Ertharin Cousin

Executive Director of the World Food Programme

Ertharin Cousin is the 12th Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

She was born in 1957 and raised alongside her three sisters in Lawndale, a poor neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother worked in social services, while her father engaged in volunteer community development work. Cousin started her high school education in 1971 at the Lane Technical High School, Chicago, among the first female freshmen and sophomores to be admitted at the school. Lane Technical was rated among the top high schools in Chicago at the time and admitted all male students, prior to the fall of 1971. Cousin graduated in from High School in 1975. She proceeded to the University of Illinois Chicago, where she earned a B.A Degree in 1979. Cousin also studied international law at the University of Georgia School of Law where completed a J.D. degree in 1982.

Ertharin Cousin worked in several capacities after her graduation. She was an Assistant Attorney General in Illinois and worked at the Western Regional Office Director for the Illinois Attorney General’s office as well as Deputy Director of the Chicago Ethics Board. She also held the position of Director of Governmental Affairs for AT&T in the private sector. She moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C., and served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Democratic National Committee in 1993. Cousin was the White House Liaison at the U.S. State Department in 1994 for the Clinton administration. There she received a Meritorious Service Award. She also served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Cousin successfully ran the Illinois operation of the Clinton–Gore presidential campaign in 1996, and in 1997 she served as Vice-President of Government, Community and Political Affairs for the Second inauguration of Bill Clinton.

Cousin received a four-year term appointment to the Board of International Food and Agricultural Development from the White House in 1997. While in this position, Cousin concurrently served as the Vice-President for Government and Community Affairs for Jewel Food stores. The company was acquired in 1999 by Albertsons LLC and Cousin was appointed Group Vice President of Public Affairs for Albertsons and then Senior Vice President of Public Affairs. While working for Albertsons served as the group’s official spokesperson, as well as the President and Chair of the company’s corporate foundation, managing the organization’s philanthropic activities.

Cousin joined the board of America’s Second Harvest in 2002, the largest domestic hunger organization of the nation. She became its Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in 2004. In this position, she led the organization’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in the distribution of over 62 million pounds of food across the Gulf Coast region of the United States. During her tenure spanning from 2002 to 2006, the annual revenue of the organization was raised from $20 million to $56 million. She left America’s Second Harvest in 2006 and founded and The Polk Street Group, a national public affairs consulting firm located in Chicago where she served as President. Handing over to her son, Maurice Cousin in 2009, she accepted the ambassadorial appointment under President Barrack Obama as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture serving in Rome, Italy, and chief of the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, from 2009 to 2012.

In January 2012, Cousin became Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, succeeding Josette Sheeran. She started her tenure as the twelfth executive director on April 5, 2012, and the first African American Woman to hold this position since the launch of the office in 1962.

Ertharin Cousin was dubbed “the woman who feeds the world” by the telegraph. She rose from poverty to run the World Food Programme. And she plans to end global hunger in our lifetime.

Having held a variety of positions in the private and public Sector, Cousin has been named among   Forbes Magazine’s List of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women as well as the TIME 100 most influential people in the world list. She is divorced and has a son.


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