Global Agriculture

From Iowa to Africa: Dr. Jim Blessman’s Mission Earns 2024 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Award

27 June 2024, Iowa: The World Food Prize Foundation announced today that it will honor Iowa native Jim Blessman with the 2024 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Award. The award will be presented to Dr. Blessman for his decades-long commitment to nourishing South Africa.

Dr. Blessman’s efforts through his Iowa-based non-profit organization, Blessman International, have made a significant global impact. Under his leadership, Blessman International has established 400 feeding stations worldwide, constructed 11 feeding hubs, drilled 60 freshwater wells and installed 300 waterless toilet systems. Additionally, the organization’s feeding program, which started by feeding 300 children annually, now prepares and serves over 4,000,000 meals each year through a network reaching more than 50,000 people throughout Southern Africa.

“Dr. Blessman is a selfless humanitarian in every aspect,” said Ambassador Terry Branstad, President, World Food Prize Foundation. “His dedication to nourishing Southern Africa and uplifting communities has global impact. Above all, Dr. Blessman stays true to his roots and exemplifies what it means to be a true Iowan.”

Blessman International’s impact extends beyond immediate hunger relief. Their short-term mission teams, comprising an average of 100 volunteers annually, engage in various outreach and service projects in local schools and communities. This hands-on involvement not only benefits the local population but also enriches the volunteers’ understanding of global issues and community service. Through these efforts, Blessman International has built a robust support network that strengthens its capacity to address critical needs in South Africa.

The organization’s holistic approach includes programs like child sponsorship, which supports the overall well-being of children at the Del Cramer Child Development Center. Blessman International also provides essential services such as clean water initiatives, agricultural training and sustainable sanitation solutions. Their innovative projects, such as the distribution of over 25,000 reusable menstrual hygiene kits, have significantly improved the health and education of young women in the region. Collectively, these efforts have created a profound and lasting impact on the communities they serve.

Dr. Blessman trained as a medical doctor and later redirected his career toward mission-driven work and a vision of global service. He established Blessman International in 2001 and has spent the last 23 years overcoming the challenges and obstacles of establishing three campuses in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Through a multi-pronged approach to community upliftment, Dr. Blessman has made a tangible difference in the quality of life and prospects of countless individuals.

Dr. Blessman’s philanthropy is exemplified by his decision to forego a salary from Blessman International. This striking example of his dedication to the cause over personal gain highlights his unwavering commitment to the mission of eradicating hunger and improving living conditions in the communities he serves.

“Receiving this award, established to honor Governor Robert Ray, whose legacy of humanitarian work continues to inspire us all, is an honor and humbling experience,” said Dr. Jim Blessman. “I am profoundly grateful to God for calling me to this work and enabling us to feed tens of thousands of children each month. Thank you to everyone who has supported Blessman International and believed in our vision.” 

The award will be presented to Dr. Blessman on July 31, 2024, at the annual World Food Prize  Foundation Iowa Hunger Summit held this year at the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates. 

This year’s theme of the Summit, Seeds of Nourishment: Elevating Iowa’s Food Systems, draws attention to each sector impacting the food supply chain, uncovering both the challenges and innovative solutions for improving nutritious food security. Through interactive breakout sessions, panels and keynotes, the event will elevate strategies for a more sustainable, hunger-free future and promote networking among food security champions. Whether you are a farmer, consumer, policymaker, nonprofit leader or entrepreneur, this event provides valuable insights into building healthier communities and resilient food systems.

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