Nutrition for Growth: An Historic Moment for Global Nutrition Efforts?

Photo By: William Merrow

World leaders gathered Saturday in London at the Nutrition for Growth summit and pledged an impressive total of $21.9 billion to be spent between now and 2020 to combat undernutrition. Just as significant as the amounts pledged was who was pledging: governments, foundations, businesses and NGOs all made commitments that resulted in billions of dollars. I was honored to announce that 30 InterAction members would spend $750 million in privately-funded resources over the next five years on programs that impact nutrition, many of which focus on the crucial first 1,000 days after conception. This pledge was possible because of NGOs’ private donors, in particular small individual donors, and also because of the hard work and vision of InterAction members’ staff. 

Some of the largest monetary commitments made over the weekend were $10 billion from the U.S. government, $1 billion from the U.K. government, more than $800 million from the Gates Foundation, and more $700 million from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which sponsored the event together with the U.K.’s Department for International Development and the government of Brazil.

In addition to the money pledged, the event showed a strong drive for political change. Dozens of other commitments were made by businesses, CSOs, and by Southern ministers and heads of state who pledged to make nutrition a top priority. Key development figures in attendance were U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement Coordinator David Nabarro, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Bill Gates, among many others.

By making collective commitments of resources and outcomes, we demonstrate that NGOs are a major donor alongside governments, and foundations and business. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah cited InterAction members’ collective spending in his remarks and publicly committed to forging new partnerships with NGOs.

The summit and the follow-on nutrition events in Washington represent the maturation of nutrition into a core part of the global development agenda. Nutrition for Growth came on the heels of the High-Level Panel’s recommendations for what should replace the MDGs, in which nutrition is featured prominently, and days after new research from The Lancet showing that undernutrition is responsible for 45% of preventable child deaths. The billions pledged are the culmination of years of advocacy, research, and learning by doing and the impressive work of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.

So what next?  Will Nutrition for Growth really be the historic turning point for ending stunting and undernutrition, or was it just an expensive photo opportunity?

That will depend on whether we keep our commitments. It is easier to make promises than to keep them, particularly as governments face political and budgetary pressures between now and 2020. The success of Nutrition for Growth will depend on whether we all have the courage required to follow through.

By Lindsay Coates, executive vice president of InterAction.