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Duke Receives $5.9 Million to Launch Global Food Policy Center

July 10, 2017

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke University will use $5.9 million in grants to bolster efforts to improve global food policy and inform issues such as malnutrition and food safety.

The university launched the World Food Policy Center (WFPC) at the Sanford School of Public Policy with $5 million from The Duke Endowment, $600,000 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust and $300,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC Foundation). The center’s research, educational programming, conferences and policymaker outreach will focus on collaborative problem- solving, an approach that is critical -- and rare -- in the food policy arena.

“We are grateful to The Duke Endowment, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust for sharing our vision for cross-cutting improvements to food systems, which can produce profound benefits to human and environmental health,” said Kelly Brownell, dean of the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy and WFPC’s director.

Brownell said numerous food policy research and advocacy groups exist, but there is very little coordination across four key areas: 
-- Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity;
-- Obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes;
-- Agriculture and the environment, including biodiversity, GMOs, climate change and water;
-- Food safety and food defense, which addresses concerns such as contamination and foodborne bioterrorism. 

“Our intention is to facilitate connections between researchers and change agents,” Brownell said. “It is a two-way street: the needs of policymakers can guide research, and scientific findings can help policymakers make informed decisions.” 

Sanford brought together food policy leaders from around the world last year as part of a planning process funded by a $350,000 grant from The Duke Endowment and $150,000 from BCBSNC Foundation. Many of the participants, including experts from the World Health Organization, the Council on Foreign Relations, the White House and the World Bank, had not met each other or worked together prior to the meeting, underscoring the need for the WFPC.

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  • Panel on future of food policy

    Public-Private Partnerships Needed

    In April 2016, more than 35 world food policy leaders gathered at the Sanford School of Public Policy to lay the groundwork for the new World Food Policy Center. Participants included experts from the World Bank, Council on Foreign Relations, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.N. World Food Programme, World Health Organization, PepsiCo, Sustainable Food Systems Funders, Cargill, Codex Alimentarius Commission, CGIAR, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. 
    Pictured left-right: Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Juergen Voegele, senior director of the World Bank's Agriculture Global Practice, Betsy Holden, senior advisor at McKinsey & Co., and former CEO of Kraft Foods, Sanford School Dean Kelly Brownell.

As a result, Brownell said, the main goals of the WFPC will be to convene experts and bring together research findings across the four categories. Together, the group will develop best practices to correct fragmented and counterproductive approaches to food policy.

The WFPC is working on creating a global network of people interested in food policy and connecting them through a digital “world food policy idea bank” that would allow participants to post questions, share ideas and make new contacts.
Sarah Zoubek, the WFPC’s associate director, said the center is also studying sustainable seafood policies, and early childhood development and nutrition. Additionally, she said, the WFPC will launch a local food policy initiative in the community surrounding Duke to support ongoing efforts to make Durham into a model food systems city. The center will look at Durham policies related to healthy food access, hunger and food waste. 

“The new center will serve as an intellectual and information-sharing bridge between sectors of the food policy spectrum that don’t typically collaborate,” said Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, chair of The Duke Endowment’s Committee on Educational Institutions. “It will bring new opportunities for learning and collaboration, with the potential for substantial improvement in how the world grows, consumes and safeguards its food supplies.” 

The grants contributed to the success of Duke Forward, the seven-year, $3.25 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign that ended June 30. Every dollar donated to Duke’s 10 schools and units, Duke Health, or university programs and initiatives counted toward the campaign’s goal.

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.4 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.

The Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust was established in 1966 by a bequest from the estate of chemist and industrialist William R. Kenan, Jr.

Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy is a top-10-ranked school, recognized for its rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs and scholarship. Its faculty pursue policy-relevant work in a broad range of subjects including foreign policy, international development, education policy, health policy, media and philanthropy. Learn more at


At the planning meeting for the World Food Policy Center, Kelly Brownell recorded interviews with several participants. Listen to the entire series here.