Continuing our series of profiles of Hunger Fellow alums, let’s check in with Stella Nordhagen (pictured, above, with her fellow fellows at orientation in Washington, D.C.).
Stella Nordhagen (Leland ’15) has a strong passion for alleviating global hunger and malnutrition. At the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), her team’s work focuses on knowledge leadership, which involves conducting research and evaluations and supporting learning related to food systems and food supply chains. Stella also consolidates and shares salient research to improve nutrition policies and programs – those of GAIN and of other organizations.
According to Stella, some research recommendations may theoretically sound ideal but are not applicable in the real world. Thus, as a Senior Technical Specialist at GAIN, Stella ensures that she provides useful and practical information for teams that operate on the ground to truly impact target communities.
Stella’s aspiration to provide practical impacts to the anti-hunger field was what brought her to the Leland International Hunger Fellowship. After finishing her PhD in Environmental and Agricultural Economics, Stella had gained strong research skills and theoretical knowledge related to hunger, agriculture, and nutrition. She believed that the Leland Fellowship would give her the practical skills in an international context.
Stella was placed with Helen Keller International (HKI) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and Dakar, Senegal. At HKI, Stella worked on a project called Creating Homestead Agriculture for Nutrition and Gender Equity (CHANGE) — an integrated nutrition-sensitive agriculture project that focused on agriculture, nutrition, hygiene and women’s empowerment. Stella first worked on the project’s implementation in Burkina Faso. Her work then transitioned to developing monitoring systems for the whole project. As the fellowship ended, CHANGE finished its implementation, and Stella focused more on documenting and disseminating results.
Continuing to work on the women’s empowerment curriculum used in CHANGE after the project ended was among Stella’s favorite post-fellowship achievements because she first-handedly witnessed a project’s full process. “It was nice to see all parts of the cycle,” said Stella, “going from a vague idea on paper to actually coming up with something concrete, then being able to implement that in the field, then actually seeing the results and sharing it with people.” CHANGE’s women-empowerment component also taught Stella about the importance of gender-transformative approaches on the field, which continues to influence her work today.
Stella’s experience as a Leland Fellow showed her the complexity of implementing a project on the ground in a low-income country and a low-resource setting. A researcher may have a lot of ideas and want to add multiple components into a project. However, in reality, there may be significant constraints such as no electricity, no water, or unpassable roads. Thus, in her work, Stella ensures that her research recommendations are impactful in both theory and reality.
Stella believes that aspiring anti-hunger advocates should gain lived experience in hunger hotspots and get to know the impacted communities beyond research statistics. “Understanding the real context where people are living and the practical realities they face allows you to make more respectful and useful decisions around hunger,” said Stella.