Glass talks ending world hunger and poverty with Heifer International

Making a Change for Good – Glass talks ending world hunger and poverty with Hilary Haddigan of Heifer International

HEIFER International works to end two of the biggest problems our world faces today and has been facing for a long time – hunger and poverty. But instead of bringing supplies such as food and water that are destined to run out again, like some charities do, Heifer operates in 28 countries with the motto: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. In reality, that motto translates into providing families and whole communities with livestock, such as cows or goats, and training to bring them to self-sufficiency. In this way the organisation has helped around 31 million families in its 70 years of existence and that number is still growing.

Story picture Good for Change Hilary Haddigan , Geifer International's Chief of Mission Effectiveness, Photo by Laccy WestHilary Haddigan, Heifer International’s Chief of Mission Effectiveness.
Photograph: Lacey West


Based in Arkansas, USA in Heifer’s headquarters, British-born Hilary Haddigan joined the organisation 17 years ago and now holds the unusual title of the Chief of Mission Effectiveness. She talks to Glass about how Heifer sets about achieving such immense goals as solving issues that have been present since the dawn of humanity, as well as her role and the lessons it has taught her.

How do you achieve your goals at Heifer?
We’re working with smallholder farmers and working with them in community groups. Providing livestock means that we are transferring an asset, and putting assets into their communities that they can use either in food production, such as milk, cheese or eggs, or animals whose hair they can use to make wool, etc.

And increasingly we are focused on enabling the community groups to make linkages to local markets, and even in some cases to global markets, so that we can bring a change on a community level that then becomes a sustainable economy. This is so that once we’ve left, they are still in a position of benefiting from the livestock, the training and the community development that we’ve provided in the intervention.

Story picture picture Good for change Hilary on a field visit in Nepal with a herd of goats provided by Heifer International Photo by Geoff BrugbeeHilary on a field visit in Nepal with a herd of goats provided by Heifer
International. Photograph: Geoff Bugbee

As a Chief of Mission Effectiveness, what are your responsibilities and what do you do?
In a really simple way, a non-profit exists purely because there are people in need and people who want to support ending that need. At Heifer, we have a database of nearly half a million donors who are invested in seeing the end of hunger and poverty in the world. And if one of these groups stops believing in us, then we cease to exist.

So the work of Mission Effectiveness is to really make clear, inside and outside the organisation, what we’re trying to achieve, how we go about achieving that, and what we can measure to ensure we’re achieving it. And then we provide information back to our stakeholders, the community groups and the donors to demonstrate that we’re using funds wisely towards that mission and that we can be accountable for them.

My job, and the job of the Mission Effectiveness group that I manage, is working on putting the management in place to make all that happen. The programme monitoring evaluation work is underneath us but also the organisational strategy. We set up this group about 18 months ago. It’s a component that lived in different parts of the organisation but we brought it together under one banner called Mission Effectiveness and I’ve been building on our methodologies and processes and setting the strategic direction of the group.

The title Chief of Mission Effectiveness is not commonly held. If you Google it, you don’t find many people with that title. So we’ve been exploring what we really mean by this and what will help people understand what we do and help people make full use of the tools and information that we’re developing, so that people can see that the organisation is being effective.

Heifer has been on a strategic journey for the last six years. We’ve been shifting our work to increase our impact and we reached a point where we said, “Now we have to start getting really clear measurements and communicate that”. And that’s why we set up the Mission Effectiveness group. But it’s partly in response to the donors becoming much more savvy in what they are looking for. They want to see impact. They don’t just want a warm fluffy success story. They want to know what difference they’re making in people’s lives. So increasingly, all organisations are having to really step up to answer that question.

Story picture Good for change A Nepalese farmer from the village of Sitapur who has received a goat from Heifer International, Photo by Russell Powell A Nepalese farmer from the village of Sitapur who has received a goat from
Heifer International. Photograph: Russell Powell

What would you say is the biggest lesson that your job has taught you over the years?
I’ve got a few lessons. One is that people everywhere around the world want pretty much the same thing. People want to be happy and healthy. And they want their children to have better lives than they had. And how people think we should get that might vary, but what people actually want is the same no matter where you go.

