This article was originally featured on the Baptist News Global website and can be found here.
Inspired by faith, entrepreneur Richard Lackey has turned his expertise in hedge fund management and emergency response into a passion for combating food insecurity and malnutrition across the planet.
But rather than seeking donations to feed the hungry, Lackey founded the World Food Bank with a team of supply chain, investment and agricultural engineering experts dedicated to boosting the efficiency and production of subsistence farmers in developing nations through education and expanded markets.
The organization is not daunted by the current estimate of close to 830 million malnourished people in the world, he said. “We can eliminate hunger globally by helping smallholder farmers produce more food and, in the process, help the world’s poorest farmers escape cycles of deep poverty to become middle-income producers.”
That vision derives from a combination of investment, market know-how and a belief that personal talent can be used for a higher good, he said.
Lackey’s service as a paramedic after college gave way to work in disaster relief management and managing hedge funds. He also has consulted for start-up firms and written books on investment management and technical analysis of financial markets.
Along the way, Lackey said, he developed an interest in the problem of hunger, including the challenge of delivering healthy food to areas affected by natural disaster. He credited that in part to being raised in Georgia and at First Baptist Church in Atlanta where Charles Stanley was his pastor.
“Growing up in the South, there was this idea that we can get through anything if we can gather around the table as a family,” he said.
“We buy dried foods and seal them in Mylar bags that keep for 15 to 20 years and store huge volumes of them outside disaster-prone areas.”
That attitude translated into a project with friends in the tech industry to develop a more efficient system for quickly delivering food to victims of natural disaster. “We buy dried foods and seal them in Mylar bags that keep for 15 to 20 years and store huge volumes of them outside disaster-prone areas.”
The approach pays for itself, he added. “FEMA pays for the product, and we use that money to make more.”
The scope was expanded to parts of African and Middle Eastern countries where Lackey worked with the U.N.’s World Food Program to modernize food storage and delivery. That work, in turn, fostered a sense a calling to use his global business relationships and knowledge of markets to fight the systemic causes of hunger full time.
“It was one of those times when you know God is speaking to you,” he explained.
But the World Food Bank he subsequently founded in 2015 isn’t the typical nonprofit, non-governmental organization that raises money to feed the hungry around the world. Instead, it functions like an investment bank that trades in extended shelf-life food as its core commodity.
“We want to buy and store excess commodities to help stabilize prices and create a more stable agricultural environment” in developing nations, he said.
Lackey’s organization also capitalizes on his experience in the equity, futures and options markets to connect global food exchanges to farming operations in regions consistently plagued by hunger. “The food exists. It’s just not where it’s needed,” he noted.
“The food exists. It’s just not where it’s needed.”
And where it does exist, its quality is usually poor due to the unhealthy soil and seeds available to local producers, he said. World Food Bank partners with providers of high-quality seeds and other products to prevent pests, weeds and other traditional blocks to sustainable crops.
The organization seeks to implement further sustainable solutions to hunger by brokering global partnerships between small-scale farmers, governments, food processors and all aspects of supply chain operations to stabilize under-served and under-producing markets.
Educating small-scale farmers about better growing and harvesting techniques has been another World Food Bank approach. Lackey said those operations are typically unwilling to take risks because of a lack of resiliency: “It’s one of the reasons why food quantity and quality are much lower with smallholder farms.”
To counter that trend, the organization facilitates hands-on agricultural education for farmers and offers training for local government extension workers and agronomists.
And the organization has ventured into television and radio broadcasts to promote improved agricultural methods.
“We bought a media company in Kenya to offer farm makeover shows where experts come in to demonstrate practices that can transform their operations,” Lackey said. “Viewership has grown from 8 million to 12 million since we bought the media company, and we are looking to expand across Africa.”
Lackey and his team also are looking to expand the financing available to small-scale farmers in developing nations by partnering with microfinance groups to provide affordable loans to farmers as their operations become more profitable.
There are already signs the comprehensive, farm-focused approach to addressing global hunger is working, he added. “We are now at the point where we have taken 1.6 million from poverty to middle income, and within seven years we want to help 100 million people out of poverty into middle income.”
To do that, the World Food Bank is looking to increase its partnerships with people of faith in finance, tech and media, Lackey said.
“We are using this as a platform for building relationships and ultimately to share Jesus. We need more people from a faith perspective who understand the place of media and the place Africa is going to come into this work with us.”