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Southern African Drought Emergencies: Personal Experiences of World Food Programme Alumni

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One of the early suggestions made to the first Steering Committee of the World Food Programme (WFP) Alumni Network was to compile an oral history of WFP.

The idea was that the personal experiences of staff members are not recorded anywhere, except by a few through their writings. The agency has a system for managing knowledge in the organization itself, but there has been no system to capture the valuable experiences of staff members. Therefore, the Steering Committee decided to find a way to capture the personal experiences and reflections of staff that can be shared with others, including former, current and prospective members of WFP.

The Steering Committee explored several options for the oral history project and decided to create a theme-based oral history. The themes could be by decades, by key events, by geographic area or according to other criteria. The discussion at the General Meeting of the Alumni Network in June 2016 led the Steering Committee to focus on one theme that had persisted over decades—droughts in Southern Africa. There are many other themes that deserve future consideration.

After deciding on the theme, the Steering Committee compiled the names of approximately 50 colleagues who had served in Southern Africa and had been engaged in some capacity in a Southern African drought. The Steering Committee wrote to those colleagues, describing the project, and sought their participation. About 35 alumni, including four former Executive Directors and a Deputy Executive Director, agreed to contribute their stories.
The Steering Committee decided to engage an external person to edit and compile the contributions of the alumni, under the guidance of an editorial panel.

The panel consisted of Angela Van Rynbach and Gretchen Bloom in the US, Georgia Shaver in Europe, and Suresh Sharma in Asia. The former Executive Director, Catherine Bertini, helped the Steering Committee identify Joseph Kaifala, who was selected as the editor for the project.

Once the editor was identified, and the editorial panel was in place, the Steering Committee developed a simple template and requested the 35 alumni to respond. Each response was lightly edited, and in some cases, clarifications were sought. Two of the contributors preferred to be interviewed rather than complete the template. The editorial panel also decided to include the chapter “African Emergencies” from Jim Ingram’s book, Bread and Stones: Leadership and the Struggle to Reform the United Nations World Food Programme (2007), because of its relevance.
Here is the result. The stories are organized chronologically by decades. For obvious reasons, there are fewer accounts from the 1960s and 1970s, and more accounts from the 1980s, 1990s and this century. This is not a scholarly research or an official history; neither is it an official account of how effective or I ""! efficient WFP’s operations were during drought emergencies in Southern Africa.

This is rather a collection of the reflections of some WFP alumni on their experiences. The Steering Committee hopes that readers will find it interesting to learn from the experiences of WFP’s alumni. There may be useful tips for current WFP colleagues engaged in operations now or reflections that provide food for thought amongst alumni. This oral history may also offer a constructive perspective for persons considering a career with WFP.

These are the stories of alumni. Therefore, thanks goes to the alumni who contributed to this first oral history project. The Steering Committee would also like to acknowledge the outstanding role of Joseph Kaifala in the production of this volume and to thank the editorial panel for their editorial advice.
Suresh R. Sharma President, WFP Alumni Network Steering Committee