John Nicholson

With JSI since 2005

What do you do on the SPRING Project?

John Nicholson with his family.

I direct knowledge management efforts on USAID’s global nutrition project Strengthening Partnerships and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING). The KM team connects the different pieces of the SPRING project—meaning our country programs with the home office, and each one of our nine countries with one another. We also help nutrition experts understand how our diverse audience prefers to receive technical information so the end user can be kept in mind from the very start. We also sponsor and participate in nutrition-related conferences, webinars, and social media as part of global conversations that are happening around the world about nutrition.

How big a problem is nutrition?

Malnutrition has been a problem since the start of the human experience. Historically the international community has thought about hunger in relation to famine and other emergencies. But in the last few years, there’s been an increased focus on nutrition as a core building block for development. Without good nutrition in the first 1,000 days—that is from conception to a child’s second birthday—children are more likely to be stunted, and later have cognitive and physical challenges throughout their life. And while getting maternal nutrition and breastfeeding is critical, we can’t leave it at that if we are serious about ending malnutrition. SPRING works with health centers, communities, and families as well as with agriculture and water programs in more than 15 countries. Our programs center on human behavior, both individual and social, recognizing that malnutrition is a multi-faceted problem that requires collective effort across sectors for real impact. We rely on tried and true approaches but are also testing innovation, like video developed by the community for the community to encourage rural villagers to make positive changes in their lives to improve nutrition.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

When you work on a large project with many different components, it can be a real challenge to figure out how you can have the most impact with the limited amount of time. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I always find myself wishing for more time in the day!

What aspect of your work inspires you the most?

The commitment, intellect, and experience of my colleagues inspire me every day. Sometimes I step back and think, “Wow! I get to work with some of the best people in the world—not just because they’re really smart and interesting, they are really great people, too.” The lessons I impart to my children are lived out by my colleagues every day, even in something as simple as a polite note reminding people to wash their own dishes in the office lunchroom.

John Nicholson beekeeping in Bolivia.

If you were not at JSI or working in public health, what do you think you’d be doing?

My wife and I always joke that if we weren’t working, we’d just be raising our three boys! Sometimes we struggle with finding the time to ensure that they become “future JSI types,” people who want to improve the world. But if I could do anything and money and time was not a concern, I would work for National Geographic, taking photographs and writing stories about environments and cultures that are disappearing. That was once my dream—but sometimes you need to compromise so you can pay for your kids’ soccer club fees and be there to watch them play.

What do you do in your spare time when you are not working?

I was an agriculture extension volunteer in the Peace Corps in Bolivia, and during that time I worked with beekeepers. I fell in love with beekeeping and when my kids got old enough, I took it up again.  Beekeeping is so important because of the current plight of the bees, and it’s also fascinating in the way that it brings generations together around entomology, woodworking, and botany—and of course, honey. My family loves the honey!

A Project to Remember

I’ve been with JSI for 10 years and on four projects but was lucky enough to be  a part of the AIDStar-One project when it became clear that we could end AIDS, and our project was so clearly contributing to that. I learned so much professionally, and was mentored by some of the best and brightest at JSI. Also, my uncle died of complications from AIDS, which made the project even more meaningful to me. Now that I have kids of my own, I really appreciate the role of nutrition in families’ health and wellbeing. That is one of the great things about working at JSI—the work is challenging but at least it is interesting. Who knows, maybe next I will work on a project to reduce injuries related to too much screen time among tweens!