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Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute

Name: Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute Website: http://www.bread.org
Address: 425 3rd Street SW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20024 Year founded: 1974
Phone: ( 2 0 2 ) 6 39-9400 Director: Asma Lateef, director, Bread for the World Institu
Email: institute@bread.org No. of staff in Bread for the World (HQ): 80 (10 at the Institute, 70 at Bread for the World)

 

Interview by Marie McGrath, ENN

A trip to Washington in early October, gave the opportunity for the ENN to interview Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. We first came across Bread for the World when attending a SUN meeting in June 2010 in Washington that they co-hosted with Concern Worldwide. They were obviously in the thick of the political and policy setting aspects of nutrition and we were curious to learn more about what they were about.

(Left to right): Kay DeBlance, Rebecca Walker, Aaron Marez and David Ramos of Texas walk through the Russell Senate Office Building on their way to a meeting in Sen. Kay Hutchison's office (R-TX). They visited the office as part of Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

I interviewed Asma Lateef, Director, and Scott Bleggi, Senior Policy Analyst for Hunger and Nutrition, at the Bread for the World Institute at their light-filled office overlooking Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government. Scott remarked as we shook hands, that while the view is a ‘selling point’ for any prospective staff, it reminds them daily of the focus and target of their work: high level influence on US government policy.

Asma joined Bread in 2000 as a policy analyst on the government relations team; a role involving direct lobbying at “the hill”. She left for a brief period and returned in 2007 as Director of Bread for the World’s research and education affiliate, Bread for the World Institute. She “came to nutrition late”, her primary training was as an economist. Scott has worked in Washington for more than 30 years, originally as a US Foreign Service officer (Agriculture) and then as a consultant in trade and development. He joined the Institute 2 years ago to work on mother and child nutrition and linkages with health and agriculture in US development policies and programmes.

Bread is best understood by hearing the story of how it began. Asma described how Bread was established in 1974 by a pastor, Art Simon, in New York City whose parish in the Lower Eastside of Manhattan was then populated with hungry and poor people. He realised he wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of his community by “doleing out soup”, which led him to question what is the role of the church in addressing the systemic issues hunger? He and a handful of others gathered regularly to study what they could do solve hunger and care for those whom Jesus calls “the least of these”. From this small start in Trinity Lower Eastside Lutheran, he moved to Washington DC to be closer to Congress and to further build Bread for the World. Art was president until 1991, when David Beckmann took over. Bread began with the values that embodied its work – in the early days, staff salaries were on a needs basis, meaning that the most senior staff were not paid the highest. This changed, Asma explained, as they had to adopt a more mainstream “competitive” approach to attract new staff. However the fundamental concern of addressing the systemic causes of poverty, hunger and undernutrition remains at the heart of Bread’s work.

The morning plenary session for Monday's "1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition for Mothers and Children: Building Political Commitment" at the National Gathering on June 13, 2011. Speaking is Maria Otero, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

Scott explained the difference between Bread and the Institute – which largely relates to funding and enabling tax breaks for individual donations. The Institute began in 1978 as the Bread for the World Education Fund, which enabled donors to get a tax deduction for their contributions. These funds cannot be used for lobbying (Americans donating to Bread do not get a tax break as the funds can be used for grassroots and direct lobbying). Essentially the Institute is the research and education affiliate of Bread, providing critical analytical thinking that underpins and supports Bread’s advocacy and campaigning work. Good examples are the analyses that have influenced policy around maternal and child nutrition and Feed the Future (FTF), USAID’s global hunger and food security initiative. Outputs take the form of social media blogs, briefing notes, with summary key recommendations providing a digested read and ‘need to know’ for policy-makers.

There are approximately 80 – 100 staff at Bread and the Institute. A lot of the staff members undertake education outreach. They are organised as departments such as church relations, communications, government relations, organising and grassroots capacity building. Bread has more than 90,000 influential members and around 5,000 local congregations, enabling an outreach of about one million people for its advocacy work. All members and partners are US based, enabling Bread to have a presence in all the congressional districts of the country. One exception is the Canadian Food Grains Bank that supports the annual hunger report; their engagement reflects that the Institute’s policy work, particularly on global hunger, is highly relevant to Canadians as well.

In terms of funding, around 60% of their resources come from members/individual donations. The balance comes from foundations. The type of individual donor varies hugely – from one individual who “empties his pockets, puts it in an envelope and sends it to us,” to monthly donors, and larger contributions from various Christian denominations. Foundations that support the work of the Institute and Bread include the Gates and Hewlett Foundations.

