The hill where I sit today is testament to radical collaboration.
150 years ago, two unlikely collaborators met in the New York State Senate —Andrew Dickson White, the affluent intellectual with a high-end Yale education, and Ezra Cornell, the industrious self-made carpenter-turned-businessman from a working class family. Together, they founded Cornell University on very radical terms. The two men shared a forward-thinking and unconventional vision for higher education, one where every person could find instruction in any study, from intellectual to agricultural and industrial arts. They held radical views about liberal secular education for all regardless of race, gender, religion, and country of origin. Driven by shared values around equality, access, and the importance of education for both men and women, these two men from completely different walks of life collaborated to create something greater than either could do on his own.
This week, from this same hill, we launch a new initiative, the Cornell Alliance for Science. What we hope to inspire with this initiative is a radical collaboration of global significance that is very much in the spirit of Cornell’s founding. We invite you to join this alliance of disparate, disconnected individuals and institutions who all have at their core a common vision to promote equitable access to safe, nutritious, and sustainably produced food.
For too long the debate around agricultural biotechnology has operated from pulpits positioned at polar extremes despite the fact that advocates share values with their very same opponents around the issue of equitable access to food. The challenges we face today as a global society are too large to go it alone. It’s time to collaborate. Radically.
The term “radical collaboration” is being used in various contexts — be it at educational, corporate, or crowd-sourced information gatherings. The term resonates as we launch the Alliance for Science initiative because it is precisely what we hope to inspire: the coming together of people and ideas from far reaching geographical and ideological corners of the world to promote increased access to safe, nutritious, sustainably produced food.
How are we going to move from our steadfast positions at the poles toward an equatorial eclectic? Last February we convened a diverse group of potential collaborators to explore that very question, and, with some enlightened funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for Science is the result. And now, along with those partners, we look to connect with others who share some of the same values around ensuring farmer and consumer access to healthy nutritious food, globally, as well as the responsibility of growing that food in ways that minimize our environmental footprint.
A common enemy makes for strange bedfellows. Let’s explore whether we really want to find the common enemy in those who sit on the other side of the GMO debate, or whether it is more productive to work together against some of our real common enemies—poverty and hunger.
Given the grand challenges that face us agriculturally, environmentally and economically in the next 50 years, I’d rather our enemy be hunger than GMO politics and that radical collaboration be the radical strategy we use to beat that enemy together.
Please join us in open and rational dialogue in the network we are building in the name of science.