12/06/2013 12:29 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2014

Nelson Mandela: Reflections on a Life Well-Lived

This week I join the world in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, a man who served as the conscience of the world, a job he never sought. He made the transition from revolutionary to statesman seem natural with an amazing combination of strength and grace. Mandela changed the course of history for his nation and for the world, with deeds both large and small, too numerous to mention. For him, injustice and inequality anywhere required our attention -- and actions.

At home, he championed policies supporting women and children, enhancing access to education, health care, clean water, and more. And in retirement, his Nelson Mandela Foundation, fought to combat HIV/AIDS, promote rural development and school construction, and eradicate poverty. Globally, he pressed an agenda to eradicate poverty and hunger everywhere.

Some years ago, Action Against Hunger honored Mandela with our Humanitarian Award. We could think of no individual who better personified the mission we work towards every day, saving the lives of malnourished children and unlocking their future potential.

For too many people, the issue of hunger is important but they do nothing about it because it seems too large or complex. As usual, Mandela had a way of conceptualizing this issue in simple terms with a moral imperative that would be hard for anyone to ignore. Here's what he said when he accepted our award. "Hunger is an aberration of the civilized world. It is the result of civil wars, oppressive governments and famines of biblical proportions. Families are torn asunder by the question of who will eat."

"As global citizens, we must free children from the nightmare of poverty and abuse and deprivation," he continued. "We must protect parents from the horrifying dilemma of choosing who will live. Hunger is a basic need that must be met before anyone can escape the depths of ignorance, before any society can stand without aid, but more importantly, before any child's body can survive the onslaught of disease such as the scourges of HIV, TB, and malaria."

I can think of no better way to honor Mandela's legacy than by continuing the fight to make childhood deaths from malnutrition history. Thanks to the development of new, affordable treatment tools, this is a battle we can win and we can do it in our lifetime. Now, wouldn't that be a fitting tribute to this great man.