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Written by Heifer International Regional Program Manager–Americas Anna Ulbrich. Photos by Nadia Todres.

Photo copyright Nadia Todres 2011

Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari attended the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York this week, joining 1,200 leaders of change from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, companies and governments who came together to find solutions to some of the world's most pressing development challenges.

The event's three themes this year were jobs, sustainable consumption, and girls and women. During three action-packed days of solution-oriented work sessions, participants grappled with topics as diverse as how to equitably and sustainably distribute a finite number of resources among a population that is rapidly approaching seven billion, to ending child marriage within a generation. "Even though nobody went around with a long face, and we all had a good time and some laughs," said President Bill Clinton, "there is a certain seriousness of purpose now, because we know our world is in trouble."

Photo copyright Nadia Todres 2011

On the second day of CGI, Heifer made a commitment called Rural Entrepreneurs for Agricultural Cooperation in Haiti (REACH). The project was featured on stage during the session on Securing Global Nutrition, moderated by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. "The challenge in Haiti is that two-thirds of Haitians depend on agriculture to support their households, yet most do not recieve training in the basic practices that can improve their yeilds and maintain their livestock in a healthy way," said Kristof. He went on to announce that Heifer would provide livestock and business training to more than 20,000 households in Haiti over the next five years, building upon the organization's work there over the past 20 years and scaling up its impact.

REACH embodies both Heifer's traditional values and the organization's new strategic direction toward larger impact, measurable results and greater linkages with the market and private sector. According to Ferrari, "The project will move farmers beyond subsistence to resiliency by helping them to be part of a robust business system. The project uses a well thought-through value-chain analysis that will link farmers with markets while continuing to use Heifer's traditional model consisting of agroecological farming, Cornerstones, production training and market access." The vision of the project is to unleash the entrepreneurial energy that already exists in Haiti by making livestock farming, an activity that is widespread in the rural areas, into a micro-business providing families with a sustainable source of income.

According to Ferrari, CGI's support of the initiative will be a useful "imprimatur," from a marketing as well as from a political point of view. "It will also hold us accountable," he said.

The session on Securing Global Nutrition had a distinguished panel that included USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. Participants discussed technologies and approaches that yield increased productivity and nutrients. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later echoed panelists during a plenary when she responded to her daughter Chelsea that a critical issue needing to be elevated from "trend-line" to "headline," is food security, and the urgent need to produce more nutritious food in more places at affordable prices.

A number of key themes emphasized at CGI both reflect Heifer's core approach to development and provide thoguht-provoking new ways of building upon these ideas. Among these is the value of partnerships, a central part of Heifer's philsoophy, and the idea that NGOs should partner with governments to reflect their citizens' aspirations and strengthen their national systems. In his remarks abotu NGOs' work in Haiti, President Clinton said that although organizations' achievements have intrinsic value, "what is achieved there will not be greater than the sum of their activities unless the proper social, political and legal systems are in place. We have to create a synergy with what the country is doing."

While working within the framework of governments' rural development plans is an important part of Heifer's approach, Ferrari said he felt inspired by the powerful commitments presented by private-public-NGO partnerships. "One of the unusual aspects of this event," he said, "is the 'mash-up' of the three sectors–business, government and NGO–and the manifestation of cooperation between them. They have come together with an attitude of wanting to find solutions and have made large-scale commitments, which is impressive."

Ferrari said that while Heifer has been working with the private sector through partnerships with Danone, Elanco, GMC and others, the event led him to wonder whether the organization should expand these efforts and find new ways of partnering with international companies to support farmers. "We need to be players in the agricultural business network and to be known for having the ability to mobilize farmers who can produce with quality and consistency." Citing as example a panel in which Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCO, spoke about being a global company committed to sourcing locally, Ferrari reflected about "the tremendous potential for working with supply chains that are local while supporting societies, and for linking farmers with markets in very interesting ways."

In thinking further about partnerships, Ferrari explored the idea of presenting programs as an investment opportunity to bankers. By lending farmers capital through Heifer projects and initiatives, lenders could participate in projects' successes while obtaining a return on investment.

During the event's final session, speakers echoed some of Heifer's core values around sharing, caring and human dignity. "The only wealth you get to keep is that which you give away," said Tom Golisano, founder of the Golisano Foundation and founding sponsor of CGI. "We need to work together toward a shared vision of prosperity and a shared vision of responsibility and a shared vision of community," said President Clinton. In his closing remarks, the former president left the audience with the final thought that "the economic crisis afflicting the world is about way more than money. The dignity that comes to someone who knows that he or she, no matter what happens, will at least be able to put food on the table, and if they have children, take care of them and have some amount of autonomy is a matter of the human spirit."

Author

Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.