Read on…suggestions for 2019 from GAIN staff……
We at GAIN like to think of ourselves as a learning organisation and I invited our staff to tell us about the standout thing from 2018 that they were reading that had meaning for their work, and to tell us why they chose it. Twenty-five of them responded and here are their contributions. Like our staff the selections embrace diversity. There are the usual weighty technical reports, a few books, some journal articles and papers, some newspaper articles and podcasts, two books about life at the end of life and even a couple of children’s books!
Many thanks to the GAIN staff from all the different offices around the world who were brave enough to share their readings with the rest of us. Here they are (in the order I received them, with their office location listed).
Enjoy, and keep being curious!
Greg S. Garrett, Director, Food Policy and Financing, Switzerland
Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers. Mark Shepard. Acres USA. 2013.
This book provides an overview of the pros and cons of annual agriculture and summarizes the environmental and health/nutritional benefits of natural perennial ecosystems. It also talks about taking ‘restoration agriculture’ to scale and the cost implications.
Learning about this perspective of producing sustainable, healthy crops has been helpful for me when thinking through long-term food policy and financing initiatives that can be developed with policy makers in low and middle income countries. These policies can complement ongoing medium term efforts to reduce malnutrition (food fortification and biofortification) and start to improve soil, ecosystems, yields and diets.
Saul Morris, Director of Programmes Service, United Kingdom
Effectiveness of strategies to improve health-care provider practices in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review. Alexander K Rowe et al. 2018. Lancet Global Health.
This study asks how successful different strategies are to change the practices of health care providers. The study finds that: “the effects were near zero for only implementing a technology-based strategy… or only providing printed information … Training or supervision alone typically had moderate effects (10·3–15·9 percentage points), whereas combining training and supervision had somewhat larger effects than use of either strategy alone (18·0–18·8 percentage points). Group problem solving alone showed large improvements in percentage outcomes (28·0–37·5 percentage points).”
I chose it because we rely so heavily, across all of health, food, and education systems, on government or NGO staff who interact with large numbers of members of the public. We use them to try to directly service public needs or to engineer favourable changes in household behaviours, and we imagine that we know exactly how to get them to do what we want. But in fact, it is mighty difficult to get these “front-line workers” to work effectively. And many of the tactics that we use most often (providing them with a “manual”, for example) turn out to be completely ineffective in improving quality. As a result, huge amounts of resources are wasted, and we could literally double the rate of effective service delivery just by switching from training and supervision as our preferred tool to group problem solving!
Syed Alam, International Finance Manager, Finance, United Kingdom
Can a new sweet potato help tackle child malnutrition? Nancy Kacungira, BBC Africa, Uganda
An article on biofortification of sweet potatoes in Uganda and how this has benefited the Vitamin A deficiency in the region and achieved high yields. A story to share and hopefully in the very near future GAIN can be part of something similar.
Orion Kobayashi, Supply Chain Associate, United States of America
The Displaced podcast, which is run by the International Rescue Committee and Vox Media, that has had the most influence on my work at GAIN. The episode that has had the most impact on how I think about work and GAIN is the one with Ann Mei Chang’s new book Lean Impact.
The IRC’s Airbel Center for Innovation runs the podcast. So although some of the guests focus on humanitarian aid, often it is more looking at new approaches to international aid and development, and how to actual scale these solutions. For me, I’ve enjoyed it because it expands the language and framework I can use on GAIN’s Project Disrupt: Surfacing Innovations in Nutritious Supply Chains and figure out ways how I need to discuss this work with other country offices and team members. Overall, I hope that this podcast and Ann Mei Chang’s book can be a way for more NGOs to be more agile, lean, and rapid at prototyping for good enough solutions instead of a long, perfect solution that cause us to miss opportunity windows.
