The World Food Prize Foundation

2019 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award Honors Iowa Couple Who Have Dedicated Themselves to Improving the Lives of Many


The World Food Prize announced today that it will honor R.W. and Mary Nelson, founders of Kemin Industries, with the 2019 Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award. The award will be given to the Nelsons for their profound humanitarian commitment as manifested in their outreach to remote parts of distant countries to alleviate the suffering of villagers and help rebuild communities affected by devastating natural disasters as well as their many works of charity and assistance closer to home. 

“From my first meeting with R.W. and Mary Nelson shortly after returning to Iowa to assume leadership of the World Food Prize until today, I have been incredibly impressed and deeply touched by their humanitarian instincts and commitment to alleviating human suffering no matter the ethnicity, religion, race or cultural background of the people involved,” said Amb. Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize. “ In that way, it can be said that R.W. and Mary truly emulate the humanitarian character that Gov. Ray displayed in his outreach to the Cambodian genocide victims in 1979 through the Iowa SHARES campaign.”

The announcement was made today at the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates by Amb. Quinn during the press conference announcement, held annually on September 26, the late Gov. Ray’s birthday. 

“We are deeply honored by this award as Governor Ray was a true humanitarian in every sense and served as a pillar of community and leadership for Iowans and so many around the world,” said R.W. and Mary Nelson. “It is a privilege to serve the communities in which we live and work, and to give back into the world what we earn from our endeavors.”

For decades, the Nelsons have been supporters of hundreds of organizations and have contributed significantly to central Iowa organizations, including The Science Center of Iowa, Living History Farms, Dowling Catholic High School, Drake University, Iowa State University and a variety of others focused on science and general education, affordable housing, disaster relief and the creation of vibrant communities. 

In addition to their local endeavors, the Nelsons have been dedicated to humanitarian support around the country and the world. 

A Selection of the Nelsons’ Humanitarian Accomplishments Over the Last 60 Years: 

  • Beginning in 2000, the Nelsons, through Kemin Industries, have raised over $725,000 to help provide gifts and cover expenses during the holidays for children at YESS (Youth Emergency Services and Shelter). 

  • After a devastating tsunami hit India in 2004, the Nelsons led a campaign to help a village that had lost all its boats in the disaster. Through the Nelsons’ encouragement, Kemin employees raised $30,000 which was matched by corporate funds, to buy boats, motors, and fishing equipment.

  • After an earthquake devastated the Sichuan Province in China in 2008, the Nelsons led the Kemin team by donating funds to help rebuild the area. Through employee donations and a Kemin corporate match, Kemin funded the rebuilding of a primary school in Qin Chang village, southwest of Chengdu, and the Kemin Hope Primary School opened its doors in 2009. In the decade since, Kemin has contributed support to the school by awarding scholarships to the highest achieving students each year. 

  • After a devastating earthquake in Nepal directly impacted a Kemin employee, the Nelsons and Kemin team members rallied together around the world to donate money to the victims of the tragedy. Through employee donations and a Kemin corporate match, Kemin sent $90,000 to assist Habitat for Humanity with relief efforts. 

Kemin Industries, a global ingredient manufacturer that strives to sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80 percent of the world with its products and services, was founded in 1961. For more than 60 years, the Nelsons have built their company based on the principles of servant leadership and have been committed to charitable giving, nonprofit partnerships and service activities in communities around the world. 

The award will be formally presented to R.W. and Mary at the Iowa Hunger Luncheon on October 14, 2019, at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott with the participation of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. The event is free and open to the public and Iowans are encouraged to RSVP for the event at

While the Hunger Summit is free and open to the public, registration is required. 

  • Register:

  • When: Monday, October 14, 2019, 7:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. 

  • Where: The Downtown Des Moines Marriott Hotel - 700 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA

NEW THIS YEAR: The Iowa Hunger Summit will feature the unveiling of the inaugural “Norman Borlaug World Food Prize Day” poster contest. The winning art piece will be used as the focal point of the 2019 Borlaug Day poster and shared with classrooms across the state to educate and inspire students to emulate the passion and commitment of our state’s great humanitarian hero, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, and aspire to be Iowa's #NextNorm. 

BACKGROUND: The World Food Prize Foundation established the Robert D. Ray Iowa SHARES Humanitarian Award in 2013 in recognition of the exceptional leadership that former Governor Ray demonstrated in dealing with multiple situations affecting refugees in Indochina, and to honor him on his birthday (September 26). In doing so, the award was named after the Iowa SHARES campaign, which the Governor created in 1979 in order to send desperately needed food and medicine to suffering and dying refugees from Cambodia. Iowa SHARES stands for Iowa Sends Help to Aid Refugees and End Starvation. Previous recipients listed at

ABOUT THE WORLD FOOD PRIZE:  The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. The Prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, the World Food Prize has honored 49 outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions throughout the world. The World Food Prize annually hosts the Borlaug Dialogue international symposium and a variety of youth education programs to help further the discussion on cutting-edge global food security issues and inspire the next generation to end hunger. Press credentials for covering the October World Food Prize Week of Events can be requested at


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