Ellen Gustafson

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Founder/Executive Director
30 Project

Describe the impact on foreign policy you have made in your current/past jobs.
My organization, the 30 Project, is changing the conversation about the global issues of obesity, hunger, and agriculture as one broken food system. Previously, through co-founding my first social enterprise, FEED Projects, I was able to provide over 60 million school meals to hungry children around the world.

What personal contribution to foreign policy are you most proud of?
Since my TEDx East talk in May 2010, I have observed a meaningful shift in the dialogue about the connection between obesity and hunger, and have heard from hundreds of people that their understanding of global food issues has changed due to my ideas.

What is your vision of foreign policy in the 21st Century?
We need to shift to a more holistic view of foreign policy issues and how they are interrelated. For example, as we look long-term at our reliance on foreign oil and the impact it has on Middle East politics, we should also consider how we invest in agricultural development so that more countries don’t become addicted to petrochemical-based agricultural inputs. We live in a global, interconnected world and we need interconnected solutions to our challenges.

What is the greatest foreign policy issue facing our generation?
I believe the greatest foreign policy challenge our generation faces is disparity. In today’s information age, more people are aware of the disparities of wealth, power, and access, and are therefore restive and looking to overcome disparities with their own hands.

What challenges need to be overcome to create better foreign policy?
To create better foreign policy, we need to elevate humankind and the long-term sustainability of our environment in our decision-making processes. Geopolitics will continue to play a role in global issues and we cannot ignore basic human needs as we address challenges.

What personal, managerial, and leadership skills and traits must the next generation of foreign policy leaders possess?
The next generation of foreign policy leaders should have a range of exposure in the fields of business, humanitarian organizations, and politics and should be able to talk to each stakeholder group fluently. Leadership and personal experience in a global setting and passion for improving the world are also essential.

How can foreign affairs be made more accessible to Americans, particularly younger generations?
Younger Americans should be encouraged to read the newspaper and learn basic geography, which are often overlooked in our current education system. Since many young people get their news and information from TV and the internet, youth-focused programming should include information about the wider world and how to be a good global citizen.

Which living or dead foreign policy practitioner do you look up to the most?
I have great respect for George Marshall, the creator of the Marshall Plan and a military leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize. His focus on post-war efforts to ensure peace and stability showed a deep understanding of the power of meeting basic human needs for food and jobs.

Which living or dead foreign policy practitioner do you think has missed the mark and why?
Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, though his policies were theoretically focused on U.S. farmers, actually had negative outcomes both at home and abroad. The implications of his “get big or get out” mantra had a far reach, as consolidated commodity agriculture was likely a seed of both global obesity and hunger.

If you could change a critical decision in history to affect foreign policy, what would it be?
I would not have shifted agricultural aid to food aid, as happened during the 1980s and 90s. Only recently are we reinvesting in helping hungry people grow food for themselves, which is a more sustainable path to ending hunger.