Asma and Scott reflected how the 2008 Lancet series was a critical launch-pad for Bread’s focus on nutrition. Recognising that you cannot fight hunger without addressing nutrition and food quality had a massive impact on their advocacy work and marked the point that Bread “jumped into action” on nutrition. This coincided with the 2008 global food price crisis, and by happy coincidence, a number of other initiatives, such as Bread’s own mother and child nutrition projects, the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and the USAID’s FTF launch in 2010. Bread has been actively involved in developing the SUN framework, in the preparation for the 2010 UN General Assembly Meetings and the launch of the simultaneous ‘1,000 Days Call to Action’. Bread and Concern Worldwide co-hosted the civil society SUN event in June 2011. Asma emphasised the importance of this meeting as it brought together civil society partners, giving many of the country representatives their first exposure to SUN -“they suddenly had a voice in this global policy initiative.” Bread were heartened to learn just a few months ago that one of the country delegates that attended is now the government representative of SUN in Guatemala, and reports directly to the country’s newly-elected president.

Bread and the Institute are not direct service providers. They work in advocacy. Scott described how the Institute “occupies a space that has one foot in understanding technical nutrition issues and one foot in influencing policy”. But both Scott and Asma were clear to state that they are not nutritionists, and certainly not technical nutrition experts. They have great respect for the nutrition expertise out there. Their job is to “distill” and “unpack” what nutrition is, how and where it is relevant at a political and policy level, and to hold government players to account. For example, the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series, FTF and SUN have helped crystallise thinking on nutrition for children under 2 years of age and how FTF (focused on agriculture and livelihoods) is integrating nutrition across development sectors. Bread is also work on improving foreign aid effectiveness. Bread’s president David Beckmann (who is the 2010 World Food Prize laureate) is cochair of the Modernising Foreign Assistance Network, informing country plans and “pushing the US to be better donors, with more transparency and more M&E”.

There have been marked developments, they feel, over the last few years, in terms of US government awareness and engagement on nutrition. At the G8 in Washington, US President Barack Obama addressed nutrition, and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has become a huge advocate for improving nutrition, especially for women and children. During Clinton’s trip to Tanzania, she spoke about nutrition and in all likelihood influenced the development of that country’s national nutrition plan. The Administrator of USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah, is talking about nutrition and is a member of the SUN lead group. Not only that nutrition is being spoken about, but the “depth of the conversation” has increased while there has been a progression from “how do we make linkages” to “look at what we are doing”. From an economic point of view, nutrition investment makes huge sense and “pays off”. Scott described early research in Guatemala that showed how malnutrition affects the GDP of an entire nation. Having donors build an evidence base showing the successes of early nutrition interventions helps Bread and other advocacy groups make the case for sustaining funding levels in the US Congress for poverty-focused development assistance.

Bread is concerned not to lose momentum after these initial gains. ENN’s visit to Washington coincided with the eve of the second series of debates between the US presidential candidates, some three weeks before the elections. For the first time, Asma reflected, they have had a US Secretary of State who has “talked about development as a main pillar of her job”. Indeed, Scott added, the “centre of gravity for nutrition policy has been at the state department rather than at USAID”. Both agreed they will be hard pushed to get another Secretary of State with such an interest and engagement. So in the coming months, a “huge re-education” will probably be required of new key players, as the new secretary takes office and newly-elected members of Congress come to Washington.

So, I asked, how exactly does the Bread network operate? Asma described how Bread mobilises its network and local congregations, to engage their members of Congress on domestic and global hunger and poverty issues, especially around an annual legislative campaign. Bread organisers work with grassroots activists, training them on advocacy and educating them on key issues. Activities include building relationships with local newspapers, with Congressional representatives throughout the calendar year. Bread defines key issues and clear actions, providing a kit, educational materials and website to support this. Once a year, hundreds of Bread’s members come to Washington DC. One good example of such action and impact was around budget cuts proposed by the Republican presidential candidate’s running mate, Paul Ryan, who had suggested deep cuts to programmes vital to hungry and poor people. Bread and its partners called on Congress to create a “circle of protection around these key programmes”. So far, no major cuts have happened and external consultants have attributed this in large part to the work of Bread and its faith partners.

Anna Lartey, associate professor and former head of department, nutrition and food science, University of Ghana, presisdent-elect of the international Union of Nutritional Sciences. She is speaking during the panel entitled "1,000 Days to Scale Up Nutrition: Building a Movement."

