The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

The Global Youth Institute: Sowing Inspiration and Cultivating Change

By Ellie Sukup
2004 Borlaug-Ruan Intern
Elizabeth Sukup

Since graduating from college nearly 10 years ago, I have spent the better part of my career working within the food security realm in Africa. A common line of questioning within expat circles is “Where are you from, where do you work and how did you find your way here?” And at every stage, I can trace my way back to a single man and a single opportunity. “Well, it’s a long story, but there’s this man named Norman Borlaug…” Every. Single. Time. 

I attended my first Global Youth Institute when I was in 8th grade- I rode with my aunt and uncle to hear my cousin present on her summer at IRRI as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern, the second year of its existence. I sat next to Dr. Borlaug at lunch. I didn’t know who he was, but I remember being enthralled. Here was a person who had made a difference in the world and was challenging me to think critically about my own impact and potential. My 13-year-old self had found her calling, and there was no looking back: I was going to save the world. And if I couldn’t save it, well, it was at least going to be well-fed. Never mind how naïve or oversimplified my view, the seed had been planted, and Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of Laureates and experts cultivated it at every Youth Institute I attended thereafter, until it was finally my turn to serve as a Borlaug-Ruan Intern at the WorldFish Center in Egypt. 

Upon graduating from Iowa State’s College of Ag. and Life Sciences (a move no doubt influenced by my time with the Youth Institute), and a brief stint in Liberia working in agricultural development, I found myself in Ghana working for the UN World Food Program (WFP) in 2010.  Within three months on the job I was reintroducing myself to Catherine Bertini, former head of WFP and 2003 World Food Prize Laureate. To this day I still remember the speech she gave to the Youth Institute that year. How remarkable that our paths crossed in Accra seven years later, that unique moment when life comes full circle and you reap the seeds of inspiration and aspiration sown. 

For my graduate work, I wrote an ethnography of the HarvestPlus Initiative as my master’s thesis. Nobody enjoys a more lively discussion about orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP), and the paradigm shift they represent within nutrition security, than I do… unless, of course, you’re Drs. Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howard Bouis. I cannot begin to express my joy that they were later honored as the 2016 World Food Prize Laureates. Their nutrition-sensitive approach to addressing hidden hunger is, in my humble opinion, the coolest thing since iodized salt. It may have been thirteen years since I attended my last Youth Institute, but the work of Dr. Borlaug and Laureates past and present continues to influence my vocation and passion to this day. 

At present, I am working with the Clinton Foundation in Malawi as a Global Health Corps Fellow. Originally brought on to run the Clinton Development Initiative’s community nutrition program (and encourage more OFSP production and consumption), I have transitioned into an AGRA-funded project empowering smallholder farmers through agronomy training and market access.  Upon meeting my Malawian colleague on my first day, and answering the usual line of questioning, her response was “Norman Borlaug, huh? I attended the World Food Prize last year as a Borlaug LEAP Fellow.” Of course she did- the intersection of past and present in the name of Dr. Borlaug rarely surprises me anymore.  

I realize how fortunate I was to have been given the gift of inspiration so young and the platform to do something with it. The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute is, I believe, one of Dr. Norman Borlaug’s greatest achievements- and that is saying something. He bred a generation of young and eager scientists, humanitarians, thinkers, activists, farmers and change makers. And while we may not save the world, it is a better place because of it. And a little better fed.

07/24/2017 9:07 AM |Add a comment |Comments (2)
I will visit Clinton Foundation office in Lilongwe in August Hope to meet you I volunteer with farmer to farmer U S AID and will be helping soybean farmers in Mchingi. Via CNFA

Roger Engstrom | | 07/24/2017 10:20 PM
Great to meet a young World Food Prize achiever! We need her to continue her work and training to feed the world! We are also proud of

Linda Schaefer | | 07/24/2017 10:56 AM
* denotes a required field.
Add Comment
Name: *
Comments: *
© 2024 The World Food Prize Foundation. All Rights Reserved.