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Cousin named WFP's next executive director

Ertharin Cousin
Ertharin Cousin
The United Nations today appointed Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies in Rome, as the next executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, and President Barack Obama and a host of Cabinet officials praised the appointment.

Cousin, a former executive at Feeding America and Jewel Foods in Chicago, is expected to assume the position in April when the term of Josette Sheeran, the current executive director, expires.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced the appointment, which is made jointly by the secretary general and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, after consultation with the WFP board. The United States is the biggest donor to the WFP and an American has held the top job for many years.

"I am confident that the United Nations and its members will be well served by Ambassador Cousin’s experience and commitment to the World Food Program’s vision of a world in which every citizen has access to the food they need to survive and to thrive," Obama said in a statement. "I also offer the thanks of the United States government for the service of Josette Sheeran, under whose leadership the World Food Program has become a stronger and ever more critical partner in the fight against world hunger, and for food security.”

The announcement today ends months of behind-the-scenes battles over who would lead WFP for the next five years.

Obama’s statement on Sheeran was remarkable because the administration declined to renominate Sheeran, who had been named to the post by President George W. Bush, in whose administration she served

Sheeran had tried to keep the post, but failed to convince the Obama administration to renominate her, and recently announced she would take a position with the Swiss-based World Economic Forum.

“Leading WFP is a great honor and a critical link to the world’s most vulnerable,” Sheeran said on the organization’s website today. “I offer every support to Ertharin Cousin and wish her the greatest success at this critical time for the world’s most vulnerable nations and people.”

Jim Harvey, president of the WFP executive board, welcomed Cousin to the post.

“We have known and appreciated her as a colleague in Rome and we now look forward to working with her in her new role,” Harvey said, while also thanking Sheeran for her service. “Both Josette and Ertharin are outstanding champions in the fight against world hunger.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that he has worked closely with Cousin “on significant global issues over the past few years,” and said he is “confident WFP will thrive under her leadership.”

“The WFP is an important organization to the United States and a significant partner of USDA in fighting hunger around the world,” Vilsack said. “In fact, WFP is the single largest implementer of USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program and USDA’s Local and Regional Pilot Procurement Program. For instance, in Bangladesh, 350,000 children in more than 1,800 schools are being fed by WFP with help from the McGovern-Dole Program.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who formally nominated Cousin, said Cousin has been “central to designing and implementing our country’s food security policies.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also congratulated Cousin, and noted that since the organization was founded in 1961, “the United States has contributed $23 billion for WFP’s life-saving assistance to billions around the world and remains deeply committed to supporting the organization.”

WFP USA, a group that encourages support for the U.N. World Food Program, had remained neutral in the battle for the post, but WFP USA President and CEO Rick Leach said today that “Cousin brings the vision, commitment and energy required to unite the international community around solutions to global hunger.”