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A Nourishing Olympic Legacy? Transforming the Life Chances of Millions of Children

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Hours before the Olympic closing ceremony 40 Heads of State and leaders from business and civil society, along with sporting legends Pele, Haile Gebrselassie and Mo Farah stepped through the door of 10 Downing Street to see how the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games could incorporate action against hunger.

Today some two billion people around the world lack the nourishment needed to be healthy and active enough to cross an Olympic finishing line, no matter their level of talent or dedication.

Malnutrition robs individuals of their potential. Think of the consequences and its impact on the world -- the individuals, athletes, performers, artists, intellectuals that we never know of -- or benefit from -- due to malnutrition.

Indeed, many do not survive long enough to qualify, as malnutrition continues to account for one third of all child deaths globally. And for every child that dies from malnutrition, another 65 grow up with chronic malnutrition, permanently stunting the development of their bodies and brains. Today, such long-term damage affects 170 million children, prevents them from thriving and contributing to their societies and economies as adults, having tremendous impact on the development of countries.

Government and aid organizations busy trying to deliver food to the starving rarely have the resources to look beyond these emergencies to those millions of children whose health, education and economic potential is curtailed by chronic, insufficient access to affordable, nutritious foods. Chronic malnutrition is a silent emergency.

The Olympic Hunger Summit, co-convened by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Vice President Michel Temer of Brazil, called on all leaders and societies to step up efforts to reduce child malnutrition before the next Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016. They urged leaders to support the UN's World Health Assembly's recently agreed global target of a 40 percent reduction in the number of stunted children by 2025.

Business had an important seat at the table. We know that the private sector grows and produces the majority of food, and that even the poorest people buy most of the food they eat. But business, no more than governments or aid organizations, cannot fix the problem on its own. From David Cameron to Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister; Raila Odinga, PM of Kenya; and Sheikh Hasina, PM of Bangladesh, the message was clear -- we need to build innovative partnerships to defeat malnutrition.

Following these opening statements by political leaders, we broke into three groups on the role of business, on accountability and on agricultural innovation. As Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), I chaired the business session, which was attended by global companies such as Unilever, GSK, and Syngenta and from emerging markets by Britannia, Renata and Yedent, and representatives of USAID and DFID.

We discussed the need for more innovative models for these new partnerships, with every sector playing a part -- from food producers increasing the nutritious value of their food right along the value chain from farm to fork, to governments enacting strong policy and regulatory environments to ensure quality and help their citizens afford the nutritious food they need. Civil society and NGOs are key players who can help influence and build community engagement. We talked about the Marketplace for Nutritious Foods, a new GAIN platform that builds the capacity of the private sector in key low and middle-income countries to form partnerships and produce affordable, nutritious foods.

The panel called for more research to maximize the potential of what can be done to help poorer people access nutritious foods, and sharing of new information - including through new communications channels - so that global businesses can help local businesses improve their operations and scale. Paul Polman of Unilever announced the commitment by UK companies to set up an Alliance to make high quality food available and accessible to the poor, which GAIN will be helping to develop.

The message was that a global effort is needed to address a global challenge -- and with 65 Olympic medals behind them, it's great to see the UK getting down to 'business' by inspiring innovative public private partnerships that will lead the way to an Olympic legacy of a world where the world's poorest people can aspire to their share of Olympic medals.