SEATTLE — Localized empowerment at the grassroots level is imperative to the global development process. Even the most marginalized groups of people know what their communities need most but are unable to implement these measures due to the systemic challenges that economic and sociopolitical barriers create. This is the gap that the nonprofit organization The Hunger Project works to fill within the context of fighting global hunger.
A Radically Inclusive and Participatory Approach
Each of The Hunger Project’s endeavors is driven by a distinctive methodology that emphasizes maximizing agency and independence in the communities they work with. These tenets include empowering women as key agents of change, mobilizing communities into self-reliant action and fostering effective partnerships to engage local governments, which it summarizes as “gender-focused community-led development.” Its initiatives are community-led in the truest sense, with every project designed from the ground up by each community.
When The Borgen Project spoke with Tom Lemons, an activist and longtime investor in The Hunger Project, he metaphorically described the importance of this collaborative approach. “It’s like [the saying]teach a man to fish and you know, they’ll eat for a lifetime . . . They could actually teach us one, or two, or three, or a lot about fishing and how to do it sustainably . . . It’s like there’s barbed wire between these fishermen and the lake and that’s what we’re intervening in. How do we get rid of this barbed wire and what that barbwire in many cases is, is invisible to everybody concerned.”
The first step in identifying and overcoming these invisible barriers is establishing a series of Vision, Commitment, and Action (VCA) workshops in the communities The Hunger Project works with. The initial VCA workshop is attended by all community members and each participant is asked to formulate a specific plan or project that can be accomplished over three months utilizing the participant’s own skills and network. In this first workshop, The Hunger Project also recruits and further trains the most committed and motivated community members to become volunteer leaders (called “animators”). The animators help to empower community members and identify and prioritize activities within the community-held vision established during the initial VCA workshop.
The Hunger Project Promotes a Long-Term Mindset Shift
A resident of the Koni village Matsekope Epicenter in Ghana, Dina Amartey’s experience as a Women’s Empowerment Program animator with The Hunger Project attests to the community transformation that the VCA workshops help foster. Before The Hunger Project came to Amartey’s village in 2006, she was living on a small plot of land as a subsistence farmer. She explained in a case study report from The Hunger Project that her experience “…led to my full understanding of life. I began to plan for my family and my future.”
This planning resulted in her decision to ensure that her children received a complete education, and Amartey has reshaped her life to accommodate this goal. To pay her children’s school fees, she has expanded her farm and started a small business; both of these goals were aided by the training and monetary loan she received from The Hunger Project. In turn, Amartey continues to be an active voice in her village. She has positively affected the lives of other women in her community and is regularly called upon to help solve problems. Amartey’s story encapsulates The Hunger Project’s goals to spur a mindset shift towards gender inclusivity, long-term planning and community resilience, as well as connecting people with the resources needed to get there.
Tom Lemons further elaborates on the significance of The Hunger Project’s focus on women’s empowerment: “What keeps hunger and poverty in place is the systematic disempowerment and marginalization of women . . . Not only are they excluding over half the population, they’re excluding the most important half of the population because these are the people that are cooking the food. They’re growing the food, they’re harvesting the food, they’re raising the children, they’re maintaining the household. They know what works and doesn’t work to keep their household going.” In many regions of the world, women form the core of agricultural labor. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. estimates that if these women had the same agricultural resources as men do, 150 million fewer people would go hungry.
Building a Self-Sustaining Future Together
Building this long-term inclusive resilience does not happen only within communities but across them as well, through the construction of epicenters like the one Amartey currently is a resident of. The epicenters are physical manifestations of the cumulative developmental mobilization that begins in the VCA workshops. These epicenters band together 5,000 to 15,000 people across clusters of rural villages. Along with the support of The Hunger Project, the community members work together to mobilize construction materials and build the epicenter. From there, they generate cooperative resources such as food and monetary banks, community fields, meeting halls, clean water sources, etc. The ultimate end of these epicenters is for them to become completely self-reliant spaces that no longer need the support of The Hunger Project. Currently, men and women across 122 epicenters create and run their own development programs, reaching 1.6 million people in their communities.
The success of these self-perpetuating large-scale initiatives demonstrates that the systemic conditions of global poverty are not an indefinite reality. The epicenter strategy is only one part of The Hunger Project’s diverse projects. Overall, the organization has shown itself to be a major force in realizing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030.
– Emily Bender