Authors: Simon Bishop, Chief Executive Officer; Michelle Thompson, Director, Head of Partnerships & Brands; Alok Ranjan, Director, Head of Investments; Anne Walsh, Senior Nutrition Specialist; Chris Skeet, Director, Finance; and Carla Martins, Director, Human Resources and Operations
As The Power of Nutrition publishes its 2020 Progress Report, its Executive Leadership Team calls for renewed commitment to multisectoral, collaborative partnerships as the only viable solution to finance and end the global malnutrition crisis.
A global health pandemic and political, social, and economic upheavals across the world are making leaders and philanthropists question the future of international development and scrutinise funding.
At The Power of Nutrition, we believe pooling funds, resources and expertise from private, public and third sectors is the only possible solution for the international community if we are to keep pace with the stubbornly high rates of chronic malnutrition. This is not just about meeting health targets set by the World Health Assembly and UN, but a moral and economic imperative for investors and global leaders alike.
At the end of last year, our Chairman Mike Rann described the dire extent of COVID-19 on children’s health and stunting levels, and why nutrition must be everyone’s priority in 2021 in the fight against future pandemics. Three months into what is meant to be the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, where the world prioritises nutrition progress, we are actually seeing aid cuts and/or essential nutrition funding being diverted to Covid response or famine relief; the world should be funding all these needs, not trading them off against one another. Like the entire nutrition community, we are concerned that preventing chronic malnutrition is being relegated down global agendas, with the impacts felt by millions of the world’s poorest in the decades ahead.
The paradox – that the nutrition community is well familiar with – is that undernutrition is avoidable, solutions are already available, and they are cheap. The newly published 2021 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition reaffirmed that the well-established nutrition interventions that have been in place for years across the world (including supplementation and promotion of behaviours, such as breastfeeding and handwashing) work. They are based on proven evidence and – reassuringly for policy makers and budget holders – are affordable and possible to deliver in all geographic, political, and socioeconomic contexts.
From solutions to scale
We also know that effective frameworks for getting these interventions to the women and children that need them the most exist. The Power of Nutrition’s programmes are examples of how this can work in practice, and at scale – by integrating nutrition solutions into broader health, social, and cross-cutting strategies.
Our latest Progress Report is strong evidence of how convening partners achieves better results all round. Pooling nutrition investments and resources from the public and private sectors allows us to reach more women and children and stretch each dollar to tackle the underlying causes of malnutrition, while enhancing national systems for maximum sustainability.
For example, by working with and through the World Bank, to date $110 million of funds from our partners and seed funders has unlocked over $300 million in International Development Assistance funds, leading to $407 million of World Bank nutrition programming. In real terms, this means elevating the issue of undernutrition within a multilateral institution to improve the lives of millions more people.
The catalytic partnership model is attractive for funders too by providing maximum return on investment. The $87 million mobilised by The Power of Nutrition to date – from a diverse range of investors – has been matched by funds from our co-founders, implementing partners, INGOs and national governments, and created a portfolio of high impact programmes worth over $478 million. To date, they are providing 60 million women and children with access to better nutrition services.
From numbers to real lives
The large figures are impressive, but when talking to investors and policy makers it is vital the nutrition community translates them into examples of real change, on real people. So, what did our latest Progress Report tell us?
We know that in Ethiopia, our essential nutrition service programme has helped avert around 165,000 cases of childhood stunting, 500,000 cases of underweight children, 2,900 child deaths and 293,000 cases of maternal anaemia. The programme also incentivised commitments from the Government of Ethiopia to prioritise nutrition, with the Ministry of Health increasing allocation of nutrition funds, including a regular budget from its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Pooled Fund for the procurement of Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) tablets for pregnant women.
This story is just one example from our 15 programmes, operating in 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
However, we know that much more needs to be done. High levels of stunting cannot be accepted as the new normal. And nutrition cannot continue to be viewed just as a bolt-on to broad health packages.
We need to see nutrition elevated to the same status as other equally critical development issues, such as climate change, and recognised as intrinsically linked to their success. This requires greater awareness about nutrition, combined with political, financial and leadership will.
The nutrition community has an enormous task ahead to translate this request to global leaders and urge new commitments in the Nutrition Year of Action.
Over the next month, The Power of Nutrition is publishing a series of case studies that show real impact and success of investing in nutrition through multi-sectoral partnerships. We hope they will provide some of the momentum and evidence for a compelling case for action.
We welcome ideas from our partners too on how, together, we can turn this ‘make-or-break year’ into a story of how transformational change can be achieved by pooling funds, expertise, and working collaboratively.