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Greenville Business Magazine

Former SC Governor David Beasley Uses Leadership Skills to Fight World Hunger

Feb 21, 2023 08:58AM ● By David Dykes

Few, if any, besides himself and perhaps his family and closest advisers, likely knew in December that former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley would resign as executive director of the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization.

He gave little hint of the move as the featured speaker at the Greenville Chamber’s Legislative Breakfast Dec. 9 at the Embassy Suites Golf Resort and Conference Center.

He subsequently released a statement Dec. 17 that said his term of office will end in April 2023 and the process to select his successor had begun.

“Serving in this capacity has been the greatest joy and deepest heartache of my life. Thanks to the generosity of governments and individuals, we have fed so many millions of people,” his statement said. “But the reality is we have not been able to feed them all – and the tragedy of extreme hunger in a wealthy world persists.”

Last March, he was asked to extend his term as the WFP’s executive director for another year to navigate the organization through the unprecedented global hunger crisis sparked by a perfect storm of conflict, climate change, and Covid-19, and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and soaring global food prices.

“It has been an honor to serve this inspiring organization and to work with its 23,000 dedicated women and men,” his statement said. “I thank the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for giving me this role to play.

“But most of all, I thank the women, men, and especially the children who live in poverty and hunger: Every day, they show an extraordinary strength, courage and generosity of spirit the whole world needs to learn. They are an example to us all.”

The United Nations World Food Programme’s goal is to save lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters, and the impact of climate change.

As executive director, Beasley has continued his life’s work bridging political, religious, and ethnic boundaries to champion economic development and education. 

As his official WFP biography notes, Beasley put to use four decades of leadership and communications skills to mobilize more financial support and public awareness for the global fight against hunger. 

Those efforts were recognized when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded WFP the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. 

Beasley believes the fight against hunger is even more critical now, with rates steadily rising because of persistent conflict, the impact of climate change and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.

With more than $430 trillion in worldwide wealth today, “not child should go to bed hungry anywhere on the planet,” he told the Chamber’s gathering.

Under Beasley’s leadership, WFP has mobilized the resources required to respond to an ever-expanding caseload of people requiring food assistance. In 2021, the agency reached over 128 million people – the highest annual total in its history.

Beasley has driven a greater focus and attention to WFP’s work beyond emergency food assistance, highlighting how longer-term development can help bring peace and stability to troubled regions. 

Before coming to WFP in April 2017, Beasley spent a decade working with high profile leaders and on-the-ground program managers in more than 100 countries, directing projects designed to foster peace, reconciliation and economic progress. He travelled to as many as 30 countries a year, organizing, leading or participating in conferences and missions in Kosovo, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen, among others. 

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His work has allowed him to develop deep relationships with leaders around the world.

As South Carolina’s Republican governor from 1995 to 1999, Beasley guided the state during years of economic transformation, helping reshape the state’s economy into a healthy, diverse and robust market.

That work led to one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, with a dramatic increase in private sector capital investment. Beasley was the first South Carolina governor to make a public push for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol dome, a move that earned him the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. 

Beasley attended Clemson University and the University of South Carolina where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. He has also taught at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. 

He was first elected to public office at age 21 as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. 

He is married to the former Mary Wood Payne and has four children.

At the Chamber’s legislative breakfast, Beasley implored those in the audience to put aside today’s divisive politics and animosity and come together for a common good.

He said it breaks his heart to see those who were taught to Love Your Neighbor come from church on Sunday and then on Monday and Tuesday tweet “horrible stuff.”

“It’s not America,” and the world’s leaders notice, Beasley said. 

Quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous 19th-century French statesman, historian, and social philosopher, Beasley said, “if America ever ceases to be good, we will cease to be great.” 

Toward the end of his breakfast speech, Beasley said, “The poor that are out there deserve better. And they’re looking for some hope. And America’s a land of hope and opportunity.”

He continued, “And there’s a lot of darkness out there right now, but I can assure you that all the darkness of the world can’t put out the light of one little, simple match.” 

“In this room is the power to change the world,” he told the attendees. “In this room is light and hope for people throughout this community and the Upstate, the entire state of South Carolina. 

“Please, regardless of your views and differences, be brothers and sisters. We’re all in the human race. We’re all created in the image of God. Every human being is special.”