I often talk about women being at the center of development and I’m excited to cite yet another piece of evidence to support that claim.
Arlene Mitchell, a colleague who helps lead our agriculture program at the Gates Foundation, has been awarded the Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition from the Global Child Nutrition Foundation. She is being honored for her leadership in school feeding programs over many years, helping millions of children around the world get nutritious food to eat in schools.
At our foundation we are always looking for innovations that start a virtuous cycle of development, ideas that help lift people out of poverty and into healthier, more productive lives. The school feeding programs that Arlene helped foster during her time at the World Food Program (and has supported since in her role at the foundation) is a powerful example of how this virtuous cycle works.
School feeding helps children go to school and stay in school. The impact is particularly dramatic among girls and women, because extended schooling prevents early marriages and pregnancies. When girls are educated they are more likely to have fewer, healthier, and better-educated children and so the cycle continues.
But the positive effects don’t stop there.
The Nutrition team at our foundation focuses on ensuring children are well nourished during “the first 1000 days,” from conception to their second birthday, the most critical stages of development. A key pillar of this strategy is making sure mothers are healthy when they get pregnant, a goal that school feeding promotes by giving girls in school not just healthy food but also other services like de-worming and health education.
School feeding programs also provide local small farmers with a steady market for their crops, and they create new jobs, mostly for women, as cooks and caterers.
In many ways, then, school feeding transform communities. That’s why Arlene has dedicated her career to putting these programs on the global agenda.
Our foundation exists to help unlock children’s potential, to build a path that leads to thriving societies.
Whether the catalyst is an investment in high-quality information on family planning, new seeds for farmers to become more productive, or the galvanizing work of women like Arlene to improve communities through school feeding programs, together we can help families “bring every good thing” to their children.
I want to thank Arlene for her hard work and hope she can inspire many other men and women to dedicate their lives to helping people in the poorest parts of the world achieve their full potential.