Global Spotlight: Vitamin Angels

Surely by now you’ve read our article, Pro Bono Food for Thought: Improving Access to Nutrition, in this month’s edition of The Wire, so you’re well aware of the important role pro bono plays in improving access to food and nutrition across America.  As it turns out, nutrition is an equally vital enterprise for firms and legal departments seeking to do global pro bono as well.

Nine hundred and twenty-five million – or one out of every seven people in the world – went hungry last year, and one in three people in developing countries suffers vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  According to UNICEF, children are exceptionally vulnerable:

Undernutrition contributes to the deaths of about 5.6 million children under five in the developing world each year.  It can lead to poor school performance and dropout, it threatens girls’ future ability to bear healthy children and it perpetuates a generational cycle of poverty.

Access to adequate food is what the U.N. describes as an empowerment right – “both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.”  No wonder the number one Millennium Development Goal is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.

And one California-based nonprofit, The Vitamin Angel Alliance, Inc. (Vitamin Angels), works tirelessly to do just that.  Their mission is to reduce child mortality worldwide by connecting newborns, infants, and children under age five with essential nutrients:

Essential nutrients address chronic malnutrition and the resulting morbidity and mortality caused by vitamin deficiencies . . . Vitamin A and multivitamins are part of a foundational strategy to address nutritional gaps and help break the cycle of poverty by improving health, educational achievement and economic productivity.  Essential nutrients enable young immune systems to fight infectious diseases, helping children attain good health and the opportunity to lead meaningful and productive lives.

At last week’s Summit of the Angels, Goodwin Procter LLP* earned an Archangel Award for contributing hundreds of pro bono service hours to Vitamin Angels.  The firm’s legal assistance ran the gamut from nonprofit law, corporate governance, contract and lease negotiations, tax issues, and international expansion, to employment law and trademark issues.  Vitamin Angels Founder and President Howard B. Schiffer, who presented the award, underscored the mission critical role that pro bono can play in international development, “Goodwin has really helped us shape our business, gotten things done quickly and added value to all they touched.  Vitamin Angels could not be where we are today without Goodwin’s incredible support.”  Last year, with the help of its pro bono partners, Vitamin Angels’ programs reached 24 million children in 43 countries.

The takeaway?  Malnutrition is a global problem of epic proportions that is unlikely to abate without more hands on deck.  Many of the myriad NGOs, governments, and supranational institutions engaged in combating hunger and malnutrition need pro bono partners to fulfill a wide array of legal needs.  Opportunities to do rewarding, impactful pro bono abound.

Is your firm or legal department helping to combat hunger and malnutrition?  Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®