On April 5th, Counterpart International launched the Counterpart Convenings series with an inaugural session focused on “Building Sustainability into McGovern-Dole Food for Education Programs.” Hosted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in southwest Washington, DC, the event gathered 40+ international development professionals to discuss what “graduation” looks like in McGovern-Dole programs and learn from one another’s challenges and successes.

The morning began with candid remarks from Jocelyn Brown, Deputy Administrator of the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Following a robust round of Q&A with Brown, Counterpart President and CEO Joan Parker moderated a panel of three experts each giving brief ‘lightning talks’ on different angles of the issue of McGovern-Dole sustainability.

In her welcoming remarks, Parker explained the fundamental challenge of McGovern-Dole programming: “The problem is that each McGovern-Dole program ends after three to five years. Then the program transitions back to the local community to manage in the absence of a national school-feeding program. Most of the time, the community flounders as the external resources are withdrawn and the government is unprepared to step in with continued support for school canteens,” said Parker.

Delving into how USDA views sustainability and graduation, Deputy Administrator Brown noted that, “We need both a top-down and a bottom-up approach, engaging both with the national government and with the local community.”

Joceyn Brown, Deputy Administrator, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)

Joceyn Brown, Deputy Administrator, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)

Brown also encouraged the community of international implementers and researchers to think about connecting their Food for Education programs to other agencies and resources within the U.S. government.

“I’m really intent on connecting our McGovern-Dole programs to our Food for Progress program,” said Brown, also suggesting that McGovern-Dole implementers connect with the U.S. Agency for International Development on the literacy component of Food for Education programming.

Moving into the lightning talks, monitoring and evaluation expert Jason Wares from the International Solutions Group highlighted how organizations set up in the post-war Balkans at the turn of the 21st century were intentionally designed to ultimately turn over to local control:

“By the time [international implementers and donors] were ready to leave, everybody knew the mission and everybody was on board,” Wares explained of the Balkans example. He also highlighted successes from the Food for Progress program in countries like Tanzania, underscoring Deputy Administrator Brown’s point that Food for Education implementers should work hand-in-hand with Food for Progress practitioners.

Sevak Amalyan, Program Manager at Counterpart International, poses a question to Deputy Administrator Brown

Sevak Amalyan, Program Manager at Counterpart International, poses a question to Deputy Administrator Brown.

In her talk, Norma Toussaint, Program Officer at Counterpart International, shared a moving example from Counterpart’s Food for Education program in the Saint Louis region of Senegal: Mohammed, a malnourished young child in Saint Louis, struggled in school prior to the intervention of Counterpart’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. His school benefited from Counterpart’s customized, school-specific approach to Food for Education implementation. Today, Mohammed is in the sixth grade and eats two nutritious meals every day. Toussaint spoke about the importance of the “two sides of the coin” – government and communities – working together collaboratively, ensuring that Mohammed’s school will continue being able to feed its students long after the life of the McGovern-Dole project.

Dr. Hazel Malapit of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) explained that “we really need to pay attention to gender dynamics and women’s empowerment” in order “to make a sustainable impact” through school feeding. In Bangladesh, IFPRI found a surprising insight in their data collection: higher-income regions of Bangladesh often had worse nutrition rates than lower-income regions. IFPRI’s Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture (WEIA) index provided “credible evidence” for a strong correlation between women’s empowerment and children’s nutrition: if women were more empowered even in a poorer region, their children tended to be healthier. This evidence convinced Bangladesh’s Ministry of Agriculture to launch an important new pilot project around the linkages between agriculture, nutrition, and gender linkages.

Overall, the first Counterpart Convening “was a great meeting with a good discussion about what activities we ‘must have’ get taken up by the local communities and governments as we co-design McGovern-Dole Food for Education sustainability plans,” said Tom Herlehy, a DC-based food security and agriculture expert.

Joan Parker, Hazel Malapit, Norma Toussaint, Jason Wares, and Paul Alberghine pose for a photo

L to R: Dr. Joan Parker, President & CEO, Counterpart International; Dr. Hazel Malapit, Sr. Research Coordinator, International Food Policy Research Institute; Norma Toussaint, Program Officer, Counterpart International; Jason Wares, Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist, International Solutions Group; Paul Alberghine, International Program Specialist, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

By learning from one another how to do our best work, we can make a more sustainable impact in the communities that depend on school feeding to nourish and grow their next generation of citizens. As Jocelyn Brown said at the conclusion of her remarks, through proactive collaboration and shared learning, “we can be resilient in an imperfect world.”

To view the full archived live video of the recent Counterpart Convening with USDA, visit our Facebook page.

The next Counterpart Convening, on May 15, 2018, will focus on Countering Violent Extremism: a Discussion of Best Practices, Tools, and Solutions for Communities in Conflict. Sign up here to receive updates about this upcoming event and future events in the Counterpart Convenings series.

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