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CRS director Ken Hackett honored at annual food aid conference

 |  Eco Catholic


KANSAS CITY, MO -- Catholic Relief Services director Ken Hackett was honored June 28 at the 13th Annual International Food Aid Conference here. Hackett steps down at the end of this year after 18 years at the helm of the Baltimore-based humanitarian agency.

Michael Scuse, Under Secretary of the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, led the tribute to Hackett, reading a commendation message from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Scuse praised Ken Hackett as a man ‘dedicated to a better world and accomplishing it by feeding one hungry mouth at a time.”

Carolyn Y. Woo, dean of the business school at the University of Notre Dame, has been selected by the Catholic Relief Services board of directors to serve as the agency’s next president and CEO. Woo, 57, has served as the dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame since 1997. She served on the CRS board of directors from 2004 until 2010. On Jan. 1, 2012, she will become the seventh chief executive of CRS since the agency was founded in 1943.

The Food Aid conference is jointly hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U. S. Agency for International Development.

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In his talk at the conference, Hackett referred to the “Roadmap to End World Hunger,” a proposal both he and Tony Hall, former congressman and ambassador to the U.N. Food Programs in Rome, proposed at the 2009 conference. The Roadmap called on Congress for legislation and asked the president to establish an international hunger coordinator in the White House as first steps.

He said they had been naïve. “Two years ago, everything seemed possible. Now every penny is argued over and food aid is in the bulls-eye for budget cuts.” But the will to end world hunger is still there among Catholics. “There are ever fewer private voluntary agencies, fewer constituencies to argue for it. “

He also urged the food aid community to pay more attention to the world’s subsistence farmers, saying that the majority of the world’s hungry are among their numbers. New technology helps them but worrisome fast-spreading plant diseases, that may or may not be a result of global climate change, seriously threaten their crops. Research and strategies to deal with these are badly needed.

Also land grabs that are occurring in developing countries in Africa and Latin America worry him -- commercial interests investing in vast tracts of land to grow flowers or export crops for quick profit.

Hackett has led CRS since 1993, and worked there since 1972. Under his leadership, CRS went through significant institutional changes. In 1993, he launched a strategic planning exercise to help clarify the mission and identity of CRS. Shortly thereafter came the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The killing of more than 800,000 people over a three-month span led CRS officials to reevaluate how they implemented their relief and development programs, particularly in places with heightened ethnic conflict and socio-economic inequities that often lead to violence. After an extended period of institutional reflection and prayer, CRS incorporated a justice-centered focus in all its programming, using Catholic social teaching as a guide.

CRS also embarked on a concerted effort to engage the U.S. Catholic community in its work around the world. As part of this strategy, CRS established the U.S. Operations division in 2002 with a mission to foster global solidarity among U.S. Catholics. In addition, lay people were appointed for the first time to the CRS board.

Concluding his speech, Hackett described a school feeding program CRS administered in Ghana. “Many of the people who ate that food are now in Ghana’s government. It’s a good government, so our program in Ghana is much smaller than it used to be. You don’t need rose-colored glasses to appreciate that picture. In Ghana, we worked ourselves out of a job.

“That’s what we all should be trying to do, because that would mean there are no hungry people in the world.”

The full text of Ken Hackett's speech at the 2011 USDA/USAID Food Aid Conference.

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