Elizabeth Maddison, Director, Strategic Operations, United Kingdom
My choice is Michelle Obama Becoming (2018) (currently reading) published by Viking, because even though her experience is of course in so many ways non-replicable she (1) she cares about food and tried to galvanise the US food system (from digging up the White House lawn for vegetables to changing school lunches), (2) cares about children and young people, (3) sweats detail and systems as well as vision and big picture, (4) engages ‘ordinary people’ as experts, (5) reminds us that the personal is (as we know but sometimes forget) the political, and (6) of course she reminds us that change is possible
Tarun Vij, Country Director, India
The impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Air Pollution Collaborators Lancet Planet Health 2018 Published Online December 6, 2018
- Air pollution is the second most important disease burden factor in India after malnutrition, resulting in 1.25 million deaths annually. India has 18% of the global population but 26% of the disease burden due to air pollution.
- 77% of India inhales polluted air, well above levels considered safe.
- There is an urban and rural dimension to this as well. Whereas urban India is impacted predominantly by ambient particulate matter related pollution, rural India continues to have unacceptable levels of indoor air pollution due to usage of solid fuels for cooking.
- Indian states with lower Social Development Index (SDI) are impacted more; states in the North are much more impacted than the South.
- Surveillance data is yet inadequate, but the actions of the Government due to awareness and pressure from the public and media has catalyzed accelerated action in recent years.
I chose this because it shows how it is useful to slice the problem, its dimensions and proposed solutions by state or state clusters. Here the author puts the states into three social development index groups. Also, it validates the notion of having specific urban and rural interventions and these may be quite different.
Rudaba Khondker, Country Director, Bangladesh
The Business Case for Curiosity by Francesca Gino. September-October 2018 Issue of Harvard Business Review.
Ms. Gino has shared that after conducting a survey among more than 3,000 employees from a wide range of firms and industries, she has found only 24% reported curiosity in their jobs on a regular basis and about 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work. She emphasized that triggering curiosity enables us to think deeply and rationally about decisions to come up with more creative solutions. Ms. Gino points out that triggering curiosity also allows leaders to develop more trusting and collaborative relationships at the workplace, make fewer decision making errors, come up with more innovations, reduce group conflicts and most importantly, facilitate more open communication and better team performance.
These traits are very much linked with our “ONE GAIN” culture to achieve our purpose collectively. The message that maintaining a sense of wonder is crucial to creativity and innovation and that most effective leaders look for ways to nurture their employee’s curiosity to fuel learning and discovery is a great learning for me. This is helping me to think how I/we can do better in connecting to the broader stakeholders as an alliance for the common purpose. I really liked the sentence, “When we are curious, we view tough situations more creatively”.
Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director, United Kingdom and Switzerland
Healthy Returns: Opportunities for market-based solutions to childhood obesity. 2018. Produced for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and Big Society Capital by a team coordinated by The Food Foundation.
This report focuses on the UK and the issue that nutritional value and price of food often increase hand in hand. The report describes “challenger brands” in the food sector using sustainable business models to enable and drive lower income households to access more nutritious diets. The challenger brands often need help and the report highlights 3 areas: (1) lack of investment, (2) business advices specific to food (e.g. regulatory environment or nutrition) and (3) place based infrastructure to improve storage and distribution.
I chose this for 3 reasons (a) it is very well written, (b) it has lots of examples from the UK and (c) it reminds me so much of our work at GAIN even though we predominantly work in Africa and Asia. Solving malnutrition is truly a global challenge with solutions emerging from all places for all places to learn from.
Uduak Igbeka, Senior Associate, SUN Business Network, Nigeria
‘Green Development- Environment and Sustainability in a developing world’ by W.M. Adams Publisher- 3rd Edition published in 2009 by Routledge.
This book is one of the reading materials provided as part of a part-time course I am doing. I thought it would be really boring to read and was not looking forward it at all. But it has essentially changed my world view and understanding of sustainability and has deepened my understanding of concepts such as Fair Trade and the Opportunity Cost of Development. For me the main message from this book is that without due consideration for true sustainability, there is no real development. It made me begin to think of how we can elevate the awareness of true sustainability as part of our interactions with business and how as an organization we have to put a sustainability lens on our program design to be true practitioners of sustainable development.
