On January 5, 2018 the Feeding America (FA) Board of Directors announced that its CEO Diana Aviv had resigned immediately for personal reasons. Ms. Aviv had been at Feeding America for two years. Previously, she had run the Independent Sector, a coalition of grantmakers and grantseekers. She was Feeding America’s third leader in the past ten years.
Ms. Aviv accomplished many positive changes at Feeding America during her short stint there, including:
- Championing the need to address systemic issues related to poverty in order to end hunger
- Enhancing the organization’s focus on health promotion through creating regional produce cooperatives.
- Taking stances on policies and issues of the day, such as the Affordable Care Act repeal, tax reform, and Charlottesville protests, that they might not have taken prior to her arrival.
According to various food bankers, Ms. Aviv’s departure is not a repudiation of this new direction. While the next CEO will certainly guide the organization’s direction, strong external forces, such as funders, are pushing Feeding America toward a greater focus on health and innovation.
As someone who has spent some time following Feeding America’s evolution (chronicled in Chapter 2 of Big Hunger), I encourage the organization’s Board of Directors to hire a leader who will take advantage of the following opportunities:
- To change FA’s metrics and incentives away from promoting food charity toward activities that “shorten the line” and address the underlying causes of poverty.
- To build its capacity to mobilize and take direction from a significant percentage of its constituents for meaningful policy advocacy to reduce hunger.
- To fully address racial equity within the emergency food system in terms of leadership, and power dynamics between food banks, pantries and “clients.”
- To stop threats to the nation’s entitlement programs, especially SNAP, in the next Farm Bill and beyond.
- To reduce its conflict of interest from partnering with those corporations whose interests are antithetical to the organization’s mission (43% of its funding in 2016 came from corporate donations and promotions).
- To better recognize and support the community building, economic development and food systems activities of food banks on a par with their food distribution activities.
- To build on its current health focus by not only flooding the system with produce but also rejecting junk food from all manufacturers and retailers.
- To modernize the structure of the organization in order to build its capacity to take direction from the grassroots while broadening its appeal to the next generation of leaders.
- To embrace and lead an internal and public dialogue about the future of the emergency food system.
Feeding America’s next leader will have their work cut out for them. They will face a network of 200 food banks with extreme diversity in size, capacity, politics and strategic direction. As a membership organization, Feeding America is highly constrained in its ability to get out front of its members and provide leadership. It has some but not a lot of tools by which to incentivize food banks to follow its lead to create a much more effective anti-hunger movement.
Any new leader will need the Board’s leadership in restructuring the organization to make it more effective, sustainable, and appealing to a new generation of donors and activists. Otherwise, the organization will go the way of the United Way-- a distributor of corporate largesse and waste, at best irrelevant, at worst an impediment to the right to food in the US.