A results-driven approach to international development

May 24, 2011 By Chris Policinski President and CEO Land OLakes Inc.

Originally Posted in The Hill

Today, we live and do business in an interconnected world. All of our futures are tied to the health of the global economy – and we’re only as strong as our weakest link.

This is one reason why Land O’Lakes has been deeply involved in international development efforts for the past 30 years. Through our International Development Division, we’ve invested in and nurtured small farmers all over the world – supporting hundreds of development projects in more than 75 developing nations and positively impacting the lives of 20 million people.

At first glance, it may seem strange for a farmer-owned cooperative to be so deeply involved in international development. The reason we’ve invested our time, expertise and resources is that we recognize the critical link between food security and economic prosperity and political stability. Ultimately, investing in development isn’t just “doing good,” it’s an economic and social imperative.

This important topic is the focus this week of the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The event will explore solutions for alleviating hunger, promoting economic development and encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship around the globe. Through public-private partnerships between companies and programs funded by the U.S. International Affairs Budget, America is working to bring food security to the world – sometimes one farmer at a time.

This symposium provides an important opportunity to look back at what has worked. Experience has taught us that focusing on results-driven development leads to commercially viable, economically sustainable food and agriculture systems is the best, most realistic path toward global food security. And global food security promotes economic prosperity and political stability.

At a time of budget constraints — when we have to make every dollar go further – we must ensure that we only fund development programs that work. After 30 years of experience, Land O’Lakes has learned some key lessons. Here are the top three:

1. Utilize partnerships. Public-private partnerships between companies, the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations, local investors and farmers can be a significant multiplier to produce strong results at a reasonable cost.

2. Scale matters, but bigger isn’t always better. Good projects come in all shapes and sizes. Often projects need to be of a large enough size and scope to make a meaningful impact. But relatively simple projects can also make important contributions, and allow us to test new concepts to see what will work on a larger scale.

3. Proof of performance is essential. In business and in international development, results matter. Delivering objective, measurable data that demonstrates the economic viability and sustainable impact of international development projects is vital to securing continued support for these efforts – whether that support comes from government agencies, non-government organizations or private business.

One additional lesson is that food security often begins with individual farmers. That’s why I’m so supportive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s new project to support small farmers in the developing world. These family farmers often need only a small investment to become more self-sufficient and play a critical role in alleviating hunger and poverty.  Mr. Gates has said: “I believe that investing in the world’s poorest people is the smartest way our government spends money” – and I agree.

As we work to develop solutions to the challenge of global food security, it’s essential that we focus on results-driven development in both the public and private sectors. Let’s draw on the lessons of the past to determine what works, and make sure American taxpayers continue to see a strong return on their international affairs investment.

Chris Policinski is president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc., a national, farmer-owned food and agricultural cooperative. Policinski also is chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Business Advisory Council.