Bärbel Weiligmann, Senior Advisor, Workplace Nutrition, The Netherlands
5 Invitations – Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski (2018)
“Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road. Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most. ”
I think in our work we have to be aware what really matters and to make smart choices to really impact as many as people with healthier diets. It is for me so important to fully live in the moment and to have the sense of urgency and at the same time compassion for the people we are dealing with as colleagues, as donors, as partners and as beneficiaries.
Ty Beal, Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership, United States of America
This video interview, which is also available as a podcast, sheds light on the importance of dietary quality to prevent overweight/obesity and noncommunicable diseases and the policies required to create a healthier food environment. It discusses how not all calories are equal and that the type of food matters. Authors suggest both incentives and regulations must be enacted to increase the price of junk food and lower the price of healthy foods. They argue that investing strategically in a healthy food system, including research and innovation and public-private partnerships, can substantially improve health and reduce the cost of healthcare. I chose this video because it shows a road map towards how to achieve a healthier food system and does not blame individuals for making the wrong dietary choices.
Ashish Deo, Senior Advisor, Commercial Solutions, United Kingdom
Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food. Rachel Herz, 2017.
The biggest insight I got out of this book was that relying only on traditional research is never going to work to understand food choices. Because we are not even aware that we are getting influenced by certain factors – music, colours, size of plate, lighting to name a few. So our responses can never be fully accurate.
This insight, together with the insight around System1 vs System2 thinking, has given me huge amount of confidence in the approach we are taking in our Bangladesh demand creation work. The vocabulary around benefits of good diets is so limited that it is difficult to be nuanced.
As a result our approach for the Bangladesh motivations research started by talking about their lives and not about nutrition or diet. We then worked our way to understand how diet could be linked to these motivations through the next step – participatory workshops with teenagers.
Mduduzi Mbuya, Senior Technical Specialist, United States of America
Validation studies for population-based intervention coverage indicators: design, analysis, and interpretation. Journal of Global Health, 8.Munos, M.K., Blanc, A.K., Carter, E.D., Eisele, T.P., Gesuale, S., Katz, J., Marchant, T., Stanton, C.K. and Campbell, H. for the Improving Coverage Measurement Group, 2018.
Enumerating coverage of interventions and programs is central to decision making around the investment of resources and around evaluating the impact and equity of these investments. It is at face value as simple as quantifying the number of people who do, compared with the number who should, but is often difficult in practice. The search for better metrics, data collection opportunities, and phraseology is widely shared. The paper by Melinda Munos and colleagues advances this discussion by presenting ways (grounded in epidemiology and field experience) to compare two approaches; a so called “gold standard” and an alternative indicator, different or improved question wording, or the introduction of innovations (e.g. responsive biomarkers) in data collection. GAIN does a lot of work on fortification program coverage measurement and is exploring the adaptation or integration of indicators into other data collection approaches, and we will likely use the approaches outlined in this paper towards this end.
Genet Gebremedhin, Senior Project Manager, Food Policy and Financing, Ethiopia
The book argues that just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins, steps per day, and minutes of aerobic exercise for maintaining physical health, we need to be rigorous about the minimum dose of deliberate learning that will maintain our economic health. The long-term effects of intellectual complacency are just as insidious as the long-term effects of not exercising, eating well, or sleeping enough. Not learning at least 5 hours per week (the 5-hour rule) is the smoking of the 21st century and this article is the warning label. Learning is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.
I chose this because we are living in a very dynamic world and the only way to adapt both as a GAIN team and as an individual is through continuous learning. Nutrition improvement is a complex space that requires informed decision making and customized approaches to advance good outcomes. GAIN aims to be a learning organization: with new strategies, new partners, new designs, new evidence and it is my conviction that I have a responsibility to keep learning/reading to make a difference in my area of responsibility.
