From Public Servant to Diplomat in Rome: David Beasley Talks About the Eternal City and Food Security
With a public service and business career that spans more than four decades, David Beasley now lives in Rome, where he is the Executive Director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).
But he isn’t always in the Eternal City, as he travels to over 30 countries per year promoting peace, meeting donors, and leading conferences and missions. “I've travelled to field offices in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, including visits to the four areas at the brink of famine - northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen,” said David. But, when he’s in Rome, Beasley enjoys all that the city has to offer.“ I enjoy restaurants and sights in the San Saba and Testaccio areas, and I often enjoy running into WFP colleagues outside of work when I am there.”
A lawyer by trade, David, at just the age of 21 was firstly elected to his home state of South Carolina’s House of Representatives. He is the youngest in the state’s history to be elected to the state’s legislative body. And in 1995 he became the state’s governor.
In his post gubernatorial years, Beasley has been working with influential leaders and program managers in over 100 countries on projects to foster peace, reconciliation and economic progress in countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. And, he has worked to strengthen cooperation and communications between stakeholders, businesses, and political and NGO sectors in regions with long-standing political, ethnic and religious tension.
He continues to exercise his diplomatic skills from Rome and in the field, as the WFP is in 80 countries, to ensure food access to internally displaced people. David believes that personal dialogue and relationships are crucial to conflict resolution and providing food to those that need it most. “Developing and encouraging personal relationships is absolutely critical to the task of feeding the most vulnerable. If people can see each others as neighbours, as equals - as I see it, all of us created in the image of God - barriers get broken down and progress is made.”
Eighty percent of WFP’s operational budget is in conflict zones. Wars and conflicts increase food insecurity and make it challenging to get food to hungry people. “The more we can reduce those conflicts, the easier it will be to reduce hunger and build long-lasting economic transformation in areas where hunger exists.”
Seele Magazine: How is personal dialogue and relationships in areas of political, ethnic and religious tension crucial in providing food to those that need it most?
David Beasley: Developing and encouraging personal relationships is absolutely critical to the task of feeding the most vulnerable.
At the World Food Programme, 80 percent of our operational budget is in conflict zones. Wars and other conflicts make getting food to hungry people even more difficult, and those conflicts also create and exacerbate food insecurity. So the more we can reduce those conflicts, the easier it will be to reduce hunger and build long-lasting economic transformation in areas where hunger exists.
SM: When you are there, what's something you enjoy about living in Rome?
DB: Rome is a wonderful city, but, as you can imagine, I've spent more time during my six months as executive director of the World Food Programme away from Rome than living in it.
I've travelled to field offices in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, including visits to the four areas at the brink of famine - northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. I've also spent time in capital cities of major donors, including the U.S., Canada and the U.K., talking to leaders about how financial support from their countries saves lives and protects their economic and national security.
SM: Did you ever hope or imagine that you would transition from civil service to diplomacy?
DB: I've been involved in humanitarian work for the better part of the last two decades, starting in 1999 in Kosovo/Macedonia during the Balkans conflict. Since then, I've brought together leaders from areas all over the globe, sometimes through conferences in places like the Middle East, but other times hosting informal dinners and other gatherings.
My wife, Mary Wood, and I have also hosted many gatherings of people from all over the world at our farm in Society Hill, South Carolina. Public service work, whether it's on a formal or informal basis, is really about developing relationships and looking for ways to find common ground so you can make progress. That's how I approached being Governor and it's what I've tried to do since.
SM: What's the best part about being the Executive Director of the World Food Programme?
DB: Easily, it's the people I get to work with from all walks of life. On the WFP side, there are so many amazing experts in areas like logistics, humanitarian aid and even technology. Throughout the organization, we have people who have dedicated their entire lives to helping people, often at great sacrifice to their personal lives and great risk to their personal safety. It's impossible not to be humbled and impressed by that. I've also enjoyed deepening relationships with leaders in our key donor countries. In this time where there's so much division in our world and in politics, feeding hungry people is a cause that people of all different beliefs and ideologies can unite behind. That's especially gratifying to see.
And most importantly, I've enjoyed meeting some of the people we serve. Their resilience in the face of the most difficult of circumstances is amazing. They smile, they laugh, they tell you their stories, they brag about their children ... and their children still have the passion and joy for learning and playing and having fun. I have been so very fortunate to meet them and get to listen to their stories and, maybe in some way, inspire people to do more to help them.