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Student targets hunger and malnutrition in Mozambique

October 5, 2017

Jessica Agnew, a Ph.D. student in the School of Public and International Affairs, on a research trip to Bangladesh related to her project for Clinton Global Initiative.

Jessica Agnew in Bangladesh on a research project.
Jessica Agnew, a Ph.D. student in the School of Public and International Affairs (shown here on a recent research trip to Bangladesh) was selected by the Clinton Global Initiative as one of 50 students for a crowdfunding effort. She’ll also present her work to combat malnutrition in Mozambique at the organization’s annual global conference next week.

A Virginia Tech student’s campaign to fight malnutrition will take center stage next week in a gathering of world leaders and college students at the Clinton Global Initiative University Commitments Challenge in Boston.

Jessica Agnew, a Ph.D. student in planning, governance, and globalization in the College of Architecture and Urban StudiesSchool of Public and International Affairs, and Master of Public Health student in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is one of 50 students worldwide selected to crowdfund and present her project in the annual challenge organized by President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Foundation. The event convenes more than 1,000 college students, global leaders, former heads of state, Nobel Prize laureates, celebrities, CEOs, and philanthropists to tackle the world’s most pressing problems at Northeastern University, Oct. 13-15.

Agnew’s crowdfunding challenge, Buy2Thrive, is inspired by her passion to end hunger, along with years of research on how food, agriculture, and economics play a role. For the past few years, Agnew — a former chef — has conducted field research in Bangladesh and Kenya, partnering with businesses in developing nations to help low-income consumers make more nutritious food purchases.

With Buy2Thrive, she aims to educate mothers of young children in Mozambique on how to make nutritious food purchases in local markets. The program prepares respected women in the community to teach the education program at workshops and in small community groups.

“Hunger is not just about getting enough food, but the right type of food,” she said. “The missing piece is teaching women how to buy foods in the marketplace.”

Her program focuses on vitamins and nutrition, how to read labels, and food budgeting, as well as helping women identify signs of malnutrition in children.

The project extends well beyond the classroom. It’s a collaborative effort between individuals, businesses that sell and label products with nutrition information, and governments to support education and training. Agnew has been communicating with SETSAN, the Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition in Mozambique, to implement the program curriculum.

“We’ll make sure there is a very strong curriculum that would be a part of other education programs and that is relevant to local groups,” Agnew said.

Funding from the crowd-sourced campaign is a step toward that goal.

“Every dollar goes directly to the program … not some organization that you don’t know,” Agnew said. “When you can tap into a large network, there’s no individual financial burden.”

She adds that it only takes a dollar or two to help get the research off the ground and potentially impact the lives of women and children around the world.

As of Thursday, Agnew’s Buy2Thrive program was in the lead out of the 50 CGIU crowdfunding projects, with $9,565 raised toward her goal of $20,000. The campaign ends Oct. 12. Learn more at the Buy2Thrive site.

“Finding funding for Ph.D. research — especially fieldwork — is a challenging task,” said Ralph Hall, associate professor and co-chair of Agnew’s Ph.D. committee. “I believe the crowdfunding approach provides a viable option for students to raise funds to start a project that can then be leveraged for larger grants that could scale-up their work. Outside of the research component of her project, Jessica will learn a tremendous amount through this opportunity.”

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