Syed Ridwan, Programme Assistant, Food Policy and Financing, Bangladesh
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House, 2012
At GAIN influencing healthier diet is one of our major thrusts and diet is very much driven by habits. This book explains how habit follows a common pattern which can tweaked slightly to make transformative changes. There are many examples in this book that narrates stories of transformative changes through small change in habit such as remission from drug addiction and significant reduction in weight.
There is a neurological connections involved on formation of destructive habits such smoking, overeating and those neurological connections can be rewired using simple and small marginal change. The book also discusses organizational habits and how trust can be nurtured in an organization.
I chose this because I personally wanted to lose weight and I was trying to figure out ways to influence business adopting new technologies that can nudge consumers to purchase better choice of food (my aim in organizing the Elevator Pitch Competition in Bangladesh).
Valerie Friesen, Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership, Switzerland
Factfulness by Hans Rosling. 2018.
When I read that Bill Gates purchased an e-copy of this book for every student graduating from university in the United States in 2018, I thought it must be important so picked a copy for myself and am glad that I did. The book starts out with a simple quiz on global trends related to many areas of development that influence the type of work we do at GAIN, such as poverty, access to education, and climate change, and explains how many people, including Nobel laureates, journalists and investment bankers, systematically get the answers very wrong and think the world hasn’t progressed as much as it has. I thought as a researcher working in low and middle income countries, I would certainly be up to date on the global facts and do better than the others but surprisingly I got several answers wrong myself.
Through inspiring and thought-provoking stories written in simple language that everyone can relate to, the contributors to the book provide ten reasons why we’re wrong about the world and why things are better than we think. Then they explain how we can use “factfulness”, which is defined as “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts”, in our everyday lives to think more clearly about the world so spend more time focusing on the real issues at hand. Bill Gates was right – a must read for everyone.
Aime Kwizera, Project Associate, Marketplace for Nutritious Foods, Rwanda
N is for Nutrition: Rhymes by the Alphabet. 2018 Todd Skene Dr. Amneet Aulakh Kezzia Crossley. Heart Happy Kids Media
This is a fabulous book that is geared towards children of all ages. I love that it presents food and nutrition in a fun and colourful way. My understanding is that many of us start being interested by nutrition mostly after university (if you were lucky to study any related course) but we forget that you can learn very early as a child. A friend of mine (a nutritionist) and lecturer at University of Rwanda wanted to explore this and he bought this book for his 3 year old child a few months ago. Today when his child is eating, he repeats the benefits of the food type to his child, who loves it
Ton Haverkort, Country Director, Ethiopia
National Prevention Agreement that the Government of The Netherlands has been able to arrive at with many stakeholders. The agreement was published in November 2018 by the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport of the Government of The Netherlands.
According to Paul Blokhuis, Secretary of State for Public Health, Welfare and Sport, the Agreement outlines the constructive way in which stakeholders will work together, initiating a movement “Together for a healthier Netherlands”.
The purpose of the agreement is to improve the health of ALL people living in the Netherlands. Points of departure are that (1) all children have the right to have a good start of their lives, benefiting them all their life; and (2) adults want to remain active and fit, live a longer healthy life, so that they can continue to participate in their society.
The agreement is made between a large number of stakeholders, including patients, organizations, healthcare providers, insurers, municipalities, sport associations, businesses, foundations, the education sector, civil society organizations and the Government.
The agreement will focus on pushing back smoking, overweight and problem drinking, for which three separate sub-agreements have been made.
I chose this Agreement because of the participatory and constructive way it has been reached with so many different stakeholders. Living up to the agreement can indeed reverse the trends we observe. The process and outcomes can be an inspiration for other countries and help our work in terms of support to policy development, advocacy and the role we play in movements such as Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) and its Business Network.
