Collective Impact to End Hunger
Today I watched a documentary on Hunger in America at the Seattle International Film Festival called Finding North. The film did an excellent job of highlighting what hunger relief advocates and hungry families know – hunger in America is real, it’s growing, and the impact is costing us billions of dollars each year. Perhaps more importantly, the film highlights the role public policy plays in creating the environment that has led to hunger, sustains hunger, and has the ability to end hunger in the United States.
Consider the following:
49 million Americans are at risk of hunger
1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger
9 million seniors are at risk of hunger
31 million children rely on free or reduced price school lunch
1 in 3 children are overweight or obese
These numbers are startling, unnecessary, and unacceptable.
As I sat in the audience full of caring Seattleites listening to these statistics, I couldn’t help but feel more outraged than ever. And I think that is good. I’ve heard all of these stats before – in fact I repeat them on a daily basis. But it is films like this that can re-energize the base – in this case anti-hunger advocates like myself. It is films like this that give me hope that if enough people – voters, elected officials, ant-hunger advocates, everyone -watch, we can create a groundswell to end hunger in America.
A few things are clear:
- There is a sufficient amount of food available to feed people in the US and changes in farm subsidies via the Farm Bill could increase the availability of affordable healthy foods.
- The existing nutrition safety net programs (SNAP, School Nutrition Programs, WIC, etc.) while not perfect, feed millions of people each day. Strengthening these programs could go a long way.
- Access is key.
- The charitable sector alone can not end hunger. Organizations like Feeding America, Bread for the World, The Food Research & Action Center, and Share Our Strength play a critical role in addressing hunger. But…..it takes strong government programs to end hunger.
- Hunger and Poverty go hand in hand. While there is a lot more we can do to help the people who become hungry, as a nation we must address poverty if we want to truly end hunger. That means acknowledging the true prevalence of poverty and developing more robust systems to address it.
So we know hunger exists and that there are realistic solutions to address it, but what will it take to truly end hunger? Collective Impact is the hot term in philanthropy right now – in fact it was the #2 buzz word in philanthropy in 2011. The model first described by Mark Kramer and John Kania is starting to change the way those in the philanthropic sector look at addressing major social issues.
The folks at the Great Twin Cities United Way are working on a local level to use the collect impact framework to address hunger. I’m sure there are others and I’d love to hear from you. I think it is time that we start looking at this on a national level.
Elements of Collective Impact:
Common Agenda: We need a common agenda to end hunger in the US. The folks at Share Our Strength have done a good job of this in their “No Kid Hungry” Campaign and the AARP has launched a similar effort focused on seniors. But collectively we must do more! We need a common agenda to fight hunger for all populations – regardless of age, geography, immigration status or family size. We also need to engage those fighting obesity and promoting access to healthy foods in the development of the common agenda.
Shared Measurement Systems: This is one of the more challenging aspects of ending hunger – we don’t really know who is hungry. The best information we have is through the USDA Food Security Survey and the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap reports. We need to have a common way of measuring hunger along with common measurements for interventions - the amount of food distributed through the emergency food system and participation in federal nutrition programs.
Mutually Reinforcing Activities: We are fortunate to have strong local and national organizations addressing hunger. If we had a common agenda and shared measurement systems we could better align existing resources to address gaps in the hunger relief system, reduce duplication, and increase impact.
Continuous Communication: Ongoing, consistent and timely communication is a critical component of collective impact. It will help us better communicate with one and other, engage others, and build public and political will to end hunger.
Backbone Support Organizations: Karmer and Kania say that “creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization and staff with a very specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative”. As I mentioned earlier, there are strong umbrella organizations that are addressing child hunger and senior hunger and there are groups that are the backbone of the emergency food system and the faith based hunger relief system. But who is bringing them all together? Perhaps the Alliance to End Hunger , FRAC, or a similar entity?. On a local level the Regional Food Policy Councils may play this role.
Utilizing the Collective Impact Model isn’t easy but neither is living in a household facing hunger. So…..who’s in?