Catherine Bertini

Executive Director, United Nations World Food Programme

Catherine Bertini, the first woman to serve as executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, began her five-year term as executive director of the WFP in April 1992. At the request of the Secretary-General, Bertini serves as a member of the Panel of High-level Personalities on African Development. She also chairs the joint UN Consultative Group on Policy for 1994-95.

As the UN’s food aid agency, the World Food Programme’s mission is to use food aid to help people become self-reliant and to provide life-sustaining food to those in emergency situations. It is the largest supplier of multilateral food aid in the world, the largest source of grant assistance for developing countries in the United Nations System and the world’s largest distributor of emergency food assistance. In 1993, WFP served more than 47 million people in more than 90 countries, spending more than $1.6 billion donated by member countries.

Prior to joining the UN system, Bertini served in the United States government as assistant secretary of agriculture for Food and Consumer Services. There she managed the 13 U.S. food assistance programs, including the Food Stamp Program (serving 25 million children each day in 90,000 schools) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program (providing food and nutrition education to poor pregnant mothers and infants). She also initiated and chaired a national Breastfeeding Promotion Consortium designed to increase the percentage of mothers who breastfeed their infants.

As acting assistant secretary of the Family Support Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bertini implemented welfare reform regulations designed to provide training and education to long-term welfare mothers to help them become self-sufficient. She also worked to strengthen the laws mandating that absent fathers financially support their children.

Bertini is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Association of WIC Directors Leadership Award; Excellence in Public Service Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics; Leadership in Human Services Award from the American Public Welfare Association; and Distinguished Alumnae Award from the State University of New York at Albany.

Catherine Bertini served as executive director of WFP until 2002 and is now on the faculty of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She serves as a member of the Board of International Food and Agricultural Development, a board member of the Stuart Family Foundation, a juror of the Hilton Foundation Humanitarian Prize, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Tupperware Brands Corporation. Additionally, she is senior fellow at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs where she co-chairs the Global Agricultural Development Initiative. Bertini was the recipient of the 2003 World Food Prize and the 2011 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.