Helen Keller International Wins BBVA Award

At a Glance: 

Helen Keller International has been selected to receive the 2015 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Development Cooperation for its work in improving nutrition with agricultural programs that help families and villages to raise their own nutritious foods.

Helen Keller International has been selected to receive the 2015 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Development Cooperation for its work in improving nutrition with agricultural programs that help families and villages to raise their own nutritious foods. The announcement was made on Tuesday, February 25, 2015, at a press conference at the BBVA Foundation headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

In its citation, the Award jury, which included leading public health and economics experts, noted that Helen Keller International “is widely recognized for developing, testing and scaling up programs to combat malnutrition, blindness and disability on a global scale, and for striving to integrate these evidence-based strategies within local government and community structures so that they are sustainable.” It added that our “pioneering Homestead Food Production program has been one of its main tools for reaching poor communities in a sustainable way.” 

The Homestead Food Production program empowers women from poor households in Africa and Asia with the education and resources needed to raise their own nutritious foods. Our programs work with local farmers and through community organizations to establish Village Model Farms and Farmer Field Schools where women receive hands-on training in gardening and farming practices. By working with respected members of the community and established local organizations, we ensure that the knowledge stays within local communities. The programs promote growing and eating iron-rich green leafy vegetables, vitamin A-rich fruits, and vital protein sources such as poultry, goats and fish. In African countries, these programs also promote growing and eating orange sweet potatoes, a vitamin A-rich superfood.

“We are greatly honored by the recognition our work in agriculture and nutrition is receiving,” said Kathy Spahn, President and CEO of Helen Keller International, which this year celebrates its 100th Anniversary. “In the 1950s, we evolved from treating blind people to working to prevent blindness, and this got us involved in vitamin A deficiency, the main preventable cause of blindness in children. Then in the 1970s we collaborated in a groundbreaking study run by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which proved that vitamin A deficiency is also linked to childhood mortality, and that got us all the more focused on the importance of vitamin supplements. But we also felt that there was no golden bullet, so we wanted to broaden our approach. And this took us to our Homestead Food Production program and the industrial-scale enrichment of foods with vitamins and minerals.”

Helen Keller International is the seventh recipient of the Award in the Development Cooperation category, a distinction that comes with a €400,000 cash prize, along with a commemorative piece of artwork to be presented on June 23, 2015, in Madrid. Previous recipients include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab, the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and New York University’s Development Research Institute, among others.

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards were founded in 2008 to recognize outstanding contributions and radical advances in a broad range of scientific and technological areas characteristic of our times. The Awards celebrate and encourage world-class research and artistic creation that have led to contributions of lasting impact. These international awards are given in eight categories: Basic Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics), Biomedicine, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Information and Communication Technologies, Economics, Finance and Management, Contemporary Music, Climate Change and Development Cooperation.