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Technology Is the Real Game Changer in the Fight Against World Hunger

Posted: 10/18/11 04:07 PM ET

I am so honoured to be recognized as a Game Changer this year among visionaries such as Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Esther Duflo, and Jamie Oliver, who are changing the world for the better in so many areas of human endeavour.

The Huffington Post itself has changed the game of journalism by making news dynamic, interactive, and accessible. I commend Arianna for being ahead of the curve and for her recognition of global trend setters in all areas of life from politics to style to champions of environmental causes. But I am particularly pleased to have been recognized under the "Impact" category because I truly believe in the power of technology and social media to revolutionize the hunger game and I have seen the results.

As the leader of the World Food Programme, I have always said that it takes very little to make a big impact. In fact it only costs 25 cents a day to feed a child. This is a simple message that we have been very successful at spreading to massive audiences worldwide, in large part because of new developments in technology.

Today there are one billion hungry people in the world. One in seven people does not have enough food to eat. What is shocking about this situation is not just the sheer magnitude of the number, but rather that we have enough food on this planet to feed everyone. It is easy to get discouraged by these numbers but I am I convinced that social media is the game changer.

At the World Food Programme we are harnessing technology to not only spread awareness through engaged and active audiences, but also use it to more effectively bring food assistance to the tens of millions of the world's most vulnerable. Here are some of the ways WFP is using technology to change the hunger game:

Digital Food

In the Palestinian territories, 33 percent of the population is food insecure. This is why WFP is providing beneficiaries with "digital food" through an electronic voucher system that allows people to redeem their electronic coupons through a swipe card in selected shops. This allows for a more diversified range of food items, such as fresh milk and eggs, which cannot be included in a traditional food basket. In places like the Philippines, known as the "texting capital of the world," WFP introduced a pilot project that uses text messages to distribute money earned through WFP 'cash-for-work' projects. Instead of gathering at a distribution site, beneficiaries can claim their money at participating shops. In some places, digital food is not only cost effective, but supports the local economy by investing in local producers and shopkeepers.

Early Warning and Vulnerability Mapping

Before intervening in a country, the first priority for WFP is to analyse the food security situation of the population. WFP's VAM team uses the most advanced technologies including Geographical Information Systems (GIS), innovative satellite applications and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to collect manage and analyse data so we can reach the right people with the right food at the right time. Early warning systems, for example, enable us to pre-position food supplies in advance of natural disasters or conflict situations, which might force mass movements of people from their homes.

Emergency Telecommunications

When an emergency strikes, the ability to communicate is not just crucial but can literally save lives. Humanitarian responders rely on information technology tools for numerous aspects of their operations from reporting, coordination, and communication, to ensuring the security and safety of staff in the field. WFP's rapid response teams can be dispatched to emergencies with the equipment necessary to get communications up and running within 48 hours. 

WFP and the Social Network

WFP has recently launched an innovative social media initiative called WeFeedBack -- the world's largest community for sharing food and changing lives. We're taking a new approach to fighting hunger that is social, interactive, and fun. You choose your favourite food, put it into the Feedback Calculator along with the estimated cost, and then calculate how many hungry children this would feed. The next step is to donate exactly that amount. Social Media is a great way to raise awareness and create a dialogue about hunger. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Tumblr. Also check out FreeRice -- the world's only vocabulary game that feeds the hungry! For each answer you get right, sponsors donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme to help end hunger.

Technology has been a key driving force behind globalization; it has shrunk space, time, and diminished borders and barriers to communication and mobility of people and ideas. The way we interact, our common causes, and community are no longer local -- we know that the scourge of hunger is a shared global problem, that no one individual, community or nation can solve. But we can solve it together.

We can choose to not get involved and watch idle, or we can own it and change it forever. I truly believe now is the time to dream big. This generation is part of something transformational and if we can harness the power of technology and social media, we can break the cycle of hunger once and for all.

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