Jaqueline M. Applegate

Women + Unprecedented Change = Endless Possibilities

Rapid technological advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting every industry, economy, and person. Agriculture is no different and is not immune to these disruptions.

These technological advances have the potential to solve herculean global challenges such as hunger and malaria. Because this age of acceleration is so disruptive, it can also be daunting, and many people cling to the hope they can ignore the acceleration. Some also resist and fight against it. I'm convinced the smart thing to do is embrace it and make this age of exponential acceleration work for the people we lead, the customers we serve, the stakeholders we engage and for society as a whole.

But what role will women play with all these transformational changes in our world today, especially those in agriculture?

An incredibly important one.

Nearly half of smallholder farmers in East Asia and Africa are women who face many more obstacles than their male counterparts. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), approximately 150 million people around the world could be saved from hunger if women farmers were given access to the same resources as their male counterparts.

Jaqueline M. Applegate
Jaqueline M. Applegate
Dr. Jaqueline M. Applegate
Head of Global Vegetable Seeds and Environmental Science, Crop Science Division

Smallholder farmers are impacted by these forces of acceleration. Many of the transformative innovations shaping our world today have the potential to make lives better for smallholders. Additionally, empowering smallholder farmers is key to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030, and ensuring access by all people to safe, healthy and nutritious food year round.

While women farmers play a crucial role in agriculture, in both developed and developing countries, it’s hard to overstate the importance of women in the agribusiness industry.

Two years ago, the World Bank published a report, titled “The Business Case for Women in Agriculture,” that laid out the ample reasons why women leaders are needed in our business: greater gender balance can lead to improved performance, spark greater innovation and have a positive impact in the attraction and retention of talented people within agribusiness firms.

As the international community pursues this ambitious goal, women in agribusiness will be at the forefront in helping make it a reality. We can't achieve this goal without empowering the smallholder farmers responsible for producing 80 percent of the food that sustains families in the developing world.

Going ALL IN

I recently spoke at the Women in Agribusiness Summit in Denver, Colorado, and shared how we need to go ALL IN in this age of acceleration. "All in" is a phrase that implies complete commitment. It comes from the game of poker when a player has a hand of cards so amazing they're ready to risk it all. They push their chips to the center of the table and go for it. All in.

The phrase "all in" can help us remember these five keys to success:

  • Adapting: In today’s age of acceleration, change is non-stop. It’s not a destination, but a journey and you need to develop the resilience to continually adapt to the turns, peaks, and valleys along the way.
  • Learning: Professional learning is a must, but we cannot ignore developing soft business skills. These skills include the ability to give and receive feedback, work collaboratively, use emotional intelligence, prioritize, and be resourceful. It’s these self-developed skills that will enable you to thrive.
  • Listening: We need to become better at active listening by asking good questions and engaging others in candid conversations. Listen for things you don't want to hear and from people different than you, whose viewpoints and perspectives differ from yours.
  • Including: By including, I mean inclusiveness. It’s important to surround yourself with a diverse team and that includes men and women but I’m also talking about diversity more broadly – diversity of experiences, ethnicities, styles and thoughts.
  • Networking: Joanna Barsh of McKinsey wrote an article saying the lack of networking has become an obstacle to career advancement for women. The irony is women are instinctively good at networking. So, get out of the office. Have lunch, dinner, coffee or drinks with your colleagues, your staff and your leadership when you can.

Uncertainty is one of the few things we can be certain of in today’s age of acceleration and change. But here’s another certainty: you won’t enjoy or achieve success by taking a half-hearted approach. You need to go all in. When you do, you can fail, once, twice, a dozen times, but it will only bring you closer to success in an era of unprecedented change.

Earnest Hemingway said it best when he said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

The possibility to help change the work is endless, and I am excited to be on this journey with you.

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