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Ertharin Cousin

Ertharin Cousin
An Audacious Task: The United Nations’ World Food Programme fed 80 million people in 2014. [Photo: WFP, Abeer Etefa]

Historically, food aid has involved sending volunteers into war-torn or storm-ravaged countries to throw bags of rice off the back of a truck. But under the leadership of Ertharin Cousin, the United Nations’ World Food Programme–which fed 80 million people in 2014–is modernizing its approach. Cousin, a veteran supermarket executive and former White House liaison to the State Department, has introduced an SMS and voice-call system that lets the WFP assess immediate needs in distressed locations without having to send anyone there, saving time and money. (This system also allowed the WFP to safely manage the response to Ebola-impacted areas in Africa, where the WFP led logistics for the entire humanitarian community.) Another initiative provides needy people with cell-phone or bank-card e-vouchers that can be used to purchase goods from local vendors, helping inject much-needed cash into troubled economies. The organization’s stated goal of “zero hunger” is audacious, but as Cousin says: “You should not do this work if you’re not audacious.”

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