On December 14th, the world kicked off a year of action on nutrition at a global event with the United Nations, partners, and country representatives. The Nutrition for Growth Year of Action Launch Event marked one year until the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in December of 2021, and the start of a make-or-break year for nutrition. Hosted by the Government of Canada and co-hosted by the Government of Bangladesh, in partnership with the Government of Japan and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this was a critical opportunity to highlight the foundational role of nutrition in the world’s response to COVID-19. It was an honour to be there and make commitments on behalf of Nutrition International.

During this event, Canada’s Minister of International Development, the Honourable Karina Gould, made the first pledge of any country by announcing a five-year commitment to evidence-driven nutrition actions for women, adolescent girls and children. This included significant funding to Nutrition International’s immediate COVID-19 related response work, as well as an anchor investment in our Investment Case.

On behalf of Nutrition International, our staff, and our Board, I would like to send a sincere “Thank you” to Canada – and Minister Gould – for your support and leadership in creating a global rallying point with our allies that focuses the world’s attention on the growing crisis of malnutrition. I was also inspired by, and grateful to, all the countries and organizations who together pledged more than US $3 billion to support nutrition interventions around the world. This is very encouraging progress!

Almost 30 years ago, Canada brought the development community together in a similar way at the World Summit for Children so we could accelerate efforts to end preventable deaths. And that’s where Nutrition International was born – as part of Canada’s commitment to saving lives. Nutrition International exists to take proven nutrition interventions to scale.

Since then, we have played a central role in translating that commitment into action for hundreds of millions of people. We are an institution that strengthens other institutions, acting as an expert-ally and force-multiplier for the development ecosystem, and working at the crossroads of health, food, and social protection systems. The global scale-up of vitamin A supplementation and salt iodization are two prime examples of that success.

We have steadily expanded our work with partners, with countries – and with donors like the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – serving as a bridge from evidence to action at scale.

Traditionally you’d expect to find global organizations in London, Geneva, or New York. We’re proud to have our roots in Canada, but our branches are global, reaching more than 60 countries around the world.

Even though our world is going through a phase of division, disconnection, and inequity that sometimes makes me feel like we’re moving backwards, I know all of us share an unshakeable belief that a better world is possible.

If we actually wanted to build a better world where dignity, belonging, and connection − for all − were the new measures of positive progress for humanity, one of the first things we would do is to eliminate malnutrition.

We’d have better health − and pay less for it, immune systems would be stronger, education outcomes would improve, economies would grow, there would be more money in the pockets of people living in poverty, and people would rise − because nutrition is the tide that lifts all boats.

Today’s event was the moment we put together our collective sense of outrage at the indignity and injustice of malnutrition and we lifted it up as a global priority. The rallying point where we recognized that COVID-19 risked wiping out more than a decade’s worth of progress and investment for people – and we said: ‘No. not on our watch’ because nutrition is the non-negotiable foundation we need in order to build a global recovery.

This was the moment where we took action together that will give hope to millions of people.

To make this dream a reality we are going to have to move with urgency, and focus on impact, and on getting not only more financing for nutrition over the coming year – but the maximum impact possible from every Dollar, Taka, Pound, and Yen. That means prioritizing the people in greatest need, and scaling up low-cost, high-impact actions to achieve the greatest good because nutrition can’t wait.

We also need to be bold and ambitious in our commitments – and accountable for seeing them through. At Nutrition International we aim to transform the lives of one billion people − especially women, adolescent girls and children – by improving their nutritional status.

That’s why, as part of this event, I made the following pledge on behalf of our organization. By 2030, working in support of governments and with our partners we will:

  • Prevent at least 4.4 million cases of stunting – giving children the right start and increasing the impact of global investments in education, health and economic growth.
  • Prevent at least 60 million cases of anaemia – driving global focus and action on a neglected issue that heavily impacts women, adolescent girls and children.
  • Provide and coordinate the global supply of vitamin A capsules, ensuring at least 150 million children a year receive two doses of life-saving vitamin A.

2021 will be an inflection point in the fight against malnutrition that will shape investments for the next decade. If we are courageous, if we are ambitious, if we are united in our commitment to taking a new level of collective action − then we can alter the human trajectory for millions of people on this planet. And that moment starts now.

You can connect with Joel C. Spicer on Twitter at @JoelCSpicer