“We were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn and be agents of change in our respective communities. We are now entrusted with the lofty and noble goal of living a life for others.”
Those were the words of Germaine J. De Ruña, a 2019 Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow from the Philippines, who spoke on behalf of the cohort at its Wednesday night graduation ceremony on the Cornell campus.
Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, presented certificates of completion to the Fellows at the ceremony.
De Ruña was among 31 Fellows from 15 different countries — Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Philippines, Paraguay, Rwanda, United States, United Kingdom, Zambia and Zimbabwe — who participated in the rigorous training program.
The Fellows spent the past 11 weeks learning strategic planning, grassroots organizing and innovative communications, with a strong focus on telling stories of science and effectively communicating about agricultural biotechnology. They will wrap up their program by networking with officials from various institutions government and non-governmental organizations in Washington, D.C., next week.
“More than the technicalities of the science and the complexities and sometimes boring aspects of the law, what the Alliance ingrained in each one of us is how to communicate — to communicate with purpose, with intent and with a heart,” De Ruña said. “You have definitely changed our lives for the better.”
De Ruña vowed that the Fellows will step out into the world and make a necessary impact as “we communicate not for ourselves but for the people we serve — for the voiceless, the farmers, the fisher folks and the indigenous peoples.”
“Always remember that you are a vessel for the thousands of rural peoples in dire need of access to agricultural innovation, advancements and technology,” she told her colleagues to a round of applause.
Sarah Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science, noted that each of the Fellows will serve as an ambassador, furthering the mission of the organization in his or her own way.
“We promote the right of farmers to choose what seeds they want to grow, and we advocate strongly to ensure that evidence guides the policies that affect international agriculture,” Evanega said. “We are committed to achieving social justice, improving rural livelihoods and eliminating hunger. We stand firmly in support of the science. And we are increasingly driven by a sense of urgency, in light of this era’s pressing social and environmental challenges.”
Evanega said she was “gratified that we’ve been able to make these ‘we’ people an integral part of Cornell University — an institution built on the notion of education for all — ‘any person, any study.’”
“As ‘we’ people, they are inspiring entire generations, villages, cities, countries, even continents to cooperate and collaborate, to stand up and demand the science and innovation that will feed humanity — without starving the life force of our planet,” Evanega said.
She also expressed confidence that the Fellows will do a great job in advocating access to agricultural biotechnology when they return to their own countries.
“As they go back home to resume their lives and launch their campaigns, renewed and recharged with hope and determination, I know they will engage with dignity, inclusiveness, humility and kindness. Because that’s what ‘we’ people do,” she said.
Attorney Pablo Orozco, a 2016 Global Leadership Fellow from Guatemala who co-led the 2019 training team, said the most powerful element of the program is the human element.
“You are the Alliance,” he told the Fellows. “You are the new voices to watch out for. If you ask me, this biotech space better get ready for the 2019 AfS champions.”