A key aspect of their work is building the capacity of the faith community to “carry the torch on nutrition” through ‘grassroots’ campaigns. For the first time, Bread engaged partners in the form of US women’s groups amongst their members of various Christian denominations on the issue of maternal and child nutrition. This led to the launch of the Women of Faith for 1,000 Days Movement. This in turn led to the ‘1,000 conversations about 1,000 Days’ initiative. The campaign was built around women committing to having “1,000 conversations” about the 1,000 days – from talking to their member of congress to coffee mornings to chat with a neighbour. What struck Asma and Scott in this process is that the women proved very powerful. “The fact that the root causes of malnutrition – access to food, knowledge, education – are the same wherever you are in the world hit a chord with US women and enabled these conversations”. Another example of action on the domestic front has been the Women, Infant and Child Programme targeting children.

Another role for Bread members is education of the general public around how the US can “afford’ overseas programmes in tight economic times, emphasising for example, how little the US actually spends on overseas programmes, and how it is a good investment, serving national security. As well as research and education, the Institute is involved in nonlegislative advocacy, e.g. policy work. A real-time example was Scott having to dash off as the ENN interview ended, to a meeting at the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on budget planning and investment on food security and nutrition for fiscal year 2014.

The Christian ethos is deeply engrained in Bread. There is no requirement to be a Christian to work at Bread, however many staff – Christian and non-Christian alike - find it enables them to “come and live out their faith, working on social justice issues”. They also reach out to other religious groups with shared values, in fact, the ‘Alliance to End Hunger’ was created in 2001 to facilitate just this. Recognising that Christian organsations were not going to be able to “do it alone”, Bread created this second affiliate to engage other faith groups, corporations, and universities and provides management and staff services to the Alliance. Tony Hall, a former Congress member, is Executive Director.

Bread doesn’t purport to have all the answers, far from it. They are curious and the questions they struggle with are addressed to government in order to find a solution. Their questions are not rhetorical or conceptual but are grounded in the practicalities – “Does USAID have a strategy? Do we [US government] need to organise ourselves differently to realise what we want do? Do we need to recruit new people for the expertise we need to deliver?” And when they identify needs and gaps, Scott explained, “we go and make the case on the Hill’ with elected officials. They ask questions on accountability, Asma added – “Who is the nutrition focal point in the US government? We are asking all these SUN countries to identify a focal point, where is ours? Who is accountable for how we deliver on nutrition? Who is responsible for coordination between US State Dept and USAID? Whose neck is on the line if we fail to deliver?” These are critical questions as they enter into a transition period in the US government with elections looming. “We can’t afford to let political winds change our course”.

A key area of work they are engaged with at the moment is how to define nutrition sensitive development. Bread have “called on the community” to contribute to early drafts on papers, and will be producing a paper on nutrition sensitive programming that will reflect strong inputs from UN agencies (FAO), research, academia and non-governmental organisations. Sometimes they build consensus in the process of collaborative work but that is not their primary goal. They see their role more in terms of providing a platform to ask the questions, from which consensus may emerge. They are ever mindful of their role - their job is not to write the strategy, but to ask what the strategy is and how it can be improved?

Another key issue, Asma feels, is how we talk about and use the term ‘hunger’. Asma described being struck by a presentation by the head of BRAC in Bangladesh, who described how we no longer tolerated famine and starvation, yet seemed to tolerate stunting at an outrageous scale. The connections between poverty, nutrition and health are becoming clearer and enabled by the conversation around the 1,000 days window. When it comes to emergencies, their perspective and that of their members is long term. When emergencies like Haiti and Japan happened, they didn’t see a peak in donations, nor a decline. Bread understands the need for investment in systemic change. Emergencies are part of the bigger picture.

Bread and the Institute are constantly looking ahead – they produce an annual Hunger Report where they forecast and analyse key issues in the coming year. Another imminent piece of work is the 2013 Hunger Report, due for release the week of the US Thanksgiving holiday, looks at the post 2015 agenda around the Millennium Development Goals. Some of their work also combines domestic and global interests. For example, they have worked more recently on US immigration, prompting discussions on the root causes (hunger, poverty) that drive people to come to the US, as well as considering the conditions they live in, in the US.

Asma concluded by reflecting how “the power is in the people – in government, they know about Bread because of the letters they receive from Bread’s members”. Action at grassroots level really impacts on higher level policy making.

As Scott left for his high level government meeting, I was struck by Bread’s capacity to engage at two extreme levels – the ‘person on the street’ through their grassroots work and the ‘man in the White House’, through their high level policy work. It seems that the vision of their founder holds as true today as it did more than 35 years ago, amongst this refreshingly curious and determined organisation. Making sense of nutrition - and making nutrition make sense – to the powers that be is no small task. Long may they continue.......

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Reference this page

Marie McGrath (2012). Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. Field Exchange 44, December 2012. p57. www.ennonline.net/fex/44/agencyprofile