April 20, 2021

SFS Alumnus Leads World Food Programme Field Work Cited in Nobel Peace Prize Win

Since joining the World Food Programme (WFP) in 1989, School of Foreign Service alumnus Stephen Anderson (SFS‘86) has worked tirelessly to ensure that all people have access to food and nutrition. His most recent efforts in Yemen and Myanmar are part of the humanitarian work that resulted in WFP receiving the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Stephen Anderson meets with WFP aid recipients in Yemen. © WFP/Fares Khoailed
Stephen Anderson meets with WFP aid recipients in Yemen. © WFP/Fares Khoailed

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in hunger around the world. In countries such as Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso, the combination of violent conflict and the pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation. 

In October 2020, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded WFP the Nobel Peace Prize, highlighting the organization’s efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict. 

Anderson believes WFP’s commitment to generating and sustaining peace by meeting people’s basic needs is the reason that the organization was recognized for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

“In places where people are locked in conflict and trust is eroded, it's very, very difficult to actually work in that environment,” says Anderson. 

I believe the Nobel committee recognized that food can make a difference between peace and conflict.

Career in Ending Hunger

Anderson is currently serving as World Food Programme country director in Myanmar, where WFP provides food support to about 1.1 million people in conflict-affected areas, mainly Rohingya. That work is part of a major humanitarian effort currently being organized following the military takeover in early February 2021 and the political and economic crisis which ensued.

After graduating from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in 1986, Anderson secured a position at the United Nations (UN) as a professional translator of Arabic to English. Contemplating his next career move, Anderson became a UN Volunteer with the World Food Programme in Sudan as a part of Operation Lifeline Sudan. 

Anderson’s WFP career has since brought him to countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, the Philippines, South Africa, Japan, Nepal, and Yemen. 

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security and is funded 100 percent by voluntary donations. In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger. Much of the increased need WFP saw that year was caused by war and armed conflict.

Anderson visits an elementary school classroom in Shan State, Myanmar.
Anderson visits an elementary school classroom in Shan State, Myanmar.

From the Hilltop to the United Nations

After a childhood spent in Kenya, Uganda, and southern Sudan, Anderson found Georgetown’s academic rigor and global outlook compelling.

“What I really liked about Georgetown is that it’s a world-class university for studying international relations,” says Anderson. “I knew that the Jesuits were some of the best educators in the world, and I knew it was an academically and culturally stimulating environment.” 

Anderson’s personal relationships with peers and faculty at Georgetown were also vital to his success post-graduation at the World Food Programme. He fondly recalls his first time trying authentic Japanese cuisine, organized by fellow Hoya Kono Taro (SFS‘86)—who later became Japan’s foreign minister and currently serves as administrative reform minister under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Intensive Arabic classes and study abroad opportunities helped build both his language skills and cultural sensitivity.

At Georgetown I was learning how to think through ethical dilemmas and really expanding my cultural and sociopolitical awareness, and those were critical for my future work.