Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Affordability, Not Unavailability Of Food, Is Increasing Starvation

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children, tells Forbes India that rising food prices are leaving thousands of children hungry

Published: Mar 3, 2012 06:57:52 AM IST
Updated: Mar 3, 2012 03:49:54 PM IST
Affordability, Not Unavailability Of Food, Is Increasing Starvation
Image: Amit Verma

Jasmine Whitbread
Designation: Global CEO, Save the Children
Education: Executive Programme, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Graduate degree in English (with honors) University of Bristol
Career: Marketing manager, Rio Tinto; Managing Director, Thomson Financial; International Director of Oxfam; CEO, Save the Children, UK
Interests: Likes listening to West African music and spending time with family

Q. Tell us about your five-country survey on nutrition.
The results are quite startling. Rising food prices is a huge concern. We found that a quarter of children surveyed in Nigeria and India were going without food for a whole day. It is startling because we have seen families cutting down, maybe on quality of food or a meal a day, across South Asia and Africa. But children going without food for a whole day; now that’s serious. It is really about affordability and not because food is unavailable. People are already spending 80-90 percent of their income on food and if the prices rise further, they can’t afford it.

Q. Are you seeing more involvement of businesses in such issues, especially in India?
Absolutely. What companies are doing is thinking harder about how they use their resources. It’s less about writing a cheque and more about using the competence of the organisation. In India, some years ago, if I met business leaders, they would be embarrassed if I mentioned what Save the Children did in India. People would want to walk away from me at cocktail parties. The conversation was all about India rising. It was all about changing the brand of India from a poor country to a wealthy and successful country. But now people are prepared to come forward and have that conversation [about social issues]. I think Indian businesses are still thinking how exactly [to go about those issues].

Q. What’s your opinion on the food security bill that is being considered in India?
India has already done it [agreed to food entitlement] to a certain extent when it ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. It said that children have a right to sufficient nutrition. [The question is] how do you push it through in the national environment—through legislation, through programmes, through good implementation— to make it happen. India, on a number of occasions, has taken the legislative approach and it helps if the legislation is well thought through. But, as you know, in India, it is all about implementation.

Q. In developing countries like India, not allowing children to work often means an entire family going without food. What’s your position on that?
Save the Children is not against child labour. Children have a right to play, to education, to have enough decent food. We recognise that in some of the places we work, it is not an option for the child to not contribute to the household economy. As long as their rights are respected, and we know that it is possible, you can have a child contributing to the household economy.

(This story appears in the 16 March, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)