more interactive and streamlined features, such as a new look for our homepage and facilitation of online giving. We have launched a comprehensive social media strategy using Facebook and Twitter. New and engaging organizational and fundraising materials were developed, including the 2009 Annual Report, a newly designed overview brochure, a comprehensive Epicenter Strategy document, the THP Strategic Direction document, monthly e-newsletters, a quarterly appeal and e-news articles. During the period, THP received coverage in The New York Times Magazine, on Air America's Montel Williams show, on devex.com, and in the magazine Vegetarian Times. The team has also formed cause-related marketing partnerships with companies like Vera Bradley, Kaia Foods and Quaker Oatmeal.
Closures of Some Areas of Activity
After a comprehensive review of operations, it was decided to close seven areas of activity in Senegal and two in Ghana (Regular Program). Although these areas were counted as epicenters, they were, in fact, created in an early phase of the Microfinance Program and were never formally part of the Epicenter Strategy. It was, therefore, felt not appropriate to continue to list them as such. We will, however, continue visits to these communities.
Partner Country Charter Agreement
The next step for the Partner Country Advisory Council (PCAC), created in 2008, is to agree upon a revision to the Charter Agreement (1985). After consultation with our European Global Board Member, it was decided to defer this work until 2010 given the immediate pressures of the global financial crisis and the heavy commitment of time that will be needed to reach agreement with all countries.
This has made no difference to our commitment to continue PCAC meetings as a forum in which to share strategic, financial and other THP developments and initiatives with the Partner Countries.
This year's Fall Event is built around the theme: "It's Time!" This refers to a number of promising developments:
- World leaders in both the G8 and G20 have made dramatic commitments to global food security.
- There is an increased emphasis on the importance of empowering women and girls, as evidenced by the UN announcement of a new, consolidated gender agency, the focus of the Clinton Global Initiative meetings and a statement by President Obama in September.
- We are now almost two-thirds of the way along the world's timetable to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While some goals are on track, others, including the first goal of halving the number of hungry and poor people in the world, are not.
These considerations offer an extraordinary opportunity for THP. This is the time when we need to seek both funding and other resources so that we may scale up our bottom-up, gender-focused, integrated strategies. Fortuitously, the new emphasis of world leaders on development needs focused on hunger and poverty is in line with our strategic direction, including the three strategic priorities we identified in that document: partnerships, advocacy and impact.
Positioning for Growth in 2010
A. Strengthening Our Governance
In regard to corporate governance, we have recently filed our annual tax return (Form 990) with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as part of compliance requirements to retain our status as a not-for-profit organization. This year, the IRS dramatically overhauled Form 990 to require more comprehensive disclosure of corporate governance and organizational policies that support the financial integrity and charitable purpose of organizations such as THP.
You will recall I had developed policies on whistleblower and conflict of interest situations, together with an annual questionnaire last year, which were endorsed at the October 2008 Board meeting. This means that we are in compliance with IRS requirements this year and did not have to scramble to put in place policies to meet the new standards and disclosures.
At the same time, a policy on confidentiality relating to the need to safeguard information about investors, employees and volunteers was developed and board-approved. We have also produced a Code of Conduct to guide standards of behavior across THP to apply to all staff, volunteers and members of governance bodies or advisory councils working with us. For enhanced transparency and in line with the high standards we expect of ourselves, these policies have all been posted on both our intranet and our internet.
B. Implementing Our Strategy
Our strategic direction is now available on our intranet and public website. This is a comprehensive roadmap with relevance to all staff, investors and volunteers. I am happy to report that the strategic direction for scaling up THP via partnerships, advocacy and impact is already bearing fruit.
Fortuitously, it is consistent with the new framework for international development assistance. However, we must stay ahead of the curve and, therefore, our strategic direction, which was always intended to be a living and evolving document, will be revised and refocused next year.
Over this year, much was learned about engaging global stakeholders in the strategic direction design process. We will apply what we have learned to ensure that all feel a collective ownership and empowerment in our future strategy.
The support of our individual investors remains critical in this, and all THP activities. It is their investments that enable us to tackle new areas, respond to new developments and maintain high standards of quality. The leverage gained and the return on those investments have never been higher and will remain so in coming years.