The Opening Keynote at the PRSA International Conference 2010 was Bettina Luescher, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). As the largest aid organization in the world, the WFP reached out to 100 million people last year alone. They are charged with going into the world’s most impoverished places like Darfur and Somalia, as well as places hit hard by disasters, like Haiti and Afghanistan.
Luescher spoke about the amazingly difficult conditions of her job nonchalantly. Recalling the conditions after the Asian tsunami of 2004, she shared the grueling schedule of 20-40 television interviews daily, sharing a leaky tent in the rain with 20 others and a shower with 200 plus the logistics of delivering food by helicopter as casually as we might discuss our morning commute.
As well, Luescher told several funny stories about working with actor George Clooney in recent fundraising efforts – a light-hearted note to an otherwise thought-provoking presentation about hunger in the world today.
The biggest takeaway I got from her keynote was how the simplest act, if communicated well, can effect great change. Here are two examples from her presentation:
Darfur: Women who leave supervised camps to gather wood are often raped. The men cannot leave the camps at all, because they will be killed. The WFP made a case for providing women in these camps with a more environmentally efficient stove so they wouldn’t have to gather wood as often and they could better take care of their families.
Afghanistan: Traditionally, Afghan girls did not attend school. The WFP can feed a child for 25 cents a day or about $5.00 per month. If the WFP can keep the children in school and fed, this takes the burden off the parents. But, they went one step further: to make sure that girls got to keep attending school, the WFP gave girls a ration of cooking oil, elevating the value of the girls who brought the oil home and encouraging parents to keep them in school.
Luescher’s presentation was a reminder of how hunger can affect so many and how easy it can be to communicate in the name of change.
The World Food Programme has numerous partnership and donation plans on their web site.