Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Changemakers, and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Juan Elias Chebly, a Sustainable Development Economist & Strategic Partnerships Officer currently serving in the Strategic Partnerships Division at the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme. Let’s learn what’s happening at the UN World Food Programme and how Juan is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hi Juan, thanks a million for talking with me. Tell me, what challenge is the UN World Food Programme addressing today?
Juan: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! The UN World Food Programme estimates that 345 million people—of which 160 million are estimated to be children—are now facing acute food insecurity in 82 countries. That’s up from 135 million in 2020. In 2022, we aim to reach 152 million people. However, our confirmed contributions currently stand at just 36 percent of what is needed. Unfortunately, the WFP’s funding gap has never been so wide. We are working hard with governments and International Financing Institutions to ensure we can help bridge this gap. We want solutions to be scaled to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Spiffy: What motivates you in your work?
Juan: After ten years at the UN, I have witnessed poverty and hunger firsthand. Today, I think it is the dreams and aspirations of the people we serve that keep me going. Working towards inclusion and social participation in the UN, I have also found hope and resilience in colleagues and communities. The UN can be a beacon for humanity with ideals that can harness global consensus. I founded the "Give Me 5 Campaign,” a network of students from over 40 nations, which inspires me. If 5% of global military spending was spent on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we could fund the entire agenda.
Spiffy: I love that vision! How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?
Juan: Our support to over 120 countries and territories spans a broad range of activities to save and change lives. We have an ultimate goal of a world with zero hunger. WFP reaches those who are most in need. They are also the hardest to reach. This means working closely with governments to understand what are the most urgent needs people face both in the short and long term. It is ultimately about ensuring transgenerational human rights for all.
Spiffy: I’m excited to chip in too. Tell me about progress or an initiative you’ve worked on recently. What impact did it make?
Juan: On August 16, we saw the first shipment of Ukraine grain being sent out to the drought-hit Horn of Africa region. This is a critical moment since it was a significant change from when the war with Russia began. Increased food supply helps lower food prices. This is an urgent and important issue. Many people risk being priced out of buying food.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Juan: People often ask me what I think is the key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I think properly prioritizing public goods like social protection, health care, and education. This means avoiding wasteful spending on war and nuclear weapons. This also requires national consensus on sustainable development policy and finance.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Juan—it’s been an honor!
Juan Elias Chebly is a Sustainable Development Economist currently serving in the Strategic Partnerships Division at the UN World Food Programme. He has served as Lead Adviser to the UN Assistant Secretary General at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and as Global Coordinator at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Juan also serves as Visiting Professor of Economics at the Tobin College of Business, St. John's University in New York. (Nominated by Elliott Harris at the United Nations. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 15, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jason “Jackson” Block. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.