The other is that donors really want to see change happen and really want to be part of that change, to see that people’s lives are better and that it is long term, not just for the time of the intervention. The kind of commitment that people have to engage and make change happen is enormous. Heifer started including in its model something called “passing on the gift” which means that every family we provide with livestock commits to passing it on. After the livestock is given, they will pass on the offspring to other families in the community. So even the participant communities, who benefit from our work, become donors within the project.

And sometimes owning a cow is a huge asset in these countries and people will pass it on to another family in need. If we asked people to give up half of their annual income to another family in need in our society, I don’t know that they would readily do it. But giving a cow away is the equivalent of that for these families. And they do it willingly, because they benefited and they want others to benefit. And that’s been very humbling to watch.

When you travel to the places Heifer is helping, what is your role there?
I’ll give you the example of Nepal, where we have a large project and which was my most recent visit. When we started developing strategies about six years ago, this project was initiated to test a new way of thinking. Heifer used to work on projects that had around 200 people as part of each programme. This project has 138,000 people as participants.

And the idea behind the work came from the government of Nepal, who said they wanted to limit the import of goats into the country because it was costing them a lot of money. To do that, they needed to build a goat market within the country. So Heifer has worked with local government agencies to build a programme that has reached out to 138,000 families and has provided goats at an accelerated pace. We’re now at the stage of building market structures so that the goats can be stalled and start to drive the local economic market.

Early this year, we had the results of a mid-term evaluation published and I went with a team to meet with the country’s staff and local partners to go through the results of the evaluation. We assessed what we’ve learnt, what has gone well, and what needed improvement, and we worked on an improvement plan on areas that needed strengthening for the second half of the project. So that’s the kind of work I do.

It’s amazing because nearly ten years ago, Heifer’s motto was, “We end hunger one family at a time.” But our more recent strategy is about not working with just one family but working with whole communities.

Feature picture Making change for good A female farmer from the village of Diarrere in Senegal who has received three sheep from Heifer International, Photo by Geoff Bugbee A female farmer from the village of Diarrere in Senegal who has received three sheep
from Heifer International. Photograph: Geoff Bugbee

How exactly do you implement the programmes to work in these communities?
We work with local project partners. What that means is that in any area in the countries where we work there are local non-profits that are perhaps agricultural specialists, trainers or business planners. And we work with them and train them in the methodologies that we use and they work with us as implementing partners.

So in each country that we work in we have staff who reach out and build a network of project partners through whom the project gets implemented. And for each community that we work with, they form a self-help group. The self-help group immediately begins a self-fund where everybody puts in a certain amount of money that they agree to. It might be a very small amount of money like a penny, but over time that fund builds up.

And if we see a group that can work together to make that happen, then we know that the potential is there to have a successful project. And then we move into project development. But building the bond between people and helping people to believe in themselves and to trust each other is really at the foundation of what we do. And to accomplish that requires good training on the part of the project partners.

Are the communities always open to your help and to your solutions?
As part of the methodologies, we establish the vision and the hope the communities have right at the beginning. Hence we’re working to meet their hopes, not imposing our own wishes on them. The change can’t be done by an external agent. It has to happen from within. And the only thing an external agent can do is bring the catalyst.

And that might be training, the addition of livestock, community development work. But if the desire and the hope isn’t there within each individual and within the community as a whole, it’s not going to be successful. The early stage of our work is obtaining that this is what people are really looking for.

Story picture Making good two sisters in Northern TanzaniaMaking good – two sisters in Northern Tanzania,where Heifer addresses gender
equity issues, agri-business development and animal healthcare among others,
doing homework outside their house. Photograph: Olivier Asselin

What would you say are Heifer’s biggest success stories?
That’s a hard one because we have so many. And all those families have some kind of a success story. But I would say the story I just told about Nepal, because of the amount of change that is happening there. We’re really part of changing the local economy and society.

