Devex #FoodSecured virtual event: Malnutrition amid climate crisis – Turning ideas into action

The global food system is in crisis. Conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed its existing flaws and fragilities, putting millions more at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. As the climate emergency grows in severity, the need to build resilience has only become more urgent. These interplaying factors are what the World Food Programme has described as the “perfect storm for unprecedented global nutrition crises” that will impact vulnerable groups, including women and children, the most.

With COP28 approaching next month, it’s crucial that climate’s impact on food and nutrition rises up the international agenda. Which is why Stronger Foundations for Nutrition was pleased to join Devex in a virtual event as part of the ‘Food Secured’ campaign, supported by its partners Action Against Hunger, Bayer, Catholic Relief Services and UNICEF USA.

Our Executive Director Matt Freeman spoke to the unique role that philanthropy can play in building healthier and more sustainable systems, for both people and planet:

When you’re thinking about issues of the scale of climate change and malnutrition, the most important thing that philanthropy can be doing is acting as an enabler for systemic change. Working on a project-by-project basis isn’t enough. We need to find points of high leverage where we can unlock the investments of other actors: whether that’s in evidence generation, elevating the voices of local communities to demand change, or acting as catalytic capital to leverage scale finance from the public and private sector.

To learn more about the wider Food Secured campaign, click here.

In partnership with Devex and Rotary International, Stronger Foundations for Nutrition launches new video calling for integrated, child-centered solutions

In times of crisis, children always suffer the most. As issues like climate change throw new and greater challenges at us, it is more important than ever that communities – and our channels for reaching them – are strong and resilient, providing children everything they need to survive and to thrive.

But so many of the essential services that children need are delivered in silos – if they are delivered at all – while for families it is just one life.

We must do better for children, and members of the health and nutrition philanthropic community are starting to find new ways of doing so. Our partner Rotary International is one of them: the integrated approach of its PolioPlus program provides a model for community-focused, child-centered delivery of health and nutrition services.

In partnership with Devex and its series Food Secured, this new video explores Rotary’s success in leveraging polio eradication infrastructure to also tackle malnutrition among the world’s most vulnerable. It is estimated that introducing Vitamin A supplementation to this program has contributed to preventing more than 1.25 million deaths by decreasing children’s susceptibility to infectious diseases.

To learn more about Rotary International’s work, and their efforts to address the dual burden of polio and malnutrition, visit

Interview with FinTech.TV: Why investing in nutrition is a foundational investment in the Sustainable Development Goals

Our world is grappling with a food crisis that is taking so many lives, while relying on broken systems to fight it. The impact is devastating – upwards of half the global population are malnourished. The toll is far greater than hunger: nutrition has a profound impact on nearly all the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), undermining progress on everything from education to women’s empowerment to economic prosperity.

As Matt Freeman discusses in his interview with FinTech.TV, the urgency of this moment means we must resist the call to choose between saving lives today or fixing systems for tomorrow. With conviction and in partnership, we can fight these challenges now and invest in a stronger world.

This is a winnable fight, but the scale of the challenge is far too great for any actor to address on their own. We need a broader and better connected philanthropic community, working alongside all global development partners, to end malnutrition so we are stronger in the face of these monumental challenges.

Philanthropy has a critical role in this change – as investors, connectors and catalysts – to help build food and health systems that are future fit and focused on supporting the most vulnerable. Which is why Stronger Foundations is uniting a global philanthropic coalition, to invest in our human potential and put an end to malnutrition. For good.

Transforming food systems: The fertile ground for progress

By Matt Freeman, Executive Director, Stronger Foundations for Nutrition

Our food systems are at a breaking point. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts and a climate emergency are deepening the cracks in systems that were already failing billions of us.

Even before the food crisis, we knew that our food systems were not fit for purpose. More than three million children a year are dying from malnutrition — representing nearly 50% of all child deaths. Over 3 billion people — all over the world — cannot afford a healthy diet. And food and agricultural production is one of the greatest contributors to climate change, responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now with the food crisis, these long-standing issues are even further threatening the lives of the most vulnerable. It is estimated that every 5% rise in food prices increases the number of children worldwide suffering from wasting — the most tragic form of malnutrition — by 9%. And it is deepening inequalities: the world’s poorest are now spending 50% of their incomes on food compared to 20% for the richest, with the majority of what we are buying more harmful for our bodies than good.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the will to transform food systems, there is enormous potential to support human health while also improving livelihoods and protecting the planet.

Let’s dream bigger.

