Ertharin Cousin

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Ertharin Cousin
Etharin Cousin.jpg
Executive Director of the World Food Programme
In office
April 5, 2012 – April 4, 2017
Secretary GeneralBan Ki-moon
António Guterres
Preceded byJosette Sheeran
Succeeded byDavid Beasley
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture
In office
August 17, 2009 – April 5, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byGaddi Vasquez
Succeeded byDavid Lane
Personal details
Born1957 (age 61–62)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Illinois, Chicago (BA)
University of Georgia (JD)

Ertharin Cousin (born 1957) is an American lawyer who served as the twelfth Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme from 2012 to 2017. Following the completion of her term, Cousin accepted an appointment as a Distinguished Fellow with The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and as Trustee on the UK based Power of Nutrition Board of Directors.

Cousin served from 2009-2012 under President Barack Obama as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy, and chief of the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome. Before that, she worked in a variety of public and private sector positions, first as a Democratic Party official, later specializing in the food industry and related charities from the late 1990s on. In 2014, Cousin was ranked number 45th on the Forbes Magazine's List of The World's 100 Most Powerful Women[1] and she was named to the TIME 100 most influential people in the world list.

Early life, education, and early career[edit]

Cousin grew up in the poor Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois along with her three sisters. Her mother, Anna Cousin, worked in the social services field and her father often engaged in volunteer community development work. In 1971, she was one of 300 female freshmen and 86 sophomores to enter Lane Technical High School, Chicago's top-rated high school of 5,000-plus students that had previously been all-male until that fall.[2] She graduated in 1975.

Cousin earned a B.A. degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1979 and a J.D. degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1982.[3] At the latter, she studied international law under former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Cousin worked in Illinois as Assistant Attorney General and Western Regional Office Director for the Illinois Attorney General’s office and as Deputy Director of the Chicago Ethics Board. In the private sector she was Director of Governmental Affairs for AT&T.

Washington years[edit]

Cousin moved to Washington, D.C., and during 1993 worked as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Democratic National Committee. She joined the Clinton administration in 1994 as the White House Liaison at the U.S. State Department. There she received a Meritorious Service Award. She served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

In 1996 she stepped down from that post in order to run the Illinois operation of the Clinton–Gore presidential campaign. After the campaign's victory, she served as Vice-President of Government, Community and Political Affairs for the Second inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1997.

Food industry and charity[edit]

In 1997 Cousin received a White House appointment for a four-year term to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development. There she supported many of the agricultural projects being run by the United States Agency for International Development. At the same time, she was Vice-President for Government and Community Affairs for Jewel Food stores. In 1999, Albertsons LLC bought Jewel and Cousin became Group Vice President of Public Affairs for Albertsons and then Senior Vice President of Public Affairs. While working for Albertsons, she also served as President and Chair of the company's corporate foundation, managing the organization's philanthropic activities. She also served as the Albertsons official spokesperson.

In 2002, Cousin joined the board of America's Second Harvest, the nation’s largest domestic hunger organization, and in 2004 she became its Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Among her achievements during this period was leading the organization’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an effort which resulted in the distribution of more than 62 million pounds of food to those in need across the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Cousin helped raise the annual revenue of the organization from $20 million to $56 million during her time there.

Cousin left America's Second Harvest in 2006 and founded and served as President of The Polk Street Group, a national public affairs consulting firm located in Chicago. In 2009, she handed over the reins to her son, Maurice Cousin, in order to accept the ambassadorial appointment.

Public sector[edit]

U.S. Ambassador, 2009–2012[edit]

Ambassador Cousin addresses an Earth Day event in Rome in April 2010.

On Jun 19, 2009, Cousin was nominated by President Barack Obama to become United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy. She was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 7, 2009, and sworn in as Ambassador on August 17, 2009, where she served as chief of the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome and is part of the "Tri-Mission Community" that also includes the United States Ambassador to Italy and the United States Ambassador to the Holy See.

During her time in Rome, she has efforted the setting up of new country-led aid programs. She worked towards providing food relief to Port-au-Prince following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. She has said that seeing the famous sights of Rome does not get old and that her biggest surprise in the job is, "When people talk about 'Her Excellency, Ertharin Cousin.' You know, I grew up in Lawndale. You're a long way from there when someone's referring to you as 'Your Excellency.'"

Over 120 guests attended a March 2012 farewell event for her at the Chief of Mission Residence.

Executive Director of World Food Programme, 2012–2017[edit]

In January 2012, the U.S. State Department announced that Cousin would become Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, succeeding Josette Sheeran when the latter's term expired in April 2012. Cousin was supported in a quote made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in reference to her appointment stating that Cousin "has been central to designing and implementing our country's food security policies. I am confident that she will continue to be a powerful voice in the global fight against hunger and lend her energy, optimism and experience to the World Food Programme." Indeed, Cousin received the nomination after the US opposed another term for Sheeran, who had been appointed by the George W. Bush administration.

Cousin began her tenure as the twelfth executive director on April 5, 2012. In taking the position, she stated that she fully supported the WFP's transition from food aid to food assistance: "I think that debate is over. That WFP is a food assistance organization, with the right tools and those tools include food aid. But also cash and vouchers and all the other things we have on the table." During her time in office, WFP support focused on the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Syria with its civil war and the Sahel region of Africa.[4]

Later career[edit]

After leaving WFP, Cousin became the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Distinguished Fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.[5] She is also a distinguished fellow of global agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.[6]

Other activities[edit]

Corporate boards[edit]

  • DSM, Member of the Sustainability Advisory Board[7]

Non-profit organizations[edit]


Cousin was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 2015 in the area of Social Work.[12] Forbes listed Cousin in the top 100 most powerful women globally on numerous occasions,[13] including at #48 in 2016.[14] In 2016, she received the Humanitarian Award of Action Against Hunger.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Cousin is divorced and has one child.



  1. ^ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  2. ^ Hester Lacey (December 2, 2016), A Q&A with Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme Financial Times.
  3. ^ Ruth Lewis-Coste (March 9, 2018), Philanthropist Ertharin Cousin on fighting global food poverty Financial Times.
  4. ^ Julia Llewellyn-Smith (March 30, 2014), Meet Ertharin Cousin: the woman who feeds the world The Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ Ertharin Cousin Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
  6. ^ Ertharin Cousin Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
  7. ^ DSM welcomes new Sustainability Advisory Board member Ertharin Cousin DSM, press release of October 12, 2018.
  8. ^ Former World Food Programme Director Ertharin Cousin to join Heifer International Board Heifer International, press release of May 23, 2018.
  9. ^ Leadership Council members from the website of the Compact 2025 partnership
  10. ^ Ambassadors Circle National Democratic Institute (NDI).
  11. ^ Global Advisory Board Women Political Leaders Global Forum (WPL).
  12. ^ "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  13. ^ Ruth Lewis-Coste (March 9, 2018), Philanthropist Ertharin Cousin on fighting global food poverty Financial Times.
  14. ^ #48 Ertharin Cousin
  15. ^ Action Against Hunger 2016 Gala Honors Weight Watchers International, with Acceptance by Oprah Winfrey, and Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of World Food Programme Action Against Hunger, press release of November 2, 2016.


Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Gaddi Vasquez
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture
Succeeded by
David Lane
Preceded by
Josette Sheeran
Executive Director of the World Food Programme
Succeeded by
David Beasley