Laurene Aubert, Senior Associate for Global Partnerships, SUN Business Network, United Kingdom
“Consumption behaviour and trends: Understanding the shift required towards healthy, sustainable and enjoyable diets” by Alison Cairns, Paloma Lopez, Alexander Meyer zum Felde, Anthony Pralle. FReSH insight report, World Business Council on Sustainable Development. Jul 6, 2018
The report states that we need to “consider consumers’ needs and desires at the heart of solutions to enable longer-term consumption shifts while taking a complete value chain approach that links food consumption to production, distribution and agriculture”. To support this, the report provides an overview of current consumer food preferences and trends by region as well as some of the key barriers to access healthy food (availability, affordability and food safety). The document also suggests some ways in which the private food sector can do more notably around innovation, proactive self-regulation, and shaping demand by engaging with people.
This report argues that one of the most effective roles businesses can play for better nutrition is to help shift consumer demand towards healthier food. The report argues that no other stakeholders can shift demand more efficiently. Understanding global consumer trends is a first step to enable this. The report also provides some examples of business actions towards better nutrition which will help to engage more businesses in this goal.
Sofia Condes, Associate, Food Policy and Financing, United Kingdom
The article documents the story of the promotion of biofuels in the mid-2000s, and the global consequences it has had. I am sharing this article because I think it contains important learnings for GAIN and anyone involved in policy and development work. First, it shows how some policies implemented with positive intentions can have huge negative unintended consequences. Secondly, it brings to the attention the perils of policy making based on opinions and incomplete information rather than scientific evidence. Lastly, it shows how most of the decisions that will have the greatest impact on the livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be taken miles ways in the western world which is in many cases disconnected from the reality of what those vulnerable people really need. I consider that these are important lessons for our work as nutrition and many of the initiatives linked to it are very interconnected and likely to have a health, social and environmental impact.
Sharelle Pollack, Senior Specialist, Urban Governance for Nutrition, Switzerland
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Bee Wilson, Basic Books, 2015.
The main message is that as omnivores we aren’t born with a prescribed diet: diet and preference is something we learn and develop. Our food habits are influenced by family, culture, memory, gender, seasons and by our environment. Bee Wilson integrates research from food psychologists, neuroscientists and nutritionists to reveal how our food habits are shaped and can also be changed. Both as adults or children there is potential for learning different and healthy eating habits. I chose this book as I saw a presentation by the author on food preference and the role of Flavour School programs in the UK, which it seems are shifting children’s food preferences towards healthier food choices.
Monir Bipul, Deputy Project Manager, Nutrition, Bangladesh
Good to Great by James C. Collins. Publisher William Collins. Originally published: October 16, 2001
The book asks: can a good company become a great company, and if so, how? Based on a five-year research project comparing companies that made the leap with those that did not, Good to Great shows that greatness is not primarily a function of circumstance but largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline. This book discusses concepts like Level 5 Leadership; First Who, Then What (first get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to drive it); the Hedgehog Concept, and the Flywheel.
The ‘Culture of Discipline’ is a concept developed in the book. Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action—operating with freedom within a framework of responsibilities—are the cornerstone of a culture that creates greatness. In a culture of discipline, people do not have jobs; they have responsibilities. When they blend a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, they get a magical alchemy resulting in superior performance. The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline—a problem that largely goes away if we have the right people in the first place. Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people on the bus, which in turn drives away the right people on the bus, which then increases the percentage of wrong people on the bus, which increases the need for more bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth. This book argues that an alternative exists: avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline.
Sharada Keats, Senior Associate, Policy and Advocacy,United Kingdom
HLPE. 2017. Nutrition and food systems. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome.
This Report is well-structured and well written and full of interesting references. HLPE reports can sometimes be a bit heavy going, but not this one. I like to have visual aids to think through complex issues and just the fact they managed to get a coherent food systems framework into a one-page diagram makes this stand out for me. I’ve seen a lot of food systems diagrams/ frameworks and this one is a clear favourite.
The Report calls for ‘disruptive change’ and ‘comprehensive overhaul’ and sets out practical sets of policy options. It doesn’t answer all the questions – how to shape our food systems to provide adequate nutrition for everyone is a pretty big task. But for me it’s a great jumping off point – I will be returning to it as a key reference.
