Why Iowa Profile: Barbara Stinson

Barbara Stinson

Why Iowa? Q&A with Barbara Stinson

Barbara Stinson became the second President of the World Food Prize Foundation in January 2020, taking leadership of the Foundation formed by Dr. Norman Borlaug in 1986. Ms. Stinson previously served as a co-founder and Senior Partner of the Meridian Institute, a renowned non-profit organization based in Dillon, CO and Washington D.C. that guides collaboration and drives action to address our world’s complex challenges. She and her family relocated from Colorado to Des Moines earlier this year.

The World Food Prize is the foremost international honor recognizing individuals who have improved the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. The Prize is presented each October at a ceremony in the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. The World Food Prize has become a week-long set of events that typically draws more than 1,200 participants from 60-65 countries to central Iowa to participate in the Laureate Award Ceremony, Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium; Global Youth Institute for high school students; Iowa Hunger Summit; Laureate Lecture Series; and presentation of the Dr. Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 events will be held in a virtual format. The Borlaug Dialogue will include three mornings of interactive roundtable discussions and 30 virtual side events that will be hosted by organizations around the world and the Iowa Hunger Summit will include three mornings of plenary discussions and various interactive breakout sessions in the afternoon. The 2020 Laureate Award Ceremony will be shown on Iowa PBS at 7pm CDT on Thursday, Oct. 15.

1. What attracted you to the role as President of the World Food Prize Foundation?

The list is long! First and foremost, I am excited about the opportunity to build on the incredible work that the World Food Prize Foundation has done to deliver on Dr. Borlaug’s mission of reducing hunger and poverty. I am fortunate to be taking leadership of an organization with a very strong foundation and see a number of opportunities to grow and expand on the tremendous work that Ambassador Quinn and the team have done.

I am also excited to be working in the world of agriculture, having spent a good deal of my career in agriculture, particularly the last 10 years in Africa.

2. What are the top priorities for the World Food Prize Foundation?

While this has been a challenging year to begin a new role at the Foundation, it hasn’t changed our focus or slowed our efforts. I started by soliciting a lot of points of view on how to build on the strengths of the World Food Prize and how we could innovate to expand and grow. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have pivoted to deliver online and virtual events, including the introduction of the Digital Dialogue series.

This year we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Borlaug receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as well as the 50th laureate to receive the World Food Prize. In the virtual format, we are working hard to maintain the spirit and learning opportunities of the Borlaug Dialogue, the Global Youth Institute, and other opportunities. It is exciting to see more side events hosted by organizations around the world this year.

Looking to the future, we are developing a strategic plan for the next 3 to 5 years that will harness the great relationships we already have and look to provide more impactful activities to happen year-round. We’d like to expand the Borlaug Dialogue concept to other regions and find ways to continue those conversations.

The possibilities for the Youth Institutes, internships and other programs are infinite. We have built an amazing cadre of thousands of young people who are passionate about global food security, understand the relevant issues, and are confident in presenting … there is a real need to expand those programs.

3. Iowa has been the home of the World Food Prize Foundation for 30 years. How has this location benefited the foundation and the World Food Prize programs?

The original concept of bringing the World Food Prize to the heartland of the country and center of production agriculture has served the Foundation well. The generosity and support of the Ruan family to bring the Foundation to Des Moines and the continuing support of the agriculture and business communities here has been tremendous. From our strong Iowa base we are extending knowledge and support of agriculture around the world. Ambassador Quinn was committed to making the World Food Prize a truly global event, which we’ve accomplished by welcoming people from 60 to 65 countries each year.

Our youth programs have also benefited Iowa young people and the state. We host Youth Institutes in 25 locations, but our Iowa program remains the strongest and the center of those efforts.

4. What advice would you give to someone considering a move to Iowa?

Get ready to be surprised. My husband and I have loved the move to central Iowa. During quarantine and social distancing restrictions, we’ve taken the opportunity to take driving tours across the state and love the landscapes and rivers. The water resources are astonishing.

We’ve found that “Iowa Nice” is totally real, we’ve been so impressed with the people we’ve met. And the food in Des Moines is wonderful.

5. Please give us three recommendations of things to do or places to go in Iowa.

I look forward to being able to open the historic World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to tours and events again. It is a beautiful building and an incredible tribute to Norman Borlaug and all of our laureates.

We love exploring the Des Moines River in the Des Moines area. All along the river are wonderful trails and parks. Our favorite is Yellow Banks Park, a 500 acre park on the bluffs above the Des Moines river.

Pikes Peak State Park in McGregor, Iowa, is named after the same Zebulon Pike as the more famous mountain in Colorado, but this park has gorgeous views and great hiking on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. The area was initially established as a military fort in 1805, then eventually became an Iowa state park.