Media school launches hunger project, offers travel grants

Correction appended

The School of Media and Public Affairs will offer grants for at least two students to travel across Africa this summer as part of a project targeting worldwide hunger.

The trip is part of a larger initiative by Planet Forward, a sustainability-focused media project run by SMPA. Its latest endeavor, called Feeding the Planet, will bring top political and business leaders together to highlight innovations in food production, said Frank Sesno, director of SMPA and creator of Planet Forward.

Students will be accompanied by a professional backpack producer on a trip that will likely last about two weeks, before returning to D.C. to produce the videos. The trip is currently funded by foundations, individuals and other companies, though Sesno said he is seeking more funding and hopes to add another production team.

The videos will be showcased as part of a Planet Forward event this November, which will also feature a major keynote speaker and videos from Sesno’s multimedia reporting class this fall.

It will be one of four events this summer and fall bringing together top decisionmakers to collaborate across disciplines on issues such as food and technology, public-private partnerships and the changing nature of farms, tastes and nutrition, Sesno said.

“The idea is to bring together innovators and decisionmakers so that we can celebrate the innovators, the innovations themselves and replicate best practices,” Sesno said.

University President Steven Knapp hosted the first event April 3 that connected faculty, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the director of the World Food Program USA at his F Street home.

The Africa trip, which will be fully financed for those accepted, is the second fellowship offered by SMPA this year for undergraduates. The school offers the SMPA-Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fellowship to one student to investigate an underreported news story abroad every year. The Manheim-Sterling award, named for two SMPA professors who retired last year, was also awarded to two students this year.

“We’re not fielding correspondents to do a stand-up in front of somebody who’s working in the field,” Sesno said. “We want to hear from the people telling their stories. And that’s, to me, one of the exciting and empowering things about this sort of ‘smart food revolution.’ Everyone can tell their own story.”

He said that the ideas brought forward could help global hunger, an issue GW has focused more on lately.

The initiative comes after the University dished out over $200,000 on research proposals related to food and nutrition and lured famous chef José Andrés to teach an undergraduate class on food this semester.

The initiative also tries to take root as more people nationwide focus on food issues.

“Right now, one of the things we do and do very well is we export food. We can do more of that,” Sesno said. “How do we navigate the debate over GMOs and labeling and all these other things? Our focus is not going to be to wallow in the debate over those things, but to really try to highlight those new things that are happening.”

This article was updated April 18, 2013 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly called Planet Forward’s initiative Feed the Planet. It is called Feeding the Planet. The Hatchet also incorrectly identified the World Food Program USA as the U.S. World Food Program. We regret these errors.

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