Sharada Keats, Senior Associate, Policy and Advocacy,United Kingdom (extra choice for creativity)
Gruffalo crumble and other recipes: The Gruffalo Cookbook. Donaldson, Julia and Axel Scheffler, 2016. Macmillan Publishers International Limited.
This year I got The Gruffalo Cookbook for my almost-3 year old.
It reminds me that even fussy kids who turn their noses up at the nutrient-dense meals you spend hours cooking for them will try it if it’s got a link to something cool in popular culture. E.g. ‘Mouse toast’, ‘Scrambled snake’, or ‘Poisonous warts’ to encourage them to (help cook) and eat eggs – a great source of protein and micronutrients. The power of fictional characters in food advertising can be harnessed for good. It’s not all Tony-the-Tiger promoting a cereal that is 35% sugar (!) — important to remember in our demand creation work.
Adeline Provent, Senior Associate, GAIN Premix Facility QA/QC, Switzerland
Michael Pollan criticises the way the food industry promotes highly-processed products that contain hefty doses of salt, sugar and fat. He believes that the plethora of accompanying health claims have left us more confused than ever about what food really is, where it has come from and its impact on our health and the environment. He talks about misleading marketing campaigns, especially to children; he also talks about how to support agricultural systems that supply healthier foods like vegetables and fruit, and these are topics that are relevant to our programmes at GAIN. Simply put, his message is: eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants.
Catherine LeBlanc, Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership, United Kingdom
Good Food is Good Business: Opportunities driving the future of affordable nutrition. Institute for the Future. 2018.
This report focuses on five ‘zones of technological innovation’ that can be unlocked to help increase access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods, while also generating profits for the food industry. For each area of innovation, the report summarises the technology and then provides forecast and insights into its potential for impact in emerging markets.
The five categories are: AI Collaboration; Traditional Wisdom; Microbiota Management; Cellular Agriculture; and Programmable Assets. The report also sets out six design principles to create innovations for affordable nutrition: See Systems, Not Symptoms; Design for Aspiration, Not Aid; Create Robust Portfolios, Not Silver Bullets; Speak to Individual Cultural Contexts, Not Mass Markets; Fortify with All Nutrients, Not Just Micronutrients; and Communicate Long-Term Benefits, Not Just Short-Term Impacts.
Although these innovations may not be deployed immediately and may come with new risks to be managed, the report encourages innovative, technology-driven thinking that can help transform the way the development community analyses and addresses particular challenges, stimulates business to think about how to do good while also keeping shareholders happy, and suggests potential solutions that can help drive meaningful and sustainable impact.
Wendy Gonzales, Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership, Switzerland
My favourite read this year was´Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End´ by Atul Gawanda. 2016.
The author discusses how medicine in the United States is committed to extending life, sometimes running counter to the interest of patients and families. The book offers examples of alternative models for how people can have quality of life despite frailty, serious illness, or approaching death, demonstrating that a person´s last days can be fulfilling and dignified.
Gawanda explores what people care about at this stage. By understanding their perspective, he is able to provide examples of meaningful alternatives to senior living and hospice care. This relates to the importance in our work of understanding other´s perspectives and sometimes challenging the status quo. Only then can we craft solutions that are relevant not only for us, but for the intended beneficiary.
Sabiha Sultana, Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership, Bangladesh
Michael Brody-Waite explains how these 3 principles saved his life: (a) Practice Rigorous Authenticity, (b) Surrender the Outcome, and (c) Do Uncomfortable Work. Watch the video to find our more about the 3.
Although he describes these principles from an addiction perspective, they can be adopted by all people and in every aspect of work and personal life. To me, these are the principles that can help people to make true friends and can help organizations to make true partners. Human beings want to be around and work with trustworthy, positive people. For me, this is the best way to build alliances.
Published 17 December 2018