Another success story is a large project in east Africa we’re working on with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re in the second phase of that work, and we’ve been part of building a sustainable dairy value chain in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. We started this community group ten years ago and after they became part of this value chain project we’ve worked to build what we call a “hub” where individual farmers bring their milk for processing and for means of transportation to market areas. The hub structure itself is managed like a co-operative but whole economies have grown around those structures.

If each individual has to bring the milk, that’s very difficult for them. But what happens is local entrepreneurs that have various transportation businesses take people on bikes or little scooters to be able to carry milk and collect it in districts. And those economies are locally driven and therefore they have the potential to make a lasting change. It’s in projects like these that I think our biggest success stories lie.

Is there a story that stuck with you personally?
Probably going back to my very first field visit, there was a man that I was supposed to visit one day who had been given a dairy cow from Heifer. When you visit field offices they often over-plan. They try to fit so much into one day that you can never ever do. And we were reaching the end of the day and my host said, ‘I don’t think we’ll be able to visit this one farmer but I promised to come so let’s just stop by and I’ll run in and give him a message’.

So we pulled up next to his field and this man came running towards us. And he ran up to me and shook my hand. He didn’t mind that we weren’t going to stay, he just wanted to say, “Please tell the people in the United States that Castino John said hello and that we are so grateful for what they’re doing.” And that epitomises what is special to me in my work, which is building connections between people. And it’s that connectedness that I think is the hope for a better world. It’s really very powerful and tangible in the communities that we work with. That was my very first field visit and it just stayed with me. I even remember his name.

story pictureA farmer from the Arkanas DeltaA farmer from the Arkanas Delta taking part in the Heifer Seeds of Change Initiative
which provides technical assistance in sustainable small-scale agri-production and
dam business management. Photograph: Bryan Clifton

Heifer quotes women’s empowerment as one of the key foundational elements to multiply change. Could you explain how this plays into the organisation’s goals and how you achieve the empowerment?
We have a set of what we call cornerstones. They are twelve values that have to be woven into each project for it to be successful. And one of those is gender justice. We work with smallhold farmers in Asia, Africa and South America where we predominantly work with women. Women make up about 50 per cent of smallhold farmers in the world and when you’re working with livestock like dairy, cows or goats, it’s often women and children who look after them.

We’re building in practices that help women understand behavioural changes and practices that are needed to care for livestock and the agricultural development. So we have to make sure that we are building in opportunities for women to fully engage in the training and to have access to the resources – if they’re producing milk, that they can provide some for their families, and if they sell it, that they have control over how to use the income from the trade.

And to do that isn’t just a matter of working with the women but it’s working with the husbands or male counterparts in their families to ensure that there’s a new understanding of the women’s role. If you work with women without including men in building a new mindset, then women don’t have the control and sometimes it can hurt them to be involved.

Some of your projects also target the US. We don’t think of the US as a place of extreme hunger and poverty, so could you go into more detail about the kind of work you do there?
First of all, there is a lot of poverty in the US. We’re based in Arkansas and that is a pretty poor state. We used to work in multiple states but we realised that our efforts were really scattered. So we thought: if we were to put all these resources into one or two locations, what would that look like and what would we be able to do differently? People here in the US really care about helping at home as well as helping internationally, and we wanted to honour that desire in our donor base. We started four years ago to look at working in Arkansas and help to build people into more self-sustaining farmers. We have two farming co-operatives.

One is a livestock co-op and one is providing fruit and vegetables for farmers’ markets and agricultural initiatives. And those co-ops are being developed as businesses that will be self-sustaining beyond the life of this engagement. And as we’re doing that, we’re also learning so that we can replicate this model in other states if there was ever an interest. Right now, these two co-operatives are three and two years old. And we hope that they will be at a break-even point in a couple of years and we will no longer have to support them financially.

There are about 46 farmers between those co-ops and they have already created 27 other full time employment opportunities. So if Heifer hadn’t invested in the co-ops, the co-ops couldn’t have created those jobs. There’s a ripple effect in what we’re doing. And again that’s another example of how the local economy begins to grow because of the injection of the assets and training.

by Sara Hesikova

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From the Glass Archive Issue 28 – Equality.

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