Meet the New Head of the World Food Program

The world has a new head of the World Food Program: Ban Ki Moon appointed Ertharin Cousin as the new executive director of the WFP. She begins in April.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard that the current Executive Director of the World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, was poised to step down.  Sheeran has ably led the WFP since 2007 and theoretically she could have stayed in the position longer. Alas, there is a healthy dose of politics that goes into the position–and not just international politics. Tradition holds that the United States nominates someone to the position and the Secretary General rubber stamps the nomination.

The USA is the biggest donor to the WFP, so there is some logic to that. But this process means that there is also a healthy dose of domestic political interests at stake. The nominee is always a supporter and/or member of the same political party as the sitting president. Sheeran was a Bush administration official before she was nominated by President Bush to lead the WFP.

Ertharin Cousin has a background in Chicago civic life–President Obama’s hometown. She currently serves as the USA ambassador to the World Food Program and the International Food and Agriculture Organization.  Prior to that,  she held several food policy related positions in the private, non-profit and public sectors.

I’ve always thought that the WFP was one of the more fascinating UN entities.  They also have one of the most complex and competent logistical systems in the world. They can  deliver emergency food aid to anywhere in the world on very short notice. Perhaps only the US military has logistical competencies that outstrip those of WFPs (and keep in mind the WFP’s budget is about 1/100th that of the Department of Defense.).

Speaking about budget, this is going to be Cousin’s most urgent challenge. WFP’s budget is about $7 billion. It is funded entirely through the voluntary contributions of member states. In this era of flat lining foreign aid budgets,  keeping people fed around the world is going to be much, much more difficult if donors cut back.

We wish her the best as she starts her new role.