Author: Simon Bishop, Chief Executive Officer, The Power of Nutrition
The nutrition sector has many reasons to feel hopeful in 2022. Last year’s Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit mobilised more money and commitments than ever before, ensuring better nutrition for millions of women, adolescents and children in need.
However, malnutrition remains the underlying cause of 45% of all child deaths, more than 1 in 5 children remain stunted (too short for their age) and 118 million more people faced hunger in 2020 compared to 2019. Traditional aid spending on nutrition is flat-lining at best, likely declining. Ditto African and Asian country government nutrition spend, mainly due to Covid. The harsh reality is that the sector remains an ‘orphan’ in international development with a $10.8 billion annual funding gap. We will not meet global nutrition targets if we continue with status quo.
The Power of Nutrition has just published our new strategy for 2022-25 – “Transforming Global Nutrition Financing”. It is a bold, ambitious response to this bleak context while being rooted in our proven track-record and maintaining core elements of our existing model that are valued by partners – match-funding, high financial leverage, and convening multiple actors for greater, joint impact, it sees us adopt new vision and purpose statements:
Our vision is a world where every child has the right nutrition to achieve their full potential.
Our purpose is to raise money and create partnerships to advance the fight against malnutrition in Africa and Asia.
The strategy also lays out three significant shifts that will help us become more relevant in this fast- changing world:
1. We are going to live up to our name by shifting beyond a focus on stunting to tackle all forms of malnutrition – underweight, stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies and even a partial expansion into overweight and obesity. We will expand our approach from a historically health systems focus to a multisectoral model, leveraging the collective impact of health; food systems; social protection; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); early child development (ECD); climate action; and, gender on nutrition outcomes.
2. We will shift from one prescriptive to two responsive, innovative models:
This more flexible, responsive model will help us re-energise existing partnerships (as it will make us faster in programme delivery and we will be able to offer them new products and opportunities) and significantly expand our donor base to unlock new funds and exciting partnerships that would have been unworkable due to the constraints of our previous model.
3. Acting as a ‘Tenacious Sector Champion’ and public good – placing collaboration at our heart and championing global nutrition.
Together these shifts aim to increase funding for nutrition, ensure it is spent well, and that nutrition is prioritised at the global level. They will help The Power of Nutrition unleash our potential as a world-leading nutrition financing partnership platform.
I was asked recently by a Devex reporter what the sector needs to do to accelerate progress on nutrition in 2022. I said it was the ‘three G’s’ – ‘Global Relevance’, ‘Go Wider’ and ‘Go where the money is’ – and our strategy directly reflects these.
There is a wide acceptance that nutrition has been an ‘orphan’ development sector for much of the last 40 years – receiving less than 1% of traditional aid (ODA), despite it being foundational to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Like many others, I am baffled as to why there is no ‘Global Fund for Nutrition’, in the way there is one for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
There is no quick fix to this. The reasons for the lack of global focus are complex and include:
This evidences the need for multisectoral, multisystem approaches – hence our #1 strategic shift.
To bring nutrition up the priority list for donors and policy makers we must also do better illustrating nutrition’s relevance to current global priorities – Covid, climate change, conflict and education. No matter how good the quality of teaching, if a child turns up on day one of school mentally impaired due to not receiving good nutrition in their first 1,000 days, they will learn less every day (than a child who received the right nutrition). Nutrition is key to a healthy immune system, which the Covid virus attacks. Evidence shows hunger and lack of nutritious food exacerbates conflict.
Closely linked to being globally relevant is our need to ‘go wider’, beyond the ‘nutrition echo chamber’. There is an acceptance among many in the sector that we are too inward-looking, and that much of the wider international development sector see us as geeks with a unique technical language, like ‘nutrition sensitive’ and ‘nutrition specific’. This may be one reason for our orphan status. We need to be easier to understand and to work with.
There are lots of extraordinary individuals and organisations working in the global nutrition sector, it is a privilege to be part of it. I still count myself as a nutrition beginner, having only been part of the sector for a year and bow to many with incredible and humbling experience.
In the past year I have spoken at many nutrition events, however, the audience is almost always ‘the nutrition sector echo chamber’ – wonderful, passionate, committed, vastly experienced people and organisations – but almost always the same ones. We must reach out to broader audiences.
Our strategy aims to do just that by freeing us up to convene partnerships that appeal to newer audiences beyond the usual nutrition donors. With a more flexible model and approach to programming – such as combining nutrition services in programmes with immunisation, school meals, social protection schemes and early childhood development – we can pool the expertise and resources of banks, impact investors and other funding sources, such as donors interested in non-communicable diseases, healthy diets, fishing and marine conservation, sustainable agriculture, and more.
We also need to break down boundaries between nutrition and other sectors. I remember being told in my first few weeks “you can’t use the word ‘hunger’, we don’t do hunger”. They are right, there is a critical technical difference. Hunger is about insufficient calories; nutrition is about the right nutrients to be healthy. But for nearly all audiences, especially those with no existing knowledge of nutrition – the critical group we need to tap into to unlock funding – this technical use of language is confusing and unhelpful. It separates funding streams and establishes boundaries that make collaboration and teamwork harder, even within the wider international development sector.
The good thing is that much of this we can control: our use of language, the way we collaborate with others, how much we reach out to new audiences.
Critically, we need to embrace new funding streams. Traditional funding sources are stretched to the maximum, with overseas aid and domestic resources flat-ling at best, likely declining, exacerbated by Covid-19. Recovery to pre-pandemic levels is only projected to happen towards the end of this decade. This is too long to wait. ‘Business as usual’ fundraising is no longer sufficient.
We believe the sector can pioneer innovative financing to help plug the huge funding gap and avoid replicating our orphan status in traditional aid.
Our strategy embraces new financing flows that have been effective in other development areas, such as capital market bonds and loan guarantees. Nutrition Ventures will become a new hub to pilot, develop and scale successful innovative financing mechanisms for nutrition and help mobilise new capital.
We’ll continue to convene more partnerships, encouraging the sector to protect traditional sources of financing, and pushing for more domestic resource allocation and overseas aid for nutrition.
We are excited by this strategy and are confident these bold changes are what the sector needs. Our goals are a stronger nutrition sector, a more self-sustaining organisation and, most importantly, transformational impact for more children, adolescents, and women.
But we can only achieve this together. We urge partners and the sector to read more on our plans and collaborate with us on these goals.
Meanwhile, to put my own words into action – our job in 2022 is getting the word out beyond the sector and accelerating nutrition financing for greater impact.