May 16, 2013

Commentary - InterAction’s Food Security Pledge: $1 Billion of Potential Leverage

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @GlobalAgDev and use #globalag on twitter to join the conversation on May 21.

By Mr. Sam Worthington

Sam Worthington is the president and CEO of InterAction, an alliance of more than 180 U.S.-based NGOs.

Last fall InterAction pledged that its member NGOs would spend more than $1 billion in private resources on food security, agriculture and nutrition work over the next three years.  It may come as a surprise that U.S.-based NGOs have this amount of private resources to commit to ensuring more families worldwide have the food they need. Thanks to support from the individuals, foundations and corporations who believe in their cause and approach, they do. 

In fact, the U.S. NGO community is one of the largest donors in the world. Privately-funded international expenses for U.S. NGOs total $14 billion per year, according to the Hudson Institute. And in many countries, NGOs’ spending in the areas of food security, agriculture and nutrition exceeds that of the U.S. government.

Why highlight this with a pledge? Our hope is that the pledge will create opportunities for donors such as the U.S. government or corporations to partner with U.S. NGOs in new ways and, ultimately, to better leverage private dollars. By doing so, our goal is to increase the impact of food security, agriculture and nutrition efforts so that we are able to help more people lift themselves out of poverty.  In a world where one in eight people is malnourished, innovative and effective partnering is a must.

With programs in every country in the world, U.S. NGOs are at the forefront on the issues of food security, agriculture and nutrition. They work alongside local communities to help people become more self-sufficient, and their efforts complement U.S. government programs such as Feed the Future. But U.S. NGOs cannot build local capacity or solve local food security problems at scale by working alone.

There is enormous potential for governments, the private sector, and U.S. NGOs to work together and align our efforts in sectors such as food security and nutrition. Governments bring public dollars and the ability to change public policy, while the private sector offers access to markets, value chains and large distributive capacity. U.S. NGOs’ added value includes decades-long connections with communities and expertise working with and strengthening local civil society, including farmer cooperatives —critical assets given the need for development dollars to deliver lasting results.

Starting this summer, InterAction will report spending toward the pledge on an annual basis in a format similar to the G8 donors’ L’Aquila food security pledge. This complements ongoing efforts at InterAction such as the Food Security Aid Map, which maps InterAction members’ food security interventions worldwide. These efforts are well worth the time invested, as we work to improve our accountability and pave the way for stronger partnerships.

At its core, the pledge is an invitation to partner, a demonstration of the potential leverage that InterAction members bring to the table.  We look forward to continuing the conversation with the U.S. government and corporations on how we can better align public and private dollars to increase the impact of food security, agriculture and nutrition efforts. We must recognize the power of working with civil society, government and the private sector in smart ways to ensure that we help more people live better and healthier lives.

Sam Worthington is the president and CEO of InterAction, an alliance of more than 180 U.S.-based NGOs. For more information, watch InterAction's video. Watch the highlights from InterAction's 2013 Annual Forum here.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.