By KAREN SHENG
For The News-Letter
Lauren Bush Lauren, founder and CEO of FEED, opened the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium on Thursday in Shriver Hall. Her talk focused on the effects of world hunger and FEED Projects, which is her apparel company that donates a portion of its proceeds to the United Nations World Food Programme.
“Roughly 790 million people around the world are hungry. This is often referred to in the development world as the birth lottery. You could be born into a life of chronic hunger and malnutrition, and unfortunately that is the case for one in nine people around the world. Last week, hunger [killed] more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” Lauren said.
“Although hunger is an issue, it happens to fall off the radar. It doesn’t get the attention that it deserves but unfortunately is such a major issue that millions of people around the world deal with every day.”
Lauren became invested in the issue of world hunger as a sophomore at Princeton University.
She realized her passion when witnessing the effects of hunger firsthand. She traveled with the UN Food Programme to Latin America, Asia and Africa.
“It’s such a different world,” she said. “What I saw there was many people, especially children, in the more rural areas of Guatemala, suffering because of malnutrition.”
Lauren said that the children, in particular, caught her attention.
“I met many children there who looked listless. They lacked the energy and the vibrancy, the curiosity that you’d expect children to have literally because they were ill,” Lauren said. “It was so jarring to see the physical, mental effects that hunger can have on innocent children because they were born into hunger.
However, she found herself frustrated. Though she took photos and spoke to students, she felt that she could do more.
Lauren was inspired to create FEED by her humanitarian work and her passion for fashion.
“I would either become a humanitarian aid worker or I would literally go into the fashion industry, move to New York City and work for a designer. I was yinging and yanging between these two paths and that’s when I had the a-ha moment of the first FEED bag,” she said
Lauren was able to combine her love of fashion with her drive to combat world hunger.
“I was inspired, design-wise, by the industrial, utilitarian look of the bags of the food rations I saw being distributed around the world. And I felt why not create a consumer good, something people could wrap their heads around, as a fundraising, awareness-raising tool?” she said. Lauren described that every FEED product has a number on it. The number on the product reflects the number of meals donated for purchase of that particular product. Over the course of FEED’s eight and a half years, the company has served 87 million meals to children around the world, including in the US.
According to FEED’s website, accessories such as bracelets, watches, pouches, new bag designs, wallets and T-shirts for men, women and children are now sold in addition to the original FEED bag.
Lauren believes her company’s products are particularly attractive to the millennial generation since they are more in tune with what is happening in the world than previous generations.
“I feel like our generation wants more transparency… We need to make hunger more tangible,” Lauren said. “People are engaging with companies to know where their products and services are coming from, who they’re benefiting, how they’re going above and beyond the bottom-line, the triple bottom-line, to give back to the community and doing good for the world at the same time they’re doing business.”
Lauren believes that her company, in particular, has benefitted from this conscious consumerism, which she attributes almost exclusively to the influence of the millenial generation.
Students, including senior Silin Chen, had a largely positive reaction to Lauren’s talk, citing her commitment to ending hunger as a primary reason. She thought that it was important that Lauren’s work had a specific end goal.
“I really enjoyed the talk. I knew the problem was hunger, but I didn’t know how severe it is, and it’s just a topic that inspires me on how people can combine their interests for solving problems and combining causes to serve a good cause that they care about. She’s quite inspiring,” Chen said
Freshman Rafael Ferguson agreed that Lauren was an inspiring influence for students who want to engage with the development and charitable communities.
“It made me more conscientious of this world’s problems. I finally feel like my tuition’s going towards something good,” Ferguson said.
Senior Ariel Zahler, MSE Finance Chair, explained why Lauren was chosen as the opening speaker of this year’s symposium, citing MSE’s mission statement.
“The mission that she stands for is very important and it definitely follows MSE’s mission,” Zahler said. “I think she is a very positive and prominent woman.”
Sophomore Noel Abdala-Arata said she had been looking forward to Lauren’s talk and enjoyed listening to someone whom she had read about.
“I actually read an article about her in L Magazine a few years ago, so that’s when I heard about the work she was doing,” she said. “I was really excited that she was coming to Hopkins to give a talk.”
Alumna Caitlin Hepps-Keeney said she particularly liked the question and answer session that followed Lauren’s talk and how Lauren engaged student questioners.
“It was interesting to hear how she responded to people’s questions and concerns they might have about the organization,” Hepps-Keeney said. “It was the more dynamic part of the evening, not that her presentation wasn’t good, but I think we got a better understanding of the work that she does.”
Lauren has recently started a FEED Supper initiative. People donate money to attend these gatherings. MSE hosted a FEED Supper in the Glass Pavilion in Levering Hall following her presentation. Bon Appetit catered the event, which featured Insomnia cookies for dessert. Lauren also appeared at the event and spoke with students.
Students responded positively to the FEED Supper initiative.
“I’m glad my money’s going to a good cause,” freshman Brian Fogelson said.
Hepps-Keeney also thought the dinner was a good idea that was well-executed.
“I think [the dinner’s] really appropriate for the cause and that college students were really happy about a $5 meal and that it benefits a cause, so I’m all for it,” she said.
This year’s MSE Symposium speakers include Alan Dershowitz, Joe Liebermon, Josh Ostrosvsky and Ava Duvernay. Dwight Watkins, native Baltimorean and civil rights activist, will be speaking in Shriver Hall at 7 pm Wednesday, Oct. 7.
For more information, visit the MSE site at jhumsesymposium.org.