Today, almost half of all the calories we consume come from sugar cane, maize, wheat and rice, which fill bellies but do little else to nourish bodies and minds. And for those who can afford it, we fill our protein requirements — and then some — from the harmful and unsustainable production of meat that pushes our planet further to the precipice.

Tomorrow, all of us should have access to diverse, nutrient-rich foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts, as well as more healthy and sustainable proteins from both animals and plants that can help our people and planet flourish.

To make this shift, we need to make nutritious foods the easy and affordable choice. It is estimated that, to meet requirements for global healthy diets, we will need to increase production of these nutritious foods by 50% — 150% or more. That will require changes in policy, investments to scale inclusive innovation, and shifts in consumer demand. None of this is easy, but there is increasingly a path forward to do it.

Let’s make this #EarthDay the moment where today’s broken food systems become the fertile ground for progress. More nutritious food systems will help all of us to thrive in the face of crisis, and build bridges to a stronger tomorrow.

To learn more about how we can work together towards a better nourished, more sustainable and stronger world, check out our ‘Transforming Food Systems’ factsheet or our partnership with Devex on the ‘Food Secured’ series. And if you are a philanthropist, please reach out to join us in building Stronger Foundations for Nutrition.

Interview with Dr Katharina Lichtner, Managing Director of the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation, on Breastfeeding and Malnutrition

Our Advocacy & Comms Lead interviewed Dr Katharina Lichtner, Managing Director of the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation: one of the members of our Stronger Foundations community.

We wanted to learn more about the Foundation’s work on breastfeeding, as well as Katharina’s unique perspectives on the barriers facing the malnutrition community today.

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Hi Katharina! First up: can you tell us a bit about what led you to work with the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation?

If I’m honest, I didn’t really choose this role — the role chose me! I was headhunted for the job whilst I was working in the tech start-up space. I had realized my role at the time wasn’t in an environment that I wanted to work in and I think the diversity of my background made my step into the Foundation a great fit.

I started my career working in science, I did a PhD in Immunology, and then I worked in consulting and finance for many years in roles spanning investment, communications and technology. The red thread throughout my business career was to build and grow things: participating in starting businesses, integrating acquired business units, building the next thing, building another organization.

All this meant that I was coming to my current role with a strong business background and private-sector orientation: something that the Foundation wanted to bring into the mix. I’m now trying to employ these skills in the development sector, which I think brings a different angle to my work.

A rich and interesting background. So, we’d like to know: what does a typical day look like in your role?

What characterizes my work the most is that there isn’t a typical day. It often ends up being quite different to what I am expecting when I look at my calendar in the morning.

The Foundation covers a broad spectrum of work and, likewise, my role spans a great deal. My work can involve anything from conceptualizing new approaches to overseeing the more operational elements of the Foundation to having scientific discussions and thinking about how we’re funding research projects. It also frequently involves working in a very hands-on way with our partners in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, which involves travelling at least a week out of every month, and liaising and strategizing with the Foundation Board.

I guess the core theme that’s weaving through the work I do is that I’m often picking out topics where I believe there is a need for deeper development: where I think the field is under conceptualizing, where we don’t really understand the inner mechanics of the problem and where we need to try new approaches.

As part of this, I’m often looking for ideas we can “steal” from the private sector, such as how we can more efficiently work towards best practices. In the breastfeeding space, for example, we have over 1000 published interventions, of which we are not sure how many will work at scale or how transferable they are from one setting to the next. I would question if we need that number of interventions, and think instead we should try to build a toolbox of maybe 20 to 30 that do work well, learn how to execute them and measure their impact very efficiently so that we can get a lot done with a lot less capital.

Let’s focus on what you find most frustrating about the space you’re working in. If you could wave a wand and make one major barrier to what you’re trying to achieve at the Foundation disappear, what would it be?

If I had a magic wand, I would take away the undue influence of formula companies on the environments in which mothers are breastfeeding.

An important report has just come out from the WHO, including research from a Lancet series, that looks at how the formula industry’s marketing practices are really subversively undermining women’s confidence and ability to breastfeed. This is plunging many children into malnutrition because it undermines not only the amount of food they consume but also the quality of it.

The thing that’s shocking about this issue is that it’s ubiquitous: it’s in any country, whether rich or poor. These companies are very hard to fight, simply because of their sophistication and the financial means they can put behind their work. It’s subterfuge really: influencing the space in a way that people can’t see, a sort of mass manipulation.

It’s also essentially a redistribution of funds from society into the coffers of the formula industry. At the end of the day, low breastfeeding rates lead to negative health impacts later in life for many, the burdens of which are being shouldered by society while the formula companies are reaping enormous revenue. And that is by no way balanced by the taxes they are paying back to states.

