A Year Since Nutrition For Growth: Civil Society Leads the Way

It's been almost one year since June 8, 2013 – a day when the world celebrated the success of a global summit to raise funds to fight the leading killer of the world's children.

At the 'Nutrition for Growth' (N4G) event in London, world leaders came together to pledge a historic $4.15 billion to tackle undernutrition around the globe. They also pledged an additional $19 billion for areas that support good nutrition outcomes, such as water and sanitation, education, agriculture, and social protection programs.

The moment represented a vital push on a neglected issue, given that undernutrition contributes to almost half of child deaths, and chronic malnourishment stunts the cognitive and physical development of one-third of the world’s children in developing countries. Pledges and promises were met by cheers from thousands of people in London's Hyde Park, but one year later questions remain: Have leaders actually fulfilled their pledges? Are promised funds reaching the children who need them most?

The stage is set for world attention to turn once again to nutrition as world leaders agreed to reconvene in Brazil around the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Where are we on the road to the 2016 Summit?

Several countries have made strong starts to deliver their commitment: USAID released a multisectoral nutrition strategy that will be the basis for work through 2025; Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed $CAD 3.5 billion to the Muskoka Initiative over the next five years, a portion of which will go to nutrition; and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) released a report detailing its increases in nutrition programming and a roadmap for meeting its financial commitments.

Other meaningful steps are also being taken on the world stage to ensure countries, donors, the private sector, and civil society actors are accountable to both deliver on current commitments, and set an ambitious agenda for the way forward.

For example, the Every Newborn Action Plan – a plan convened by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to coordinate action on newborn health including nutrition – is launching this month. And while more ambition on specific targets is still needed, a standalone goal on hunger, nutrition, and food security is among the draft global goals being proposed for the post-2015 development framework that will follow the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs).

Communities lead the way

But the most remarkable and tangible progress on nutrition has come from networks of advocates around the world.

“It is a good way forward that the government is doing something, but we need to do more. We need to work with the government and that is something we can do as NGOs. We also need donor governments to honour their promises and the commitments they made.” By maintaining pressure on donors, the private sector, governments, civil society movements – and particularly the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement – are working to increase funds for nutrition activities, address the political and economic realities that hinder progress on nutrition, and design smart programs addressing the real-world barriers that prevent children from being well-nourished.


They are also helping to author the country-level plans that will guide their country’s efforts to address malnutrition going forward. 

In Zambia, advocates such as Chim Mvula are responding to their government’s shortfall in meeting their N4G commitment by creating a roadmap for civil society actors to encourage real, measurable government engagement on undernutrition.

For Georgina Mulobela, a retired secondary school teacher who now serves as Chairperson for civil society organizations in the Mumbwa area in Zambia through SUN, progress is still defined on the ground, through community education: “Mothers must know these things so that we can have children grow without being stunted. When our children grow up healthy, they can help our country.”

it’s an opportunity for us in civil society to actually share a commitment to accountability…We must own the commitment that we have made as a country. For the country governments that made commitments at Nutrition for Growth, those commitments must be honoured, and we ask donors to honour their commitments as well.”And in Malawi, too, civil society is keeping up the drumbeat. Tisungeni Zimpita, Project Coordinator for the Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance (CSONA) in Malawi, credits that network as providing a chance to share information and challenges.

In Kenya, advocates have organized a national-level civil society platform – even though the Kenyan government did not attend the Nutrition for Growth Summit or make a related commitment. Kenya’s SUN movement is growing in strength and has been instrumental in marrying advocacy on central nutrition interventions with areas like water, sanitation, and agriculture.

Charting the way forward, together

As we work to influence the shape of global nutrition progress on the path to the Rio summit, we must not forget that civil society has been leading us all along—and that we will only succeed when community actors have a meaningful, central role in the conversation, both in their countries and on the world stage.