Ertharin Cousin

Based in: Chicago, Illinois
Board member since: 2018
Board Position: At-Large Director

A picture of Heifer Board Member Ertharin Cousin.

Ertharin Cousin is a visionary leader known for her ability to develop solutions for complicated issues and to clearly articulate thoughtful perspectives about global situations.

Due to her reputation in the international arena, she was chosen to serve as the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

She is also a contemporaneous Visiting Fellow at the Institute’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

For more than 30 years, Cousin has been a leader within the nonprofit, government, and corporate sectors. She currently serves the Chicago Council on Global Affairs as a Distinguished Global Fellow.

Previously, Cousin led the United Nations World Food Programme from 2009-2017, guiding the world’s largest humanitarian organization. The 14,000-person staff serves 80 million beneficiaries in 75 countries to meet urgent food needs, while advocating globally for longer-term solutions to food insecurity and hunger.

Cousin’s passionate support for a “zero hunger” world resulted in an increase of donor funding from $3.8 billion in 2012 to $5.86 billion in 2016.

In 2009, Cousin was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome. In this capacity, Cousin helped identify and catalyze U.S. government investment in food security and nutrition activities supported by the USAID Feed the Future program.

She also convened foreign media tours highlighting how U.S. program investments delivered results for vulnerable people on the ground. This initiative resulted in millions of impressions in traditional media and on social media.

Prior to her international relations career, Cousin helped lead the fight to end hunger domestically. She served as Executive Vice President and COO of America’s Second Harvest, known now as Feeding America. The organization is comprised of 200 food banks across America serving more than 50 million meals per year.

During the organization’s operational response to Hurricane Katrina, Cousin oversaw an unprecedented push in fundraising, mobilization of volunteers, and media campaign launch.

Before that time, Cousin served as Senior Vice President for Albertsons. While there, she was presidentially appointed to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, where she helped oversee U.S. government agriculture research investments worldwide.

Prior to that role, Cousin served as the White House Liaison to the State Department. She received the department’s Meritorious Service Award for her work addressing foreign policy issues during the Olympics in Atlanta.

A Chicago native, Cousin is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Georgia Law School and the University of Chicago Executive Management Finance for Non-Financial Executives program. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the globe.

Cousin has been listed numerous times on the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women List, named by Fortune as the Most Powerful Woman in Food and Drink, graced Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People, and been deemed one of the 500 Most Powerful People on the Planet by Foreign Policy magazine.