By Hannah Payne
If you ask Edna Ogwangi’s colleagues at international nonprofit Rise Against Hunger to describe her, you’ll hear words like “inspiring,” “passionate,” “humble” and “kind.” These qualities — as well as extensive experience in international development and a personal history tying her to the organization’s mission of ending global hunger — make her a strong leader as Rise Against Hunger’s Chief Programs Officer.
Edna Ogwangi was born and raised in Kenya where, as she explained, each year had two benchmarks — short rains in October and November, and a deluge of rain from March through May. These rains were predictable and harvest seasons were planned around them. But in 1982, something changed. There was no rain. This caused many children and families to face poverty and food insecurity. Edna was a child at the time, receiving a nutritious, hot meal at school. The school feeding program had a positive impact on her life at an important time and led to a dedicated passion for ending world hunger. She became motivated to “pay it forward” and support other children when she grew up.Her work in international development began with an internship in 1998 at Land O’ Lakes, Inc. in Minnesota. During her internship, she wrote a concept note to USAID on how to revitalize the East Africa dairy sector, specifically focusing on Kenya and Uganda. USAID awarded her proposal. In her following career, Edna has worked tirelessly in economic development, food and nutrition security and non-profit management.
Edna joined Rise Against Hunger in 2015. As Chief Programs Officer, she leads Rise Against Hunger’s impact programming and drives the organization’s work to advance food security, humanitarian relief and resilience in communities across the globe. Rise Against Hunger serves people affected by hunger, providing both immediate nourishment and implementing long-term sustainable solutions that will lift entire communities for years to come. The organization’s strategic approach of Nourishing Lives, Empowering Communities and Responding to Emergencies — collectively called the Pathways to End Hunger — was originally introduced and spearheaded by Edna, and has strengthened Rise Against Hunger’s impact in the years since she joined.Edna says, “Everybody needs food. And food is a basic human right.” And for the children Rise Against Hunger serves, a nutritious meal can have a monumental impact in their lives. Rise Against Hunger’s work in Madagascar highlights this. Through the organization’s work with its implementing partner ADRA International, 27,200 children in the country have access to nutritious meals at school. School feeding programs, like those supported by Rise Against Hunger meals, can not only alleviate hunger, but can also improve school enrollment, attendance and academic performance, as well as bolster gender equity by supporting girls’ access to education. The children Rise Against Hunger serves are at the forefront of all Edna does, with her often saying, “I do it for the kids.” She explained how her own childhood influenced this passion and reinforces why supporting children affected by food insecurity is crucial: “Based on my lived experience as a young girl who was a beneficiary of a school feeding program, I strongly believe that an educated girl has the opportunity to dream big and to realize the dreams she once thought would be impossible to achieve. Education propels girls into a brighter future, creating an empowered woman capable of changing her own life, her community and the world. This is why our school feeding initiatives are critical in schools where access to nutritious, hot meals are limited.”
Edna’s upbringing in Kenya has also made her passionate about Rise Against Hunger’s locally-led approach that ensures the voices of the people served, including women, are heard. Edna said, “When voices of individuals who know the problem, understand the context and have lived experiences in the community we are trying to support are left out or not given an opportunity to speak up — that’s a problem.” In her role, Edna works intentionally to mitigate bias and support gender equality in the organization’s programs.For example, Rise Against Hunger’s Harvesting Prosperity and Resilience project engages both Malawian men and women in shared responsibilities in food production. This promotes gender equality in these communities to then positively influence food security. One of the participants in the project is a 32-year-old women farmer named Hariet. Hariet’s family rarely had access to three meals a day growing up and she experienced malnutrition firsthand. After participating in the project’s nutrition and food production training, Hariet’s knowledge has made her a resource for others. She serves as a leader and promoter of a care group, supporting women and parents in learning best practices for healthy eating across a person’s lifespan. Through her role, Hariet’s voice is being heard as she takes care of her community’s nutrition and helps to lift up other women.
Edna often quotes this African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It perfectly summarizes Rise Against Hunger’s approach, which Edna has invaluably strengthened as Chief Programs Officer, to alleviating hunger and empowering people — that everyone can play a role in addressing food insecurity.
To learn more about Edna Ogwangi and Rise Against Hunger’s mission, visit riseagainsthunger.org.