I’m not saying that addressing the influence of formula companies would fix everything. But it would mean we could concentrate on the other more systemic issues that need to be addressed to promote breastfeeding — many of which I believe are solvable.

Now, let’s think about solutions. If you had to prioritize a specific intervention that you believe would have the greatest impact on rates of malnutrition, which would you choose?

From my end, I wouldn’t want to even answer that question because it’s fundamentally projecting ideas that I think we should get away from. I don’t think there’s any single intervention on anything — whether it’s for breastfeeding, malnutrition, climate, education, health — that can make a substantial difference for a significant number of people. And I think the earlier and the more we start to move away from that view, the better.

One of the criticisms I would have of the development sector and of many institutions within it is that we are still dreaming of this golden bullet. But we need to move towards systemic views and process-oriented approaches where we define and develop complex solutions for complex problems.

At our Foundation, our approach is to work more flexibly with the solutions that already exist and think about how they can be combined with other systems and interventions in new ways. This helps us develop plans that are more complex and able to deal with issues in a much more fundamental and sustainable way.

As long as we keep a view on individual interventions, we’re not going to solve the problems. We need to focus on where those issues are embedded and understanding the larger systems and complexities at play.

A very valid point. As we wrap up, here’s one for the food-lovers in our community: what was the most memorable dish you’ve ever had?

I’ve been very lucky to have eaten well in so many places around the planet, for so many years now, that I find it hard to say. However, one meal does stand out among the rest.

We did some work in China for a while and I was invited to what must have been the best fish dinner I’ve ever had. We had a table full of highly curated pieces of fish, lots of different kinds. There were beautiful little fillet pieces and fish balls, all raw, and we had a simmering pot of really nice Chinese vegetable broth. You would put the bits of fish on top of the soup and let them simmer through. We were just eating fish and the bits and pieces from the soup all evening and everything was phenomenally delicious and well decorated. It was basically a fish Fondue Chinoise done in a very sophisticated way — which I loved.

Nourishing Equality

By Martha Flynn, Advocacy and Communications Lead, Stronger Foundations for Nutrition

Last year, I made a bold step from almost a decade’s work in the gender equality space and took up the helm as the Advocacy & Communications Lead at Stronger Foundations for Nutrition: an ambitious coalition of private philanthropies working to end malnutrition.

Though I was by no means an expert, I did know that malnutrition was profoundly gendered: girls and women are 50% more likely to be undernourished than boys and men, in part because they often eat last and eat least when food is scarce. But the scale of the gender inequalities in malnutrition would soon shock me.

In late 2022 we discovered that rates of malnutrition among women were even more profound than had been imagined. Research by Lancet Global Health found that a staggering 2 in 3 women of reproductive age were lacking the essential vitamins and minerals they need to thrive – far higher than previously expected. And this week, ahead of International Women’s Day, UNICEF released new data showing that a staggering 1 billion adolescent girls and women worldwide suffer from undernutrition.

These rates might not have come as such a shock to my new colleagues in the nutrition community. They already knew that global hunger was increasing after years of decline and that the rising cost-of-living was eating away at many people’s ability to buy healthy and nutritious food. They also knew that food crises like the ones we find ourselves in today often hit women the hardest.

This International Women’s Day must be the start of a shift in perspective: we must recognize that the fight to end malnutrition and the fight to achieve gender equality are intimately intertwined.”

Good nutrition provides the building blocks for every person’s chance in life: determining everything from our ability to ward off disease to our emotional and mental well-being. And globally, we’re building on unstable foundations. For example, almost a third of women worldwide suffer from anemia: a condition associated with low iron levels that zaps your energy, clouds concentration and weakens your immune system.

True equality cannot exist if so many women are lacking the basic nutrients they need to learn, to thrive, to discover what they’re truly capable of.

And this not only has dramatic implications for women individually. Women’s malnutrition is a vicious cycle that compounds inequalities from each generation to the next: many malnourished women go on to become malnourished mothers who give birth to malnourished children who may, eventually, become malnourished mothers themselves.

Challenging the underlying causes of inequalities in malnutrition will also force us to wake up to the discrimination and biases that are driving them: the reasons why resources are so often unequally shared, why so many women face barriers to the care they need and why they disproportionately feel pressure to prioritize their children’s needs over theirs. All questions that are key to the broader struggle to realize women’s rights.

So as we wake up today to calls to action to strengthen girls’ education, close the gender pay gap and boost women’s political representation, let us remember that nourishing equality must start with addressing malnutrition from the earliest points in girls’ and women’s lives. Because a better — and more equally — nourished world is a stronger one.