2018 Blog – Tracking International School Meal Network Progress: GCNF to launch Open-Source Global Survey of School Meal Programs

2018 Blog – Tracking International School Meal Network Progress: GCNF to launch Open-Source Global Survey of School Meal Programs

By Rebecca Steelman, Communications & Development Coordinator, GCNF

Around the world, there is an unprecedented understanding and adoption of school meal programs as an economic investment strategy for country governments. Home-grown school feeding programs not only serve social protection and development goals by feeding hungry children and fostering education, they also contribute intergenerational benefits to families and can create jobs, empower women, and connect smallholder farmers with a consistent market for their goods.

Members of the global school meal network anecdotally know that more countries are moving toward national ownership (progressing from international aid), local sourcing, and a stronger focus on nutrition. However, the field currently suffers from a lack of comprehensive, comparable, data-driven assessments of what is happening in a given country, across countries and continents, and across the globe.

This leaves key pieces of impact assessment of school meal programs unaddressed. For example, current assessments do not cover the impact on agricultural development, private-sector engagement, food basket availability, diet diversity, and the inclusion of nutrition standards. Most assessments are done by program implementers, and few capture data regarding the efforts of other school meal implementers, even those implementing programs in the same country.

In addition, there is little or no consistency in whether or how information is gathered and reported: One country might have data for some or all of those categories, but the next country will not, or its data won’t be comparable due to the timing of the survey. These issues are critical in the context of seeking sustainable and systemic progress via school meal strategies.

In an effort to strengthen the work of the global school meal network, GCNF is designing a Global Survey of School Meal Programs to be piloted in 2018, launched in 2019, and conducted thereafter at intervals of every two or three years for at least ten years. The survey will ask a standard set of questions of 150 countries around the world, with the goal of identifying trends, gaps, and opportunities to guide governments’, GCNF’s, and other stakeholders’ decisions and investments related to school meal programs.

Done well, surveys don’t just glean and report information. The process of asking questions can in and of itself help move the mission forward. New thinking can be instigated just by asking government leaders whether they are buying from their own farmers, using the program to create jobs for women or youth, or if they have national nutrition standards.

GCNF will design its survey by building on the work of key partners and will make the data available in an open-source format so at to contribute to the work of our partners. Specifically, the open-source data is expected to help:

  • Track progress, challenges, and opportunities facing the field over the next ten years,
  • Foster relationships between countries facing similar challenges and opportunities,
  • Inform choices by and cooperation among key global players such as the World Food Programme, the Partnership for Child Development, and the World Bank, as well as international non-profits and corporations,
  • Assess and communicate supply chain gaps on a per country basis to potential partners, and
  • Promote the concepts of national ownership, and local sourcing

GCNF plans to kick-off the first round of survey at the 2018 Global Child Nutrition Forum tentatively scheduled for mid-October 2018. For more information about this program or the 2018 Forum, please contact Rebecca Steelman at rebecca@gcnf.org.


The Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) is a global network of governments, businesses, and civil society organizations working together to support national, locally-sourced, and nutritious school meal programs. GCNF expands opportunities for the world’s children to receive adequate nutrition for learning and achieving their potential. We envision a future where school meals sustainably nourish all children and help them, their families, communities, and nations to thrive.

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