Reflections from the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine
It’s a story we’ve seen played out time and again. World leaders gather to discuss global affairs, only to leave the poor and most vulnerable empty-handed while the number of humanitarian crises continue to rise.
In May, this played out at the 43rd G7 Summit where leaders from seven of the world’s largest economies gathered, only to largely ignore the global hunger crisis playing out in the background. Famine had already been declared in areas of South Sudan with Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen on the brink - all told, over 20 million people at risk of starvation. The UN began calling this “the largest humanitarian crisis” since its inception.
Behind the scenes, those of us in the NGO community scrambled to construct the right policy proposals, messages and coalitions, urging leaders to act on the greatest needs of our day and to keep their governments’ commitments to the world’s sustainable development agenda. But in what has become far too common, the domestic challenges facing many of the G7 leaders and countries weighed out their ability to coalesce a response.
At World Vision, we have been actively responding to the hunger crisis in Somalia and South Sudan, as well as surrounding countries in East Africa and the Lake Chad Basin. Fearing the world is not responding with the urgency these crises require and believing that a moment was needed outside political events like the G7 Summit, we sought new opportunities to bypass the political impasse in order to mobilise and engage global citizens who can join our advocacy for a hungerfree world.
Through the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine, World Vision partnered with the World Council of Churches and All African Conference of Churches to mobilise millions of people of faith. While we did not see this as an advocacy event, per se, we initially timed this day ahead of the G7 Summit in order to have greater impact. For many of the individuals and organisations, 21 May became the first step in their ongoing journey around the hunger crisis.
As our organisation has reflected on the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine, we’ve observed a few key lessons to consider for our future advocacy efforts.
World leaders need to hear from their citizens. Leaders will (should) always prioritise the needs and concerns of their own people. Increasingly, domestic politics and uncertainty has crowded out the sustainable development agenda globally. If we want leaders to prioritise the world’s poor and most vulnerable, we must ensure they hear from their own citizens. With the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine, our hope was that we could establish a new conversation with world leaders by engaging their citizens who share our vision of a more just and peaceful planet.
There won’t always be a policy win built in. Effective advocacy should always have a successful endgame in mind. But in today’s environment, it’s increasingly challenging to guarantee a significant policy gain or financial commitment through global events such as the G7 Summit. With the hunger crisis looming, we decided the G7 Summit didn’t need to be a sunken loss, just because we knew its leaders were unready to come to an agreement. Instead, we chose to still use this date as a platform to move the conversation forward.
We need to meet ‘everyday’ people where they are at - and speak their voice. The truth is that most people don’t know what the G7 Summit is, and don’t really care. And while the cynical voice in the back of our heads tells us otherwise, there are millions of people who will care about children dying from hunger when they become aware of the problem. We need to find creative ways of engaging these people through their language - whether that be speaking to chefs through their shared love of food, mothers through their compassion for children or faith communities through prayer.
Don’t do it alone - strong advocacy requires partnership and collaboration. We have to widen the number of individuals, organisations and networks who are advocating for change. In order to maximize impact, we knew we needed more credibility by engaging with the faith leaders, organisations and gatekeepers most trusted by faith communities. Through the World Council of Churches, more than 120 organisations joined the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine - many of whom do not ordinarily participate in political advocacy. It is these types of coalitions of ‘unusual actors’ who will be needed to move the Sustainable Development Goals forward.
Don’t let any opportunity go to waste. This was perhaps the greatest lesson we learnt.. We were still very disappointed with the outcomes of the G7 Summit, and we’re still concerned with the inadequate response to the hunger crisis. But in order to see a hungerfree world become a reality, we must sustain an ongoing conversation around both the immediate needs and long-term investments needed to achieve zero hunger.
James Pedrick is the HungerFree lead at World Vision