Institute of Politics

Catherine Bertini

Former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, Nominated by Presidents Bush & Clinton

  • Fall 2021 Pritzker Fellow

  • Seminar Series: "The Politics of Hunger"


An accomplished leader in international organization reform and a powerful advocate for women and girls, Catherine Bertini has a distinguished career improving the efficiency and operations of organizations serving poor and hungry people globally and in the United States. She was appointed to senior positions by three UN secretaries general and five US presidents.

Bertini’s career includes twenty-five years in the private sector; thirteen years as a university professor and in the United Nations, twenty years advising major foundations and think tanks, plus service in local, state and national governments.

In 2003, she was named the World Food Prize Laureate for her transformational leadership at the World Food Programme (WFP), which she led for ten years,and for the positive impact she had on the lives of women. She dedicated the prize money to creating the Catherine Bertini Trust Fund for Girls Education, housed at WFP/USA. As a United Nations Under Secretary General, she initiated efforts to reform the global system for security of staff and for the recognition of all staff marriages. She led UN humanitarian missions to the Horn of Africa and to Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.

Earlier, while in the US government, she expanded the electronic benefit transfer options for food stamp beneficiaries, created the food package for breastfeeding mothers, presented the first effort to picture healthy diets, and expanded education and training opportunities for poor women. In 2008, she co-chaired a successful effort to impact American policy to support poor farmers in the developing world, now called “Feed the Future.”

She was recruited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help advise its gender programming near the start of its agricultural development initiative. She served on the jury of the Hilton Foundation Humanitarian Prize. Most recently, Bertini was a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation where she published a paper, “Leading Change in United Nations Organizations.”

She taught international relations courses to graduate students at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and had one semester appointments at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Currently, she is a distinguished fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She is a fellow at the Scowcroft Institute at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and is affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Lugar Institute. She is a professor emeritus at Syracuse University. Bertini serves as chair of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and as a board member of the GlobalFood Banking Network. She is a member of the Leadership Council of Compact 2025 of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). She is a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Public Administration, and the International Union of Food Science and Technology and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Bertini has been honored by twelve universities in four countries with honorary degrees and by the Republics of Italy and Ireland.


"The Politics of Hunger"

In 2021, how can anyone really remain hungry or malnourished? COVID-19 illuminated the disparities in both the domestic and international food systems, forcing us to rethink the often-asked question, “Don’t we grow more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet?” In fact, if America maintains the world’s most productive agriculture system, why were food bank lines long and grocery shelves empty? The data suggests a majority of people in our society “care” about the hungry and malnourished. Yet today, American children go to bed hungry. The medical and academic communities now acknowledge a correlation between the increase in noncommunicable disease, diet and poverty. A bipartisan Congressional hunger caucus has long championed the issue of ending hunger. New temporary emergency programs and increases in food assistance represent encouraging actions, but these time-limited programs fail to address the structural challenges of ending hunger in America. Internationally in 2020, COVID-19 exacerbated the protracted hunger problems, increasing the numbers of malnourished children and hungry families to a ten-year high of some 850 million. Former UN World Food Programme Executive Directors, Catherine Bertini, a lifelong Republican, and Ertharin Cousin, a Democratic policy advocate, will lead each seminar through lectures, readings, group debates and discussions. The class will explore the thorny issues and questions which shape the politics of domestic and international hunger.

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