July 12, 2017

Guest Commentary – How Public and Private Partnerships Can Achieve a More Food-Secure World

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

By Isabelle Foster, BA candidate, Public Policy, Stanford University

As a junior majoring in public policy, I am fascinated by the intersection of the public and private sectors. How can these two forces work together, and not separately, to implement broad change? This question—and many similar ones—have been a driving force throughout my research and time at Stanford. Coming from the Silicon Valley, I have observed many people who believe that ‘technology,’ ‘startups,’ and the ‘private sector’ alone can overcome policy-related challenges and single-handedly enact large-scale change. Yet all too frequently, we see that these technological and private-sector operations cannot succeed on their own. Without the correct political context and policy environment, there are often too few incentives or a lacking social context to sustain successful change.

This March, I had the honor of attending the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC.  While at the symposium, I had the opportunity to interact with other delegates and leaders within the public and private sectors. This experience was an informative opportunity to better understand the balance and interaction between these two sectors. By engaging in conversations, asking questions, and watching presentations, I have come closer to understanding the necessary, mutual relationship that underpins this partnership. Having studied US food security programs—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the National School Lunch Program, and the Summer Food Service Program—I was interested to not only better understand how this partnership functions within the United States, but also globally.

At the symposium, the wide range of private-sector players—from large multinational companies to startups and impact-investing firms—made it clear that there are many facets to the ‘private sector.’ Yet a resounding theme that arose from the symposium was that economic incentives are necessary to motivate the private sector to enter a certain country, community, or farming region. In order to have what was described as an ‘enabling environment’ for these private sector groups, the proper policy measures must be in place. Working with government groups and policymakers to develop proper economic markets and to ensure that farmers have access to financial resources is necessary for incentivizing private groups to invest in an area. Having policymakers who understand markets—and understand the effects that policies such as export bans can have—and who invest in both physical and financial infrastructure is an important component of this partnership.

The Council’s third recommendation in its 2017 global food security report is to ‘Amplify the Power of the Private Sector to Transform Food and Nutrition Security.’ This recommendation encapsulates many of the observations I made while trying to understand the role of the government and private companies in contributing to food security. Here, the use of the word amplify represents how strong public sector involvement and beneficial policies work together to magnify the positive impact of the private sector.

Studying public-private partnerships has interesting connections to my research on US-based food security programs, particularly policies related to child nutrition. For example, it was mentioned how private-sector companies have provided rice to allow for free school lunches for children in India. Observing how private sector players can ‘amplify’ nutrition programs and enhance or encourage government policy provided an interesting connection between my two research interest areas.

At the same time, the Symposium also allowed me to see the differences in food security policies in the United States and internationally. After speaking with another Next Generation delegate, I was fascinated to learn about the difference between school lunch policies in the United States and Canada. In Canada, many schools often do not have cafeterias, and students bring their own lunches. Due to the different cultural context, there is not a nation-wide program like the US National School Lunch Program in Canada. Much like the ‘enabling environments’ needed for private sector involvement, the cultural environment of a country largely determines what types of policies are implemented. Listening to the stories of individuals from many different countries has inspired me to extend my own research; in the future, I will be interested to study government food security and nutrition policies through a cross-cultural lens.    

Having the opportunity to attend the Council’s Global Food Security Symposium was one of the most inspiring and engaging opportunities I have been afforded. The sheer amount of knowledge, dedication, and energy present during the Symposium has been inspiring and unforgettable. What I have learned from this experience and the connections I have made will be useful as I continue my research and work towards a more food-secure world.  I am grateful to the Council for this experience and their continued efforts to improve the lives of individuals around the world.  

Read previous posts by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates: 

Why a Practical Consensus on Animal Welfare Is Essential to Combating Climate Change 

Working Together in Times of Food Insecurity

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania

Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data 

Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology 

Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

Nutrition Security in the 21st Century


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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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

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Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

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