Address by MI President and CEO Joel Spicer at the Micronutrient Forum Global Conference Opening Ceremony

"We are witnessing the convergence of two global phenomena that are creating an unprecedented moment in time: a spike in conversations about the importance of women and girls’ health, rights, and empowerment for the world to move forward – and increasing global concern, momentum, and action on nutrition. " - Joel Spicer

“We are witnessing the convergence of two global phenomena that are creating an unprecedented moment in time: a spike in conversations about the importance of women and girls’ health, rights, and empowerment for the world to move forward – and increasing global concern, momentum, and action on nutrition. ” – Joel Spicer

Check against delivery.

 

Mr. Julian Ricalde Magaña, Secretary of Social and Indigenous Development of the State of Quintana Rõ,

Dr. Mauricio Hernandez, Director of the National Institute of Public Health,

Dr. Juan Rivera Dommarco, President of the Local Organizing Committee of this Global Conference,

Dr. Lynnette Neufeld, Chair of the Micronutrient Forum International Steering Committee,

Mr Josue Jasan Vargas Olmos, Director of Evaluation of the PROSPERA program,

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends. Good afternoon.

Buenas tardes. Encantado de estar acqui con ustedes.
It is an honour to be here today for the official opening of the 2016 Micronutrient Forum Global Conference, welcoming many of the world’s finest nutrition experts and advocates.

The Micronutrient Initiative has a very special connection to the Micronutrient Forum. MI is a core donor: we have been hosting its Secretariat since 2011 and have been involved closely with many of you – in all three of its previous global conferences.  We believe strongly in the importance of its convening power and its ability to bring together some of the greatest minds to advance nutrition.

I want to thank the Micronutrient Forum Steering Committee, Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, the Local Organizing Committee, as well as the Secretariat ― led by our own Dr. Luz-Maria de Regil ― who all worked so hard to organize this major event.

The theme of the conference this year is Positioning Women’s Nutrition at the Centre of Sustainable Development. And there is an important connection to be made between this theme and the location where we are gathered right now ― the place where, centuries ago, the great Mayan civilization thrived. The Mayans had clearly understood the important and powerful role of women. In Mayan society, women were leaders, warriors, and healers who had high social status and influence. The Mayans knew that empowering women contributed to empowered societies ― which continues to be very true today.

The image you see behind me is the conference logo, and it was designed with this history in mind. As you can see, the Mayan woman – along with a newborn, a child, and an adolescent girl ― is at the centre. And that is precisely where they should be from a policy, financing, delivery and scale point of view if we want to make faster progress towards ending malnutrition.

This theme not only reflects where we are, but also what is happening around us today.

We are witnessing the convergence of two global phenomena that are creating an unprecedented moment in time: a spike in conversations about the importance of women and girls’ health, rights, and empowerment for the world to move forward – and increasing global concern, momentum, and action on nutrition.

And these conversations are happening beyond the traditional borders of the development arena; they have percolated through to the public sphere.

Many global initiatives have been established recently to help transform the lives of women and girls ― for example: Every Woman Every Child, Malala’s campaign to advocate for girls’ right to education, Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn, Women Deliver, and so on – there are too many to list.  Just last week, the UNFPA released a report stating “what the world will look like in 15 years will depend on our doing everything in our power to ignite the potential of a 10-year-old girl today.” We know you cannot ignite that full potential if that girl is malnourished.

On the political front, we have also seen a push to elevate women in positions of leadership, and in placing women’s issues at the heart of government policies. Last year, in Canada, the first-ever gender-balanced Cabinet in the history of the country was created. And, for the first time, a woman is very close to becoming President of the United States. What might that do for nutrition and for women and girls?

And when it comes to fighting malnutrition, the winds have clearly shifted. Many of you have lived through the “dark ages” of nutrition, when it was considered everyone’s problem, but no one’s responsibility – a ‘forgotten MDG’. This is changing. The pivotal role of nutrition in the achievement of the SDGs is increasingly recognized, and the world is starting to understand that nutrition is a crucial piece of the puzzle if we want a better future and a stable world.  Because of the work you do and have done – we are seeing nutrition move closer to center stage.

For example:

  • In 2011, the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement was created to unite governments, civil society, the United Nations, donors, businesses and researchers in a collective push on nutrition.
  • In 2015, the G7 committed to lifting 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
  • The World Bank has increasingly positioned nutrition as central to economic development. In fact, a couple of weeks ago at the Human Capital Summit in Washington, I listened to Jim Kim talk to Finance Ministers from around the world about the importance of investing in nutrition – from ‘investing in infrastructure’ to ‘investing in grey-matter infrastructure’.
  • The African Development Bank – not to be outdone – is also tearing up the field, creating groups of champions like the African Leaders for Nutrition and committing to make nutrition a core priority – this has never happened before!
  • And very recently – the UN declared the Decade of Action on Nutrition. Even Jamie Oliver wants to start a Food Revolution!  It’s breathtaking!

So the issue of women and girls’ nutrition is now at a crossroad of two intersecting waves of global awareness. And we have to seize this unique crossover moment because focusing on women and girls is the key to faster progress toward ending malnutrition – and better nutrition is essential for the health, rights, and empowerment of more than 1 billion women and girls who suffer from malnutrition. Boys and men are a critical part of this too.

Your work has always mattered. But now, it matters more than ever. This is because the current context provides a unique opportunity to transform your knowledge into actionable interventions, policies, and programs that will actually make a difference in the lives of those who need it the most.

To drive this transformation, we have to build a stronger bridge between the technical and the political.

Now is our chance to build that bridge. The world is listening. Many countries are willing and eager to scale up nutrition  ̶  they are the leaders. We can support that drive by helping them determine not only what they can do to improve nutrition for women and girls, but, most importantly, how to do it ― and how to finance it effectively.

Let me conclude with some thoughts on how to harness the opportunity we have in front of us:

  • We have to be ambitious. This starts with recognizing the urgency of the moment and daring to push our limits, to aim higher and dream bigger
  • And we have to work together. A few weeks ago, Tony Lake, the head of UNICEF, said something that resonated with me. “The only way we can achieve our goals,” he said, “is to work in partnerships, and leave our egos and logos at the door.” This means combining forces and capabilities so we’re helping each other get better solutions to those who need them ― in a faster way than we could have separately. If our partnerships truly have value, and if we can get them right, we will shrink the time it takes to connect evidence, policy and scale.

Over the next few days, I encourage you to:

  • “Get out of your lane”, go talk with people you don’t know, and think about how you can partner with others in new, interesting and relevant ways.
  • Be an advocate during this conference and beyond. Here’s one way you can do this: Join the call to action to prioritize WOMEN’S NUTRITION NOW and other campaigns that try to increase the volume on this issue.

Separately, we are a single voice. But together, we are a technical and a political force. The people we serve are counting on us.  Have a great conference – learn from one another – and by the end, go and be even more extraordinary and fearless than you were when you came here.

Thank you.

Learn more about MI at the 2016 Micronutrient Forum Global Conference.