Pushing for Better Development Assistance, One Letter at a Time


Asma Lateef is Director of the Bread for the World Institute, the research and policy analysis education wing that underpins Bread for the World’s advocacy work. Bread for the World is a faith based anti-hunger advocacy organization urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.

Formerly, Asma was Senior International Policy Analyst at Bread for the World and Director of Policy and Programs for Citizens for Global Solutions. She has also served as a consultant for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. Asma holds a B.A. in Geography from McGill University, a M.A. in Economics from Maryland University, and a post-graduate Diploma in Economics from the London School of Economics.

Hopefully, the World Food Prize will bring attention to what advocacy can do and get more people excited about engaging policymakers on issues of hunger and poverty. (Photo credit: Mark Fenton)

Bread for the World’s President, David Beckmann, was recently awarded the World Food Prize along with Heifer International’s President, Jo Luck. How does this recognition highlight the important work that Bread is engaged in?

The prize gives the role of advocacy and citizen engagement, in pushing for better policies, more attention. Both Heifer International and Bread have really engaged ordinary people in this movement, and what this prize does is acknowledge the impact that this advocacy can have.

We are in difficult times because of the economy, but I think at the same time, there is more political will to work on these issues. Elevating hunger and poverty as a priority for the U.S. will take a lot of effort. Hopefully, the prize will bring attention to what advocacy can do and get more people excited about engaging policymakers on these issues.

How is Bread’s grassroots network organized?

We have a grassroots membership which includes individual members, as well as a network of 4000-4500 churches. Our members are in almost every Congressional district across the country, and through these networks we are able to mobilize letters and calls to Congress. We estimate that each year, we send 150,000 letters to Congress.

By writing letters, members build important relationships with their members of Congress, and show that that people really care about issues of hunger and poverty, and that there is a constituency for development assistance in the U.S. When you have a congregation of 5000 people that send letters on a single issue, it can really generate waves in a Congressional office because someone has to reply to all those letters.

How does Bread organize its legislative work and engage its grassroots members?

We lobby members of Congress about hunger and poverty issues, both domestic and international. Each year, we have one main legislative campaign, called the Offering of Letters Campaign. This year, we are working on a domestic issue- income tax credit and the child tax credit. Our members are learning about how tax credits are connected to hunger and poverty.

Each year, we produce a kit that provides all the information that an individual would need to know about the issue. They then use this information to engage their friends, families and congregations, and help lead workshops and letter-writing campaigns. Next year, we’re going to work on foreign aid reform.

Each year, the Bread for the World Institute puts out an annual flagship publication called the Hunger Report. What are its main goals and what is the focus of the next report?

Our Annual Hunger Report analyzes the best thinking on issues we care about, and writes it in a way that is accessible to a broad public. It tells stories that are educational, inspiring and motivational, and help people understand how these issues are connected.

This year, our report focuses on the U.S. policy response in the aftermath of the food crisis and the dramatic rise in global hunger over the last 3 years. Our aim is to educate our members about initiatives like Feed the Future (FTF), the U.S. hunger and food security initiative, and to help them understand how we can improve the effectiveness of our aid program.

How can we make our foreign assistance more effective in reducing hunger and poverty?

We need to make development a foreign policy priority. The administration has just launched its new Global Development Policy and this is a tremendous step forward. While there’s a growing recognition about the importance of development, there is also a lot of follow-up work that needs to be done.

We are closely following the work around Feed the Future (FTF), which I think is a tremendous opportunity to connect agriculture and nutrition. It really begins to reverse the huge decline in donor investment in agriculture over the last decade. FTF could allow for the scaling up of successful efforts, and there is a real openness to hear about success stories and innovations with the aim of building on what works.

But these initiatives need to be much more responsive to local needs, and we need to ensure that they are country-led and country-owned – they must go beyond governments to include civil society. I think strengthening local capacity is key. Currently our investments are very project-oriented, once donors lose interest or the money runs out, those projects die.

We need to focus on leaving behind skills, systems and institutions that can carry on that work. In theory, that’s where our aid should go. These are all issues that we are educating our grassroots membership about so that we can make a coherent case for the need for reform, particularly for greater investments in sustainable agricultural development.

How does Bread’s grassroots advocacy work to foster important policy changes?

One of the issues that we have been a consistent voice for is more and better development assistance. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a tripling of poverty-focused development assistance, which benefits poor and hungry people around the world. Bread members have been part of the movement that has helped to raise awareness about the importance of these accounts and their impact. These efforts have promoted important debates and discussions and helped to create the momentum for the push on foreign aid reform that we are seeing now with FTF.

Our members understand that the kinds of changes they seek don’t happen overnight, these are building blocks that are leading to better policies over time. Incremental changes can add up in the long term, and they show that an individual activist can really have a global impact.

What I think Bread does well is show that progress is possible. Meaningful progress will actually take time because it means addressing structural issues. But it is possible and we have seen progress over time. And this is also what is so exciting about Nourishing the Planet, because you are highlighting success stories and things that really work.

Interview by Janeen Madan, research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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