My warm thanks to the hundreds of you who have sent me messages of congratulations about my recent appointment to the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). So, why did I decide to apply for the GAIN Executive Director position and why did I accept the Board’s offer to join? (I begin on October 1).
First, much of GAIN’s work revolves around improving access to food that is safe, nutritious and affordable. Poor quality diets and diet related conditions represent the largest set of risk factors for the global burden of disease – greater than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined. These poor quality diets have massive economic consequences – equivalent to a having a global financial crisis every year, according to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report. This state of affairs reflects enormous food system failures. The food environments that consumers make decisions in are not helping them make food choices that support high quality diets. That is because these diet choices are unaffordable, not available, or are not framed by businesses and governments as desirable. This makes improving the food environment, and the food system that underlies it, such an important challenge for the achievement of a wide range of Sustainable Development Goals. Food is not the only thing that is important for nutrition status – we all know that – but it is the thing that is least easy to change through public action alone (unlike say water and sanitation, health facilities and schools) and it is important for all forms of malnutrition. Public sector leadership on setting priorities and on establishing and enforcing regulatory frameworks is essential if businesses and NGOs are to play a positive role in nutrition, but the public sector cannot do it on its own.
The food environments that consumers make decisions in are not helping them make food choices that support high quality diets.
Third, it seems to me that there are not enough people and organisations working in this space, namely on how to make food systems more nutrition friendly. There are lots of reports available now on what to do, but few have credibly evaluated attempts to actually innovate for change in the system. GAIN and others have the opportunity to really populate this space with examples of things that were tried and worked (or did not). The key is to learn and share the learning with others. Hence the alliance – building role of GAIN is absolutely essential to moving forwards. We all know that to end malnutrition we have to form alliances that are powerful enough to counteract the powerful forces that generate malnutrition. In part this means people and organisations getting on with their jobs and doing them well, but in part it is about the strategic and tactical joining of forces to accomplish things that single organisations cannot do on their own. GAIN, if it does this sensitively, carefully and wisely, can help build new positive alliances to end malnutrition, identifying ways of conducting due diligence on potential partners – whether from the public or private sector – and documenting behavior that is essential if nutrition status is to be improved and not diminished.
We all know that to end malnutrition we have to form alliances that are powerful enough to counteract the powerful forces that generate malnutrition
GAIN and the entire nutrition community have a fantastic chance to change the way we think – and act – about how food systems, and the actors within them, can work better for good nutrition.
Come and work with us to make it a reality.