On October 28, 2019, Action Against Hunger hosted its 20th Annual Gala at 583 Park Avenue in New York City. Founded in Paris in 1979, the organization celebrated 40 years of leadership and progress in the global fight against hunger. The evening recognized milestones of the past, but also challenged guests to band together for a better future, where no child dies of hunger.
“Let us imagine the world 40 years from now, when we have ended deadly hunger for good,” said Action Against Hunger CEO, Dr. Charles Owubah, in his speech. “That is the first step in harnessing the full potential of humanity, since opportunity begins where hunger ends.”
More than 300 people attended in support of our lifesaving work to prevent and treat deadly malnutrition and rallied to Band Together Against Hunger, our new awareness-raising campaign launched on World Food Day earlier this month. The evening’s program included a keynote speech delivered by Zain Asher, anchor for the weekend edition of CNN Newsroom, as well as remarks from Action Against Hunger’s Board Co-Chairman, Raymond Debbane, and Head of the Horn and Eastern Africa Regional Office, Carolyne Saidi.
Burton K. Haimes, one of the original founders of Action Against Hunger’s branch in the United States, was honored with the Inaugural Legacy Award. The 2019 Corporate Honoree was awarded to our longtime strategic partner, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and accepted by CEO Rich Lesser.
Keynote Speaker: Zain Asher, CNN
“There is absolutely no reason why, in 2019, people should still be dying of malnutrition,” opened CNN Anchor Zain Asher in her keynote address. She went on to tell the audience of her own family’s personal history with hunger. Her mother grew up during the Biafran War in Nigeria in the 1960s: she survived the conflict-driven famine, but Asher’s uncle died of hunger and related health issues just hours before their father returned home with food and medicine.
Asher spoke of the powerful role that the media “must” play in raising awareness and driving action to help save lives.
“The problem isn’t that we don’t know that this is happening. The problem is that we do know, but we’re not doing enough. How can we do more?”
“People cannot be moved to act if they have no idea what’s going on, and at CNN, we have a moral responsibility to make sure they do know," said Asher. "That is why we continue to highlight the plight of the world’s poorest.”
Spotlighting CNN’s coverage of the war in Yemen, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and drought in Somalia, Asher pointed out that, “All of these crises are unique in their cause, but they each have one thing in common: the longer we wait, the more people will die.”
“Like my uncle, there are thousands of children who are just hours away from losing their fight against hunger,” concluded Asher. “We can, everybody in this room, help them win that fight by working together and acting now.”
Corporate Honoree: Boston Consulting Group
For 15 years, Boston Consulting Group has offered its advice and services to Action Against Hunger, helping to scale our impact around the world. Co-Chairman of the Board and a BCG alumnus himself, Raymond Debbane presented this year’s Corporate Award to CEO Rich Lesser.
"Through efficiently identifying where the vulnerable populations are, Action Against Hunger effectively enables their partners and programs to reach those populations – whether it requires a plane, train, boat or, sometimes even a hike to access the community in need,” said Lesser as he accepted the award on behalf of BCG’s 20,000 staff around the world.
"It’s essential that all of us – private, public, and social sectors – band together to tackle this enormous challenge. Future generations depend on it," he said.
Featured Guests: Longtime Humanitarian Leaders Honored
We were thrilled to honor two program staff members at this year’s Gala: Hannah Kassaye, our Government Liaison Officer based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who has been with Action Against Hunger for 30 years, and Carolyne Saidi, the Head of our Horn and Eastern Africa Regional Office, who has worked with the organization in Kenya and South Sudan for nearly two decades.
In her remarks, Saidi shared memories from her 18 years with Action Against Hunger: recalling the first time she visited a treatment center and saw the devastating toll malnutrition takes on a young child and telling the story of a harrowing experience when one of our bases in South Sudan was under attack.
“My commitment to fighting hunger is deep in my bones,” she said. “I’m asking you to band together and stand in solidarity with humanitarians like us who are willing to risk our own lives to save the lives of children, helping them grow up healthy and strong.”
Inaugural Legacy Award: Burton K. Haimes
On behalf of Action Against Hunger, one of the organization’s original founders, Guy Sorman, presented the Inaugural Legacy Award to Burt Haimes, who served as the first Chairman of the Board for 12 years. Each shared stories of the early days of Action Against Hunger in France and in the United States and reflected on the organization’s ongoing impact around the world.
"Why Action Against Hunger? It's technically competent: we do things really well,” said Haimes in his remarks. “More importantly for us, we make a difference in the lives of the people we serve. We serve and we save lives. It's an organization with feeling and caring about humanity and wanting to improve it, everywhere we are."
Throughout the evening, a common theme emerged: the power of people coming together to take action and change the world. Inspired and generous, guests and friends of the organization raised more than $1.6 million to support Action Against Hunger’s lifesaving work.