Politics & Government

Former SC governor brings political connections to job of feeding world’s refugees

David Beasley plays with Ahmed, the youngest of the six Al Rahmu children living in the Adams Informal Tented Settlement for Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
David Beasley plays with Ahmed, the youngest of the six Al Rahmu children living in the Adams Informal Tented Settlement for Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. World Food Program

David Beasley’s new job with the United Nations has required the former S.C. governor to move to Rome. But, in the month since Beasley took over the World Food Program, he hasn’t had much of a chance to enjoy the ancient city.

Since he started work as executive director of the World Food Program on April 6, Beasley has traveled to seven different countries.

He has sat in tents with Syrian refugees fleeing Mideast conflict and, then, walked the halls of Western powers to ensure his organization has the money to feed those refugees.

Those contrasting missions have required constant travel from one country to another, meaning Beasley only occasionally has been in the Rome apartment that he is renting while his wife stays behind in South Carolina, waiting for their youngest son to graduate from high school in Darlington.

“It’s been like drinking water out of a fire hydrant,” Beasley said by phone from London, while between meetings with British officials. “We have four famines right now along with other conflicts and emergencies, so there’s been no time for a transition.”

‘This is his calling’

Beasley has been out of public office for nearly 20 years since he was defeated in his bid for re-election in the 1998 governor’s race.

But he has maintained close relationships in the political world — in South Carolina and Washington.

When Donald Trump won a surprise victory in the presidential election and named S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Beasley suddenly had the chance to head one of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations.

Beasley says he was unsure of whether he wanted the position.

“I was not looking for a job,” Beasley said. “At first, I was not certain I wanted to take on a major bureaucracy, if I would have my hands tied. I was not sure I would have the flexibility in management to really take it to the next level.”

‘When your family has gone three weeks without food, and then ISIS steps in and offers to feed you, those parents are going to do what they have to do.’

David Beasley, director of the World Food Program, on the program’s counter-terrorism value

But as Beasley learned more about the World Food Program and the services it provides, “I realized these are the best of the best ... and I want to make sure they have the ability to do what needs to be done.”

For advice, Beasley turned to Tony Hall, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which oversees the World Food Program, under then-President George W. Bush. Hall and Beasley got to know each other working on the National Prayer Breakfast.

“As governor, he was used to administering a very large organization,” Hall said.

But the World Food Program director has the added burden of having “to sort out not only the administrative tasks, but what the priorities are. Who gets aid? Who are we going to help?”

“David Beasley has the ability, the compassion and the smarts to do it,” Hall said.

Beasley friend Bob McAlister says the former governor’s heart is dedicated to “helping people who can’t help themselves.”

“This is his calling,” McAlister said. “It was when he was governor, and it’s grown since then. It’s not just a job. It’s a calling of the highest honor.”

The World Food Program faces four man-made famines, ‘the worse humanitarian crisis since World War II.’

Famines and funding

Beasley took over the World Food Program when it was facing challenges on two fronts.

First, the program is working to help millions caught up in man-made food shortages due to conflicts in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, part of the “worse humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Beasley said.

To keep up, staffers “are working day and night in some dangerous areas,” Beasley says, calling those staffers “the UPS of food.”

“They deliver to some areas by air drop to get food to non-combatants and civilians,” he said.

To keep the food coming, Beasley’s job is to protect the World Food Program from its second challenge — the threat of cuts to humanitarian funding from the Trump Administration and other world governments.

At the time of Beasley’s appointment, Foreign Policy magazine reported U.N. officials hoped the former S.C. governor could head off any proposed spending cuts by the incoming Trump Administration.

“The Trump Administration has talked about cutting foreign assistance,” Beasley said. But, the Republican added, cuts would damage “one of the most effective counter-terror programs we have.”

“When your family has gone three weeks without food, and then ISIS steps in and offers to feed you, those parents are going to do what they have to do,” Beasley said.

‘I’m going to be their cheerleader.’


When The State caught up with Beasley, he was in the midst of a transatlantic trip to discuss funding with officials in the United States, Canada and Britain, three of the World Food Program’s biggest donors.

“He’s very good with people. He’s very relational,” former U.S. Rep. Hall said. “He’s used to traveling the world. He’s met with leaders, diplomats, ambassadors. A lot of the job is traveling, meeting with these leaders and helping them with their problems.”

Beasley knows those relationships will be key to ensuring the World Food Program maintains its more than $5 billion a year in contributions, including $2 billion from the United States.

“What I told the team is, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ ” he said. “I told them, ‘I’m not only going to be their leader. I’m going to be their cheerleader.’ ”

While he may owe his appointment to the prevailing political winds in Washington, Beasley views his job as an obligation not to the United States but to the world.

“Most think the U.S. decides (the World Food Program’s director), and it has influence,” Beasley said of his new post.

“But there’s an interview process,” involving the U.N. secretary general, the director of the parent Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program’s executive board, Beasley said. “A lot of extraordinary people were vying for the position.”

Even as the program explores other ways of raising money, Beasley hopes to keep national leaders’ focused on what matters.

“We’re not talking about numbers here,” he said. “We’re talking about children dying. That has to be No. 1.”

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The former S.C. governor was named head of the United Nation’s World Food Program in April

Home: Society Hill

Age: 60

Family: Married to Mary Wood, four children

Education: Attended, Clemson University; bachelor’s and law degrees, University of South Carolina

Past offices: Governor, 1995 to 1999; S.C. House member, 1979 to 1995; elected originally as a Democrat, Beasley switched to the Republican Party in 1991

World Food Program salary: $142,376, the annual salary for a U.N. under-secretary-general, Beasley’s official classification