The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

The Norm Effect

By Isabella Culotta
2018 Elaine Syzmoniak Award Recipient

There’s a certain feeling I get during each World Food Prize event I attend, a sense of ignition. I go home inspired and excited by agricultural development and the people working towards it with me. I call it the Norm Effect. Dr. Norman Borlaug spent his life working towards change and inspiration in agricultural innovation. His legacy has lived on vividly through The World Food Prize, creating a culture of the Norm Effect. This feeling gives us hope that we can have an impact and truly foster change.

For me, as a junior in high school, this was life-changing.  I remember my teacher handing me a flyer with the phrases “New York Youth Institute,” “global food security,” and the “Next Norm” on it. I didn’t know what any of these words meant in relation to one another but I took the leap and attended the New York Youth Institute and then later the World Food Prize Symposium. Gradually I noticed that at each event, each panel, each keynote that I attended, there was a trend of collaboration and inspiration.

Global food security and development are overwhelming realities that can be daunting to students and professionals who are new to the field. We have a burning desire to change the inequalities, the oppression, the poverty, and the hunger, but solutions seem distant, impossible to achieve, and full of holes. It is naive to expect that one singular mind or initiative can achieve change. Our culture portrays achievements as individualistic but I’ve seen the contrary. My experiences as one affected by Dr. Borlaug’s legacy have shown me that achievers rely on a team, and scientific and social innovation is based off of prior work and collaboration. Just as policy makers use consultants, farmers have help during harvests and developmental sociologists have assistants and partners; no one can do it all alone.

When there is collaboration and a space for insight, feedback, and growth, these challenges are less daunting. The Norm Effect is proof of this all over the world. I see it as sparks on a map, lighting up, connecting to each other, and reducing the number of hungry stomachs each day.

The Norm Effect drove me to apply for the World Food Prize Borlaug-Ruan International Internship. Like sparks of electricity, supporters around me told of their experiences and where I could fit into the seemingly chaotic puzzle of international development. Then in 2017, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn greeted me and my fellow Borlaug-Ruan Interns, “Welcome to the World Food Prize Family,” and again I felt the spark. There was power to change with these group of individuals my age, hoping to achieve similar impacts.

Then when I arrived in Nepal and set foot in the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, there was Aditi Mukherji, a mentor who continued to fuel my passion. She not only exemplified collaboration and change in the field, but showed me I could spread it too. She, and the rest of our project team, lit the Norm Effect inside of me. I carried this spark to the fields in Nepal, working with women and the innovation of solar-powered irrigation pumps. It continued in my travels throughout Europe, Morocco, and Madagascar, working in agriculture and development.

The Norm Effect has inspired me to work towards change with the numerous people all over the globe that are also sparks. Dr. Borlaug’s legacy shows his power of ignition. The more players who are ignited, the more achievement that can happen.


10/19/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
I am sou proud of Bella! She was a student in my program as a high school senior. She is truly an inspiration.

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