August 15, 2019 | By Alesha Black

Expressing Appreciation and Announcing a Transition

After nearly four years of leading the Global Food & Agriculture Program at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, I want to share that I will be stepping down from my role as Managing Director this September. It has been a unique privilege to steward this program and to play a connecting role across the community working on global food and nutrition security, and I am thankful that in my next professional iteration I will continue to be part of it. I will be joining the Council’s ranks of non-resident fellows, where I plan write and speak on the issues facing people across the food system; I will also be supporting the work of a start-up called BST, working to digitize child growth monitoring for the assessment of stunting and other forms of malnutrition.

I am so thankful to have had the chance to oversee the production of over a dozen publications written by leading experts, many of them supported by diverse and skilled task forces. Through these publications, we have explored water, youth, urbanization, security, trade, and agricultural extension, to name a few topics, and we have hosted countless blogs, discussions, and online conversations. We even tried our first entirely digital report on the incredible power of rural girls to transform the global landscape---one of the most visited pages on the Council website. Our work benefits from consultations with the community and learning from the richness of experience all of you who are working on global food and nutrition bring to the discussion.  

The luxury of having nearly a year at a time to dedicate to a major dimension of the challenge like youth or water and agricultural development really sheds light on the complexity of these issues; but it also illuminates the immense problem-solving capabilities of the community and the often-unexpected consensus we reach on many issues. Still, divergence is where the most exciting conversations always occur. We have to challenge assumptions and remind ourselves to update our mental models as new data become available. The world is changing fast, and the challenges facing people twenty years ago are not necessarily the same as they are today. The dimensions of what we’re facing and the tools we have to address it are constantly changing.

The work is daunting and it often feels like progress is elusive or simply too slow. But there is so much progress to celebrate in this same moment, and so many leaders and innovations to look to for inspiration. Breakthroughs are born out of moments of frustration. They emerge when people stray off of the predictable path to follow a radical idea. Or they come when people commit fully to a lifetime of service to a single injustice. Inspiring stories are rooted in struggle, risk, and faith, and they are often moved forward by the people doing things a little differently and a little better in even the most difficult situations---the ‘positive deviants’.

Our program will be looking for the next leader to step into this role for the next era of work and I hope you’ll help us find them by sharing this link or exploring it yourself. This next leader will help the Council grow and evolve as it reaches its centennial in 2022.They will champion policies and innovations that will help us build a sustainable, equitable food system as the Sustainable Development Goals approach in 2030.

The Council has been a tremendous platform for elevating inspirational leaders and holding our collective feet to the fire on the evidence of what actually works and what must be done to solve the challenges we’re facing. I will continue to champion the Council’s work, which celebrates collective, multi-sectoral wisdom while also highlighting the pioneers exploring the next breakthrough idea. I particularly hope to support innovators or maybe even become one, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you in new ways in the years to come. Thank you.


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.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.