SFYou: Cynthia Jones, 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Jones describes her advocacy with the United Nations World Food Programme.

Photo courtesy of SFU News.

Written by: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate

Name: Cynthia Jones

Pronouns: she / her

Departmental affiliation: Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology (graduated in 1990)

Hometown: Agassiz, BC

Occupation: Chief, Administrative Services at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

Fun fact: In her spare time, Cynthia enjoys watching science fiction and martial arts films, especially Mulan.

Graduating from SFU in 1990, Cynthia Jones has had a lengthy career working to fight structural issues in the world. While working with an NGO in a war zone in South Sudan, Jones witnessed the United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP) active role in distributing goods and “fell in love with [the] organization” and their work. Following a year of working in South Sudan, she traveled to Uganda to assist with the WFP’s Southern Sudanese refugee programs. 

She worked as a consultant and then was promoted to administer food distribution programs for refugees fleeing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. She also assisted with the Food for Asset Program, which compensated participants for work such as repairing roads and planting trees with food.

After years of working with the WFP, she eventually became their Chief Administrative Officer and in 2020, Jones and her team were awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize “for [their] efforts to combat hunger, for [their] contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas, and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” As the world’s largest humanitarian organization, the WFP provided assistance to 100 million people in 88 different countries in 2020.

Providing a Lifeline During the Pandemic

During an interview with The Peak, Jones discussed how  the global pandemic exacerbated unemployment and world hunger. Through a partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), the WFP continued to supply food, water, and personal protective equipment (PPE)  to countries in Africa and the Middle East to match the increasing need for food, especially in urban areas and quarantine centres.

This partnership led to the UN Supply Chain Coordination System. Jones explained, “[During] the flight bans, we started up basically a global passenger air service able to get the health workers and the humanitarian workers in some of these countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, [ . .  . ] to manage the scale-up of the response. We set up these international staging areas that distribute health supplies [and] PPE that were destined to countries. They were flying [both humanitarian workers and supplies] in and then [shipping] them into the different countries.”

“Primarily we’re providing the logistics and the logistical support [ . . . ]  to the [WHO] and to governments to be able to get the supplies and the people to where they need to go. We are adapting our country-level programs and targeting patients that are affected by hunger due to COVID.”

Hunger is an Interconnected Issue

Jones spoke on how the issue of hunger is not singular; it exists in connection with others.

“We’re not going to achieve zero hunger unless we also put an end to war and conflict, and [realize they are] really two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Things are even more challenging, because also we have the effect of climate change, and that exacerbates a lot of things. Many people that we are supporting are agricultural communities that are affected by droughts and floods and conflicts.”

The WFP is actively involved in providing food to those experiencing food crises in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Yemen. Additionally, Jones addresses the growing need in the Sahara and West Africa as they are “on a fragile line of [ . . . ] people moving into famine.”

The WFP can be supported by playing the game Free Rice in which each correct answer raises money to support various WFP projects. The ad revenue earned from Free Rice is donated to the WFP, which buys food including but not limited to rice. Downloading the Share the Meal app on the Apple App store or Google Play will provide one day’s worth of meals to a child for USD $0.80. Donations to